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From Grand Designs to disaster: The TV property show’s big dreams that turned to dust

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Curve in Brighton, a four-storey concrete, steel and glass mansion for Barry Surtees, wife Julie and their son

The Curve in Brighton, a four-storey concrete, steel and glass mansion for Barry Surtees, wife Julie and their son

SMOOTH SAILING? Yes, until the project became derailed by its ambitious glass front, with Barry unable to find the 360 ft of 10 ft-tall curved glass. He ended up using flat panes instead.

WOW FACTOR: Elevator, indoor heated swimming pool and home cinema.

EMOTIONAL COST: Shortly after starting the build in 2007, Barry had a heart attack and needed five heart bypasses. Nonetheless, he finished the home in 2010.

MONEY PIT OR MADE A PACKET? On the market for £3.5 million in 2010. Sold in 2012 (price unknown).

Stunning look – but what a cost 

Fairways in Quarr, the Isle of Wight

THE PLAN: To convert a 1970s bungalow into a modernist 7,200 sq ft six-bedroom home for accountant Bram Vis and his wife Lisa.

MONEY SPENT: £935,000 on plot and £2.2 million on the build.

Fairways in Quarr, the Isle of Wight. A 1970s bungalow was converted into a modernist home for accountant Bram Vis and wife Laura

Fairways in Quarr, the Isle of Wight. A 1970s bungalow was converted into a modernist home for accountant Bram Vis and wife Laura

SMOOTH SAILING? No, it went almost three times over the initial £835,000 budget. On Grand Designs in 2015.

WOW FACTOR: Three acres of private beach, heated outdoor swimming pool, music room and gym.

EMOTIONAL COST: The couple remortgaged their Surrey home twice and took out 11 loans to continue building.

MONEY PIT OR MADE A PACKET? In 2019, the couple put the property on the market at £3.95 million. It eventually shifted for £2.74 million.

PS: A home of happiness for just £28,000 

The Woodland House, West Sussex Woods

THE PLAN: Ben Law, who became a woodsman after meeting Amazon forest dwellers, planned a brick-free house.

SPEND: Acquired the plot in 1992 in exchange for labour. Spent just £28,000 on the build.

The Woodland House, West Sussex Woods. Ben Law, who became a woodsman after meeting Amazon forest dwellers, planned a brick-free house

The Woodland House, West Sussex Woods. Ben Law, who became a woodsman after meeting Amazon forest dwellers, planned a brick-free house

SMOOTH SAILING? During the eight-month project shown on Grand Designs in 2003, Ben lived in a caravan.

WOW FACTOR: The fire set in a huge cob chimney and sunken hot tub.

EMOTIONAL COST: ‘Winter here is muddy and quite hard work,’ says Ben.

MONEY PIT OR MADE A PACKET? Ben became a successful author with books including Woodsman.

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Barings and HBD secure planning for London logistics scheme (GB)

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Barings and HBD have secured detailed planning for a strategic logistics scheme in Rainham, London, transforming a 20-acre brownfield site. The new development, Momentum London, is being delivered by Barings and HBD in a joint venture partnership. It will create 381,814ft² of new logistics and industrial space across four units ranging from 41,000 -171,000ft².

 

The scheme will target Net Zero Carbon, BREEAM “Excellent” and an EPC “A+” rating. This is being achieved by dynamic design, careful consideration of materials, zero use of fossil fuels, maximizing photovoltaic solar panels, battery storage and intelligent building systems. The units will be 100% EV ready, including passive fleet charging to the yards.

 

The logistics park will be set in landscaped environment with picnic and public areas, as well as direct access onto the Thames Cycle Path, so that it brings further social benefits to the area. Positioned on the River Thames, with potential for jetty access, Momentum will offer an easy stepping stone into Central London and out via the A13, just minutes away.

 

Darren Hutchinson, Head of UK Real Estate Transactions and Managing Director at Barings, said: Momentum London will be a strategically located logistics scheme with strong environmental and social credentials, beneficial both to future occupiers and the communities around it. Logistics is one of Barings’ preferred investment sectors and Momentum London exemplifies the kind of developments we’re seeking, with a keen interest in exploring joint ventures like this one with HBD.”

 

Simon Quine, Senior Development Surveyor at HBD, said: “Industrial and logistics space remains in very limited supply across London, particularly larger distribution units. Momentum will plug that gap within the M25 and provide modern, sustainable logistics and distribution space to serve London and the wider South East market. Landscaping and wellness have been thoroughly considered, with careful design considerations and enhancements to the Thames Foot and Cycle path, which we hope will help occupiers to attract and retain staff.”

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Mirrored furniture trend can create the illusion of space in your home

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Mirrored furniture provokes strong emotions. Some see it as the epitome of bad taste, flashy and bling. Others know that mirrors have magic powers.

A mirrored table or cabinet makes a room or a hallway appear more swish and spacious. It’s a trick that bars and restaurants employ to ensure their establishments appear roomier and more inviting — and they can add lustre to your home, too.

Choosing a piece of mirrored furniture also sends out a sign that you are aware of one of the year’s trends — the return of Art Deco, the influential style that emerged in the 1920s. 

Reflections: A mirrored bedside table. The power of the mirror to create an impression has been recognised for centuries

Reflections: A mirrored bedside table. The power of the mirror to create an impression has been recognised for centuries

It blended forms that celebrated modern machinery with decorative elements drawn from Greco-Roman culture and nature. 

The mirror was a favourite material, used on the surfaces of furniture and walls to supply a shimmering silver and gold effect.

Probably the most famous piece of Art Deco architecture is New York’s Chrysler Building. Completed in 1930, its sunburst-patterned stainless steel spire remains one of the key elements of the Manhattan skyline.

Art Deco console tables, drinks trolleys and other items from the era of the building’s construction sell for thousands on auction sites such as 1stdibs underlining the growing appeal of this aesthetic. 

Jamie Watkins, the co-founder of fabric and wallpaper company Divine Savages, explains Art Deco’s allure for a new audience.

‘Art Deco, with its bold geometrical patterns was such an iconic period for design: it’s synonymous with glamour and luxury.’

The resurgent popularity of Art Deco is also based on its practicality: a mirrored piece works with almost any interior, adding interest and depth.

The power of the mirror to create a wow impression has been recognised for centuries. 

Examples of this technique include the round mirror on the wall behind the bride and groom in Jan van Eyck’s 1434 Arnolfini Portrait in the National Gallery. It sends out the message that the couple are discerning — and wealthy.

Cheers: B&M's £25 oval drinks trolley with two mirrored shelves

Cheers: B&M’s £25 oval drinks trolley with two mirrored shelves

The hall of mirrors in the palace of Versailles was designed to be a place of beauty, but also to display the financial resources of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Mirrors were a luxury item until an inexpensive manufacturing process was invented in the 1830s.

In 2022, it is possible to pick up mirrored pieces for under £100. B&M has a £25 oval drinks trolley with two mirrored shelves that would lend an air of Thirties elegance to any gathering. The £94.99 Ellison serving cart (a U.S. term for drinks trolley) from Wayfair has a similar vibe.

If you believe that the right mirrored trolley would save you money on trips to bars, the larger £144.95 gold oval mirrored trolley from Melody Maison could be the thing.

A mirrored cocktail cabinet will dazzle guests. The £1,200 Primrose & Plum champagne and gold cabinet has a Jazz-Age feel.

The £299 Venetian sideboard from Furniture Market, meanwhile, is a more modestly priced way to conjure up the party spirit of the Roaring Twenties.

The show flats of apartment blocks are often equipped with mirrored cocktail cabinets containing bottles of spirits and crystal glasses. This makes buyers dream of dinner parties, with a prelude of aperitifs, but also serves to make the apartment appear even roomier.

A console table in the hall also creates an illusion of space which can be amplified by the addition of a lamp. HomesDirect365 has a range in the style of almost every era including Art Deco, Regency, the 1960s and the 1970s. Prices start at £233.

