Grand Designs Disaster in North Devon

Mike Hardwick reflects on one famously failed Grand Designs scheme, assessing where the project went wrong
Build It expert Mike Hardwick
by Mike Hardwick
27th January 2020

Like it or loathe it, the Grand Designs show on Channel 4 still intrigues anyone with an interest in building their own home.

We constructed ours as the very first series was being aired and Alison and I recall pointing at the TV and laughing at the obvious mistakes of others – we’d never fall into that trap… would we?!

The show has done a great service over the years by pointing out common errors and inspiring folks to have a go. Without references to particular episodes, it would be much harder to make my points during the self build workshops I run.

Recently, I watched what I thought was the best episode ever, featuring a house on the perfect plot in Croyde Bay, Devon, that I have had my eye on for the last 40 years or so.

We take an annual trip to the area, and I had harboured jealous fantasies of buying the existing property, knocking it down and building my dream home. But I knew the site was probably well over my budget – nothing around there comes cheap, especially not something with such spectacular sea views.

Contemporary home model

The plans for the glamorous house included an infinity pool and swathes of glazing (Credit: Channel 4)

So, imagine the atmosphere in our living room when Alison and I watched slack jawed as someone on telly was about to live my dream! The proposed design was incredible.

A modern extravaganza, with an infinity pool and a four-storey tower complete with a ‘storm room’ at the top, so the occupants could marvel at the forces of nature, safe inside. Unsurprisingly, the project costs were estimated in the millions. But it would be okay, as these guys were clearly filthy rich. It’s easy for some, eh?

As the show progressed, it was clear that this was going to be a nightmare. Alison and I actually saw the plot for real last year and knew that it wasn’t anywhere near finished. Filming started in 2012 so something must have gone terribly amiss.

The foundations, hewn into blue slate rock, took six months longer than planned and consumed the entire contingency of £200,000, eventually costing a total of £1.4 million. Gulp. The framework went up, as did the build costs until, nearly £4 million in, everything ground to a halt when the money ran out.

Kevin McCloud outside of a derelict house

Kevin McCloud stands outside the half finished house (Credit: Channel 4)

Usually, a TV miracle happens, and the grand reveal shows the finished house. Not this time. At the show’s close we’re left contemplating a bare concrete and steel framework with very expensive windows, some hanging forlornly on their hinges, as we realise that this project – and the couple’s marriage – failed spectacularly. Not much to show for such an enormous budget.

The lesson? The project was too big, too ambitious and driven by hubris and the Micawber-esque logic that something will turn up. Of course, Grand Designs has to be over-the-top because there needs to be jeopardy – that’s how they make great telly.

Sensible couple with reasonable funds build home on time and on budget is not what commissioning editors are after. But that night, Channel 4 felt more like the Horror Channel to me!

Main image: Channel 4

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