From a crumbling Buckinghamshire folly to the show’s first ‘healthy house’ in Richmond, and an eco-friendly Devonshire palace built from mud and straw, the latest series of Grand Designs was a TV marathon to remember.
There were snowstorms and skeletons, skateparks and shocks, including an unexpected redundancy and a tragic death.
Each project was intense and gloriously unique, from the original motive and construction materials to the finished result and the family who lived there.
In case you missed the architectural fun and games, we’ve rounded up our most memorable moments.
Self-building an American modernist house inspired by 80s teen comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — in Padstow, Cornwall
It’s a double-edged sword, ambition. It can lead you to greatness but can also trip you up.
Harry and Briony from episode two pushed the meaning of ambition to its limits when they left London for Padstow, Cornwall, and set about attempting to recreate the modernist steel-and-glass made famous in cult Eighties teen movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, inspired by James Speyer’s Ben Rose House in Illinois.
Despite never having visited the real deal, Harry is sure he can honour it – in just eight months. Optimistic timing aside, a high-spec replica of the Speyer house would cost around £800,000 to build. This couple’s “Speyer on steroids” was to be a third bigger – and their budget extended to £400,000 tops.
Crucial measurement mistakes and spiralling spending forces them to veer away from their dream by replacing much of the glazing with orange larch cladding, but 14 months later and £100,000 over budget, their new home is fabulous in its own right. Reaching for the stars paid off.
BIGGEST BUDGET BLOW-OUT
Identical twins Nik and Jon build near identical houses in Sheffield
This accolade could arguably be awarded to two projects this series: the cob castle in east Devon, which took nearly eight years to build, and identical twins Jon and Nik’s identical homes in Sheffield.
But we’re giving it to the latter, who started with the aim of finishing both modern-industrial houses for a total of £345,000 – “an incredible, unrealistically low sum”, surmised Kevin, whose scepticism was soon justified.
The brothers ended up hiking up their budget by 25 per cent after securing a bank loan, but then Jon asked his girlfriend to move in. He wanted to add another two bedrooms to his dwelling, which added an extra £40,000.
Given the scale of their plans, even a revised joint budget of £435,000 was not enough to finish, so they begged the bank for an extra £140,000.
Overall, the twin brothers ended up splurging £610,000 in total. Although this sum is still extremely impressive for the twin homes they somehow created from a rundown industrial yard, it was a whopping £265,000 more than they originally intended to spend. Ouch.
MOST ADMIRABLE MOTIVE
Britain’s first ‘healthy’ house in Richmond, London
Elinor and Born have two young sons who both suffer from an agonising range of life-threatening allergies, from dust and pollen to chemicals in certain cleaning products, forcing them to spend a lot of time in hospital.
Episode three followed their journey as they built a ‘healthy house’ free from toxins in Richmond, south-west London. They spent time and money sourcing low-toxin materials and installing a mechanical ventilation system to filter the air.
They used solvent-free paints, formaldehyde-free MDF panels and flooring low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which slowly release chemicals and produce a cloud of toxicity that ends up in our lungs.
Finding a suitably ‘healthy’ sofa proved a struggle as brand new ones release chemicals due to foam and glue. Instead, they opted for a second-hand one which has already released chemicals elsewhere, and have cosied things up with knotted and woven rugs.
Since moving into their new home, the boys have had “only one or two” allergic reactions, as opposed to a minimum of one attack every other week. The University of York lent Born and Elinor a VOC monitor to assess their air quality. It shows that their home is performing over 70 per cent better than the average new build.
The self-build of a modern farmhouse built on old farmland led to a three-year stay in a caravan
Steph and Alex from Leominster, Herefordshire, win this hands down. They sold their comfortable bungalow to spend three years living in a leaky, draughty caravan – including during the Beast from the East – while they built a modern black barnhouse on the site of her beloved late grandad’s farm.
“I can’t wait to get out. It’s damp and cold in there. The shower either burns or freezes you, the windows don’t shut. We had a perfectly good house,” said Alex, leaving his wife racked with guilt, but he stood by her.
When Alex was made redundant unexpectedly, everything crashed down around them. But they pushed on, with Steph taking on extra hours at work and selling off some of the land to fund the build.
The end result was worth the ordeal. It’s sizeable, contemporary, stylish and a far cry from the caravan. Overall, they spent £270,000 — just £20,000 over budget — which they felt was justified after three years climbing up the walls of a glorified tent.
“The fact that I’m now continuing my grandad’s legacy on his land, with the kids involved too, would make him so proud,” said Steph. “I think he’s watching down.”
The Brutalist architecture fan with designs on a home built entirely from concrete
Dad of-three Adrian’s long love affair with concrete started as a young BMX biker in Glasgow’s skateparks. This passion developed into an appreciation of Brutalist architecture and the obvious next step was to build a concrete house in Lewes, East Sussex for his wife Megan and their young family.
Their motto throughout this love-it-or-hate-it build was the rawer and more exposed, the better. It is concrete inside and out, with no conventional finishes like plaster or paint in sight, yet somehow this rough and ready aesthetic ends up feeling human. Floor-to-ceiling glazing floods the dank interior spaces with light, giving the house its soul.
The interiors are as bold and brave as the facade, yet warming. Plumbing and electrics have been installed through surface mounted tubes, giving the place an edge of industrial chic. Everything is chunky and tells a story, from the upcycled university science cabinets the couple are using as kitchen units to the colourful, well-loved furnishings they have owned for years.
The layout is open-plan, with eight different levels dividing the space by function, and an enclosed courtyard draws in extra light. Underfloor heating runs throughout and there are lovely views of the countryside and contemporary back garden swimming pool from the master suite.
“It looks like a giant chunk of rock thrust out of the ground,” said Kevin, admiring the unpolished authenticity of the concrete. “It’s at the brutal end of brutal.”
The conversion of a listed mini-castle on Saxon burial ground in Buckinghamshire
Spanish architect Jimmy and his wife Mimi took a huge risk when they bought an abandoned, 200-year-old, Grade II-listed folly in Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire, for £100,000, without the planning permission they would need to renovate it into a family home.
Getting approval to start work took a year, but they had to agree not to add to the original, tiny footprint.
The folly is built on an Anglo Saxon burial ground, meaning Jimmy had to pay an archaeologist to examine any dirt the digger brought up. Just two days in, skull fragments appeared.
Midway through the build, Mimi gave birth to the couple’s second child, Luke, and Jimmy was forced to move the family back to Spain when construction is delayed by a lack of funds.
“Will you be able to forgive the building?” asked Kevin, pertinently, after she understandably declared that at times, she “really hates it”.
Finally, six months later than planned and £100,000 over budget, they get there – and it’s beautiful.
Jimmy’s pride and joy, a spiral staircase made from giant chunks of plywood, leads up the east turret to a roof terrace, giving them the feeling of “being in a treehouse” and playing into the building’s sense of magic and romance. But whether it’s big enough to house a family of four longterm is dubious…
The cob castle — one of the biggest houses ever featured on Grand Designs — built out of mud
Five years ago, Kevin visited another Kevin, master builder Kevin ‘King of Cob’ McCabe, who had determined to build a family home from mud and straw in east Devon. But that wasn’t all: Kevin also wanted it to meet the highest environmental performance standards ever set in the UK.
“People say Dad wasn’t born, but chiselled out of cob,” said son Ben back in 2013. “He’s a cob-building warrior. This will be a utopia of cob awesomeness.”
He wasn’t wrong. Following a long battle with the British weather and dwindling funds, the house emerged from the earth looking, as presenter Kevin noted, “like something straight off the cover of a Seventies prog-rock album”.
Kevin added polystyrene to the thick cob walls to adhere to insulation targets and threaded a smart, heat-saving ventilation system through the building. Large solar heating panels provide all the energy they need for nine months of the year.
He has handmade much of the kitchen, from the cob wine racks to the worktops cut from his own oak tree. Light fittings hang from branches of birch grown on site as part of his carbon-neutral renewable fuel strategy.
The roof was insulated and covered with an eco-friendly plastic membrane, soil and seeds, from which has grown a wildflower meadow that blends in seamlessly with the surrounding rolling hills.
“Size-wise, it’s a manor house, but its running costs are negligible,” says Kevin, proud to have proven that it is possible to “live green” in luxury.
WAIT, THERE’S MORE
Grand Designs might be over but you can still catch the remaining three episode of Grand Designs: House of the Year, which sees Kevin return to tour the 20 UK homes longlisted for Riba House of the Year.
So far Red House, a “sunburnt end-of-terrace house” in East Dulwich, and Pheasants, a controversial glass and steel residence in Henley, have made the shortlist.
Five more are yet to be revealed, with the overall winner set to be announced at the end of the final episode on Wednesday 28 November.
Grand Designs: House of the Year airs at 9pm on Wednesdays on Channel 4