The bedroom is often the most cramped room in either a house or flat which is why this can be the best place to experiment with mirrored furniture. 

The desire to preserve family harmony is another reason. The other members of your household may prefer the kitchen and living room to be slick and understated, seeing anything mirrored as excessive.

In the bedroom, however, you can indulge your decor fantasies. Habitat has the one-drawer Hepburn bedside table for £76.

Next offers the antique effect Fleur bedside table which costs £225 for the one-drawer version and £275 for the two-drawer version. 

The Fleur is also available as a six-drawer chest for £599 or a £1,150 double wardrobe if you seek to waft around your bedroom channelling your inner 1930s Hollywood screen siren. 

Dunelm’s Venetian mirrored dressing table also offers a chance to live out your dream of silver screen stardom (£449).

If mirrored furniture has brought out your party animal, kindling a passion for Art Deco in every guise, Divine Savages offers Deco Martini wallpaper whose design is based on the geometric forms, with a hidden Martini glass within the print (£150 per roll).

Some of your guests may not be too busy checking out their reflections on the doors of the mirrored cabinet to notice this subtle and witty detail in the wallpaper.

Savings of the week! water jugs… Up to 52% off 

The Sandvig hammered-glass jug from made.com is half-price at £22

The Sandvig hammered-glass jug from made.com is half-price at £22

Sitting outside on a sunny afternoon is already delightful. But it is even more enjoyable if you are sipping on a cool drink or an iced coffee from a generously sized jug, or maybe even a Pimm’s. The arrival of the July sales means bargains abound.

If you prioritise practicality, Ocado’s textured lustre plastic picnic jug has 33 per cent off at £8.

The price of the pleasingly geometric plastic smoky-grey Prism jug from Wayfair is 16 per cent off at £10.10. 

If you would like to feel as if you are in the south of France, John Lewis has the plain glass Arles wicker-wrapped jug. It is reduced from £25 to £12, down 52 per cent.

Wanting something more elegant that you can also use for flowers? The Sandvig hammered-glass jug from made.com is also half-price at £22.

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VGP acquires French logistics development

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VGP NV and VALGO signed an agreement to purchase 32 hectares of land that housed the former Petroplus refining units in Petit-Couronne, near Rouen. This brownfield rehabilitation project is fully in line with VGP’s core expertise and strategy. Thanks to the six years ownership of the site by VALGO and its expertise in asbestos removal, soil and water table decontamination, in-situ waste treatment and development, this area has now become a suitable site for the development of new industries and business activities.

 

On the banks of the river Seine and close to the A13 highway, the 32-hectare area of land offers its future users a highly strategic location. Following the extensive depollution work carried out by VALGO, the site is now ready for redevelopment. VGP expanded into France only a few months ago and is delighted to start its French business activities in the dynamic Rouen Normandy metropolis area, via this major project. In total, around 150,000m² of land are set to be redeveloped to accommodate industrial and logistics projects, with work due to begin in 2023.

 

Jan Van Geet, CEO VGP, said: “VGP is delighted to begin its business activities in France on a site as exceptional as this one, with strong economic and environmental ambitions that are shared by both our partner, VALGO, and the local authorities. As the rehabilitation of brownfield sites is at the heart of our business, this project is a great opportunity for us to deploy our industrial and logistical know-how. The uncertain geopolitical situation and the rise in transport prices mean that companies are increasingly looking for local support to start their business. In this context, we strongly believe in the relevance of our integrated model with a long-term vision. We are now eager to get to work and bring all the expertise of the Group to the project.”

 

Francois Bouche, CEO VALGO, commented: “We are delighted that this huge piece of land has been sold to a major investor with experience in redeveloping brownfields in Europe. However, I would first like to celebrate the work of the men and women who worked so hard to make this colossal project a success. It took more than 1 million hours and over €60m in investment by VALGO to turn the page on over 80 years of refining on this site, which already employs 600 people.”

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