From Grand Designs to disaster: The TV property show’s big dreams that turned to dust
Blind faith and bottomless money pits have kept viewers glued to Grand Designs for 21 years, as presenter Kevin McCloud has followed the progress of countless courageous (or is that crazy?) constructors for the Channel 4 show.
But while some properties have netted their owners a fortune, not all have turned out quite as planned.
This week, it emerged that the show’s ‘saddest ever’ Grand Design — a lighthouse-style property that cost its owner his marriage and bills of £6 million — is yet to be finished, ten years on.
From shipping containers to crumbling castles, ANTONIA HOYLE reveals Grand Designs’ greatest winners and losers.
No winners emerged with this North Korean missile bunker
Chesil Cliff House in Devon
THE PLAN: The brainchild of music company director Edward Short, an audacious extravaganza with circular tower, glass edge infinity swimming pool and 25 steel beams drilled into the bedrock below to keep the house aloft as coastal erosion destroyed the land underneath.
MONEY SPENT: Edward and wife Hazel paid £1.4 million for the plot with existing property and raised another £1.8 million to build their new home. In 2016, they were forced to borrow a further £2.5 million.
So grey: Chesil Cliff House in Devon was the brainchild of music company director Edward Short
SMOOTH SAILING? No. It turned out the rock was almost un-drillable and cost an extra £1 million to excavate, while a ‘floating drive’ required five lorryfuls of concrete and an unexpected £250,000. Despite starting the project in 2011, it is still far from completed.
WOW FACTOR: Floor-to-ceiling panoramic views of some of the best English beaches would have been delightful.
EMOTIONAL COST: Edward was determined to keep borrowing. But an initially-enthusiastic Hazel described the project as a ‘nightmare’. The couple, whose two daughters are grown up, split in 2018, with Edward admitting his ‘ambition and vanity has probably collapsed the marriage’.
MONEY PIT OT MADE A PACKET? Misery-inducer, more like. When McCloud visited the property in 2019 he described it as a ‘desolate carcass’, while one grumpy local likened it to a ‘North Korean missile bunker’. Having spent £6 million, Edward has vowed to finish it, although he will need to sell it to pay off his massive debts.
The audacious extravaganza had a circular tower, glass edge infinity swimming pool and 25 steel beams drilled into the bedrock below. Pictured: artist’s impression during plans
Happy homeowner but two heart attacks
St Martin’s Church in Tipton, West Midlands
THE PLAN: Builder Dean Marks converted an 18th-century church into a modern five bedroom home with indoor swimming pool, gym and library for his daughter and wife Hilary.
SPEND: £12,750 to buy the church in 1999, and a further £110,000 on renovating the property, which appeared on Grand Designs in 2007.
SMOOTH SAILING? Hardly. Planning permission alone took more than four years, the property was repeatedly targeted by vandals during renovation and McCloud was hardly the motivational cheerleader.
St Martin’s Church in Tipton, West Midlands: Builder Dean Marks converted an 18th-century church into a modern five bedroom home
‘Kevin McCloud and I had a few disagreements at first,’ says Dean. ‘He was saying I should use an architect but I pointed out that I was a working-class guy on a budget and that it would cost too much.’
McCloud said that, while he admired Dean’s commitment, ‘it broke my heart to see so much of the character, the integrity of this place disappear, to be replaced by some pretty hideous features and a rather clunky layout’.
WOW FACTOR: Original stained-glass windows were restored and a glass observatory was built at the top, providing panoramic views stretching for as much as 14 miles.
EMOTIONAL COST: Dean had two heart attacks brought on by exhaustion from the build, which also prompted his split with Hilary, who never got to live in the house. He said sacrificing quality time with her was ‘a small price to pay’.
MONEY PIT OR MADE A PACKET? Dean reportedly still lives here but could make a mint if he sold up — even by 2011 it was valued at £1.3 million.
Couple who bought a castle they couldn’t fit their family in
Dinton Folly, Vale of Aylesbury, Bucks
THE PLAN: Architect Jimmy Fernandez and wife Mimi, a former teacher, transformed a 250-year-old three-storey folly, with no power or water and crumbling walls, into a two-bedroom designer home.
SPEND: £100,000 on the three-acre plot and £300,000 on the build, which appeared on Grand Designs in 2018.
Dinton Folly, Vale of Aylesbury, Bucks: Architect Jimmy Fernandez and wife Mimi, a former teacher, transformed a 250-year-old three-storey folly
The couple spent £100,000 on the three-acre plot and £300,000 on the build, which appeared on Grand Designs in 2018
SMOOTH SAILING? Nerve-racking, more like. The couple went £100,000 over their budget and building was halted after the discovery of bones, close to a Saxon burial ground. McCloud was sceptical, describing their ‘mini Tudor tower’ as ‘a building that doesn’t want to stand up any more’.
WOW FACTOR: Octagonal-shaped rooms and dramatic outdoor staircase.
EMOTIONAL COST: Claustrophobia soon set in. ‘The project was more transformative than we had anticipated as we had our second child during the house build,’ says Jimmy, who put the property on the market just nine months after moving in because it was too small for their growing family.
MONEY PIT OR MADE A PACKET? On sale for £850,000 in 2019 — over twice the amount the couple had spent on it and perhaps slightly ambitious. The price was reduced to £675,000 last year, and this March was re-advertised for £700,000.
Couple who ended up in deep water
The Medway Eco-barge, Kent
THE PLAN: Social workers Chris Miller and wife Sze Liu Lai planned to turn a decrepit barge into an environmentally-friendly houseboat to bring up their two children.
SPEND: £80,000 on recycled materials to turn the boat into a three-bedroom home.
The Medway Eco-barge, Kent: Social workers Chris Miller and wife Sze Liu Lai planned to turn a decrepit barge into an environmentally-friendly houseboat
SMOOTH SAILING? Well, it sailed — but McCloud described it as ‘more of a floating Scrapheap Challenge’ than a luxury boat. After running into cash problems, the couple had to moor the boat in the Thames Estuary and abandon plans to live in it.
WOW FACTOR: The fact that it floated would have been triumph enough. Except . . .
EMOTIONAL COST: Four years after they appeared on Grand Designs in 2007, the unfinished barge was found damaged by vandals and washed up in Essex.
MONEY PIT OR MADE A PACKET? The plans ended up all at sea, with Chris — back on land in East London — admitting the damage left their dream financially unviable.
Ploughed on despite health crisis
The Curve in Brighton
THE PLAN: A four-storey concrete, steel and glass mansion for Barry Surtees, wife Julie and their son, shaped to ‘follow the natural contours of the surroundings’, says Barry, a milkman-turned-builder and artist.
SPEND: £625,000 on the plot of land in 2007 and £1.2 million building the property.