On Grand Designs last night I was stunned by just what lengths people will go to in order to create their ‘dream home’ and that ‘grand design’… and in last night’s show, it nearly cost one half of the couple who were in pursuit of this grand design his life.
The subjects of the show last night were Barry and Julie who’ve lived and worked in Brighton for many years. Julie works as a nurse at the local hospice while Barry is a successful builder and property developer – who’d recently undergone a double hip replacement – but the house he was building this time was his own house, and he had lofty/mad ambitions for it.
Now, I do enjoy watching Grand Designs but it often has me shaking my head in wonder and/or bewilderment at what on earth these people are thinking, and I did a lot of head shaking last night. For a start, the plot Barry chose was on very steep slope… why oh why would you make things that difficult for yourself from the get go?
But that often seems to be the theme of Grand Designs; people insist on having a plot that’s a nightmare to build on or materials imported from a tiny village in Peru or something then scratch their heads and wonder why when it all goes wrong! They always, always seems to make things so much harder for themselves than it needs to be but that said, I guess that’s why the show’s called Grand Designs and not ‘Mediocre Designs’…
However, undaunted by the problems of building a level house on a massive slope, the foundations went down. Barry’s plan for the house was impressive and included an outdoor hot tub, swimming pool, home cinema and an art studio. Additionally, Barry wanted a “sinuous staircase” that he’d designed himself to curve its way up to the huge double height living space.
One wall of one giant room was to be built entirely from enormous sheets of curved glass which Barry insisted, would “illuminate both the ground floor and first floor gallery corridor”. The first floor itself was to be divided into five en-suite bedrooms and at the rear of the house, yet more glass – this time in the form of sliding doors – was to deliver more natural light and open up onto a curved balcony overlooking the garden… Barry really, really likes curved stuff.
The crowning glory of the house was to be Barry and Julie’s fantasy bedroom; clad in chestnut and yet more glass, the room would be 60ft long and a “pod” that would appear to float over the rest of the house, and over Brighton with its doors opening out onto a suburban rooftop garden.
And how long did Barry allow for all this to happen? Just nine months…
So the build got underway with curved steel all over the shop and stress aplenty as budgets were stretched to breaking point and curved everything proved somewhat difficult to obtain. In fact, while Barry was desperately hunting out somewhere to get his gigantic curved panes of glass from, the stress of this build took a frightening toll and he had a heart attack.
After months of recuperation he was “fighting fit” again but the delays in the build and his heart attack had changed his priorities as to what’s important in life so he finally stopped stressing about curved glass and opted for flat glass panels instead, saving himself a massive £155,000 by doing so.
By the time the house was finished – well, nearly finished – it was without doubt extremely impressive but was it really worth the toll it’d taken? Barry’s wife looked about ready to drop, as did Barry and frankly, a grand design it no doubt was but the practicalities of living in the thing would’ve put me right off… the window cleaning bill would be the cost of keeping a small third world country afloat and Barry and Julie would surely have no privacy whatsoever in a goldfish bowl of a home?
That said, both Barry and Julie seemed like extremely nice, down-to-earth people and given the trauma they’d been through, I really hope they do enjoy their new home; they so deserve to.
But the thing I both love and hate about this show is the – often – absurdity of the designs and the rhetoric that Kevin McCloud uses when he does his waxing lyrical bit at the end where, bless him, he always attempts to vary his compliments about the new home with almost poetic oratory. Last night, he said of Barry’s dream home,
“You can see this building as a testament to our turbulent times, or as a morality tale for that matter.
“Here are Barry and Julie, and they have a completely different view of the world now, and consequently a different view of this building.
“Fancifully, you can see this place as having tried to destroy them and what they’ve got, but they still have the appetite to finish it.
“It is partly that drive, that creative energy to make things and to finish them well, that defines us as human beings.”
I’d have said it’s the ability to use cutlery and the fact that we are violent for reasons other than to kill for food, but whatever…
All in all, I really do enjoy Grand Designs but I’ll settle for my little semi where my biggest headache about the house is if it’s going to end up subsiding into an old lead mine. If it ever did, I’d just have it rebuilt as it was, but I would add a built in dishwasher and an en-suite bathroom… can’t see Kev waxing very lyrical about my Grand Design though. Mind you, I’d like to imagine what he might say if he did, and here’s what I reckon that might be…
“This build has literally been dragged out from the history of the earth and where once miners toiled, now joiners and plumbers must put their heart and soul into slotting that shining example of labour saving devices – the dishwasher – into a built in cupboard that simply resonates with the joy of the ownership of it.
“And the en-suite isn’t just an en-suite, it’s a life changing event for Lynn who used to have to make the arduous journey down a flight of steep stairs to take a leak in the dark and unremitting cold of a Derbyshire night.
“Well, no more and this dream has been achieved in a magnificence of white porcelain and gleaming chrome that fills her heart with an exuberant joy that’s as satisfying as her empty bladder, and it’s been made possible to achieve that dream just a stones throw away from her own bed.
“Truly, this is a triumph of labour saving, effort saving design that will bring its owner joy with a lifetime of rapid dishwashing and even more rapid bladder emptying.”