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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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Madison International Realty invests in London Salesforce Tower (GB)

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Madison International Realty has acquired a minority stake in the Salesforce Tower, London EC2, through a Jersey Property Unit Trust (JPUT), joining other investors including Heron International.

 

The 230-metre tower, completed in 2011 at 110 Bishopsgate, is an island site in the City of London and provides 441,000ft² of office space over 37 floors. The property is over 93% let to a range of tenants, the largest of which is Salesforce. The Salesforce Tower also has an outstanding food and beverage offering with Duck and Waffle and Sushi Samba at the very top and the Drift on the ground floor. The building has a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating for design.

 

The asset’s central location in the core of the City of London means it benefits from excellent transport connectivity, with Liverpool Street and Bank within a short walking distance. Similarly, there are a large number of new world-class food, drink and entertainment options nearby including the new Pan Pacific hotel adjacent at Heron Plaza and Eataly in Broadgate. In January 2021, an ING-led syndicate of lenders completed a €465.2m (£400m), five-year refinancing of the Tower.

 

Alex Lukesch, Managing Director at Madison International Realty commented on the investment: “This acquisition has allowed us to secure a stake in a prominent London office building, which we believe delivers space that meets the demands of modern occupiers looking for world-class offices in one of the world’s leading financial centres. The investment reflects our conviction in the ongoing resilience of the office sector and the role we believe it will play post-pandemic. We have observed that demand for quality, well-located space remains robust, while companies are increasingly looking for properties that also have strong ESG credentials to help meet their own sustainability targets. In Heron, we believe we have an experienced and highly regarded partner and we look forward to working with them on this venture.”

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Britain’s blossoming love for Japanese design in the home

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The design has a red lid and a narrow neck which widens to form a base of sturdy hips. When poured, the contents flow in a singular, uninterrupted stream.

The Kikkoman bottle hasn’t changed since it was designed in 1961 by Kenji Ekuan for the world’s largest soy sauce producer.

Simplicity has made it ubiquitous. And crucially, it works — think of wrestling with glass Heinz ketchup bottles or constantly wiping lids on plastic iterations. Likely, Kikkoman’s bottle is the reason we’re so familiar with soy sauce.

Serene: A contemporary Japanese-style sitting room. The country's influence can be seen most clearly in the clean, elegant and functional everyday products we use in our homes

Serene: A contemporary Japanese-style sitting room. The country’s influence can be seen most clearly in the clean, elegant and functional everyday products we use in our homes

In the introduction to her book Japanese Design Since 1945 (£35, Thames & Hudson), Naomi Pollock writes: ‘In Japan, good design is everywhere. But most of all, it’s in the home.’

The trend for Japanese-inspired, UK-based brands, such as Wagamama, Superdry and Yo! Sushi, is well worn, but the country’s influence is likely seen most clearly in the clean, elegant and functional everyday products we use in our homes.

Inspired idea 

The Japanese approach to design is summed up well by a single product – Muji’s right angle sock (from £3.50, muji.eu). 

As the foot is perpendicular to the leg, the sock should follow the shape of the body: design centres on the user rather than the designer.

The word ‘Muji’ translates as ‘without brand’ and the company invites (often renowned) designers to create reasonably priced products anonymously. 

Design guru Naoto Fukasawa is an adviser to Muji, and his wall-mounted CD player for the company (£149) is in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Naoto Fukasawa's butterfly-inspired Grande Papilio Swivel Lounge Chair (£2,869, chaplins.co.uk)

Naoto Fukasawa’s butterfly-inspired Grande Papilio Swivel Lounge Chair (£2,869, chaplins.co.uk)

In the UK, Chaplins stocks a large selection of products from Japan, including some from the designer.

‘The idea is to create designs that appear to have been sculpted by the elements,’ says Ludovic Aublanc, creative director at Chaplins. ‘It’s the kind of minimalism that brims with emotion, that makes you grateful and happy to come home.’

The company stocks Fukasawa’s butterfly-inspired Papilio range – chairs and sofas sporting headset ‘wings’ to protect the user’s head (Grande Papilio Swivel Lounge Chair, £2,869, chaplins.co.uk).

Simple seating

Japanese designers have described the chair as the centre of design and an extension of the human form. It follows that these things should be easy on both the body and the eye.

Habitat’s Mori charcoal two-seater sofa (£716, habitat.co.uk) certainly fits the bill. It is compact, unfussy and elegant with its plush curved armrests and contrasting thin, wooden legs.

Simple unfinished woodwork is a key part of design in Japan, like the solid oak dining chairs from Oak Furnitureland (£140, oakfurnitureland.com) which would pair well with the Japanese oak Castor Table by Karimoku New Standard (£1,169, nest.co.uk).

Clutter free

Last year, decluttering guru Marie Kondo took the world by storm with her hit Netflix show. The programme has been talked of plenty, but we’re perhaps unaware of how key these principles are to Japanese design.

A large part of the focus on user-friendly products comes down to space. As ever, it’s important for Muji, with its storage bed (from £299) which has spacious drawers to banish clutter. Loaf has the Woody storage bed (from £995, loaf.com).

Simple boxy shelving units such as the Ikea Kallax range (from £15, ikea.com) are practical, but can also be used for displaying plants, books and records.

Or, for a modern twist, try the John Lewis Dice shelving unit bookcase (£450, johnlewis.com). The company also stocks Japanese brand Like-it’s clear storage products (from £8).

Crockery that rocks 

Japanese pottery has long been a feature of our homes, and a collection by John Lewis is a nod to this. Inspired by woodblock prints, the range includes glassware, plates, mugs and even Christmas decorations. 

It’s all delicate, bright patterns and the infuser mugs by Tokyo Design Studio (from £25) are a highlight.

But elegant motifs are only part of the story. The earthy charcoals, whites and beiges of Hasami Porcelain (hasami-porcelain.com) are a calming, elegant addition to any kitchen.

Hasami teapots start from £65 and mugs from £22 (la-gent.com) – also pick up a copy of Okakura Kakuzo’s The Book Of Tea, written in 1906, an insight into the Japanese ritual of tea-making. Elsewhere, an Oriental Hobnail tea set costs from £22.98 (wayfair.co.uk).

For eating, Denby Pottery has Japanese-inspired bowls from £58 for four in grey and white (denbypottery.com).

Finally, being able to serve Japan’s other favourite drink – the highball – is a must. Try LSA’s Mia Highball glasses (£27 for four, lsa-international.com) or, for something cheaper, a set of six Duralex Prisme highballs is £11.99 at rinkit.com.

Then grab a bottle of Akashi whisky (£28.50, waitrosecellar.com), add ice, stir clockwise 13 times, add soda water, stir again and appreciate another example of elegance and simplicity in Japanese design.

What your home really needs is… a Christmas throw

At this time of year, people fall into two groups: those who believe more is more, with bright lights and decorations aplenty; and others who keep things simple, with a few holly sprigs and a carefully adorned tree.

Yuletide luxury: You could use this Alpaca Fair Isle Throw, £99.50, all year round

Yuletide luxury: You could use this Alpaca Fair Isle Throw, £99.50, all year round

But whether you’re a maximalist or a minimalist, your home will need a Christmas throw because someone in your festive bubble is bound to complain about being cold.

If glitter is your thing, you’ll like the fleece star throw from Marks & Spencer (£25, marksand spencer.com). 

Or snuggle up under Dunelm’s red cable-knit design with a fleecey inside (£60, dunelm.com).

For something more fun, Redbubble has one that reads: ‘This is my Hallmark Christmas movie watching blanket’ (£34.73, redbubble.com).

Going low-key? How about a white and grey reindeer pattern with red pompoms (£40, barkerand stonehouse.com)? 

Or this Alpaca Fair Isle Throw , £99.50, notonthe highstreet.com), which you could use all year round.

Anne Ashworth 

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Extending grace period on checks in North would be ‘problematic’ – Taoiseach

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said it will be “very problematic” if the UK again extends unilaterally the grace period for Northern Ireland Protocol checks.

But speaking on the Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme on Sky News, Mr Martin also insisted a breakthrough between the EU and UK was still possible “if there’s a will there on both sides”.

His comments came after Boris Johnson escalated his dispute with the European Union by warning he will do whatever it takes to keep goods flowing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Following talks with the EU’s key figures on Saturday, the British prime minister said he would not hesitate to take unilateral action to protect the position of Northern Ireland in the increasingly bitter row over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The row – dubbed the “sausage war” – could mean chilled meats will not be shipped across the Irish Sea because of EU rules after the end of the month.

The UK is considering extending the current grace period without the consent of Brussels to ensure that sausages and mince can continue to reach Northern Ireland’s shops.

But Mr Martin told Sky News that the “channels do exist to get this resolved”.

He added: “In particular, the Sefcovic/Frost process should be fully explored and optimised to get an agreement and I think the prospects, in my view, if there’s a will there on both sides, and there is a will there from the European Union side I know that, I detect from the British prime minister Boris Johnson that the British government is anxious to get a resolution of this, so I think we should work at it.”

Mr Martin said he believed an SPS agreement (on plant and animal health measures) could remove 80 per cent of protocol checks.

When asked about the possibility of the UK unilaterally extending the grace period for checks, Mr Martin said: “I think it will be very problematic because it’s not about sausages per se, it really is about the fact that an agreement had been entered into, not too long ago, signed off by the British government with the European Union.

“If there’s consistent, unilateral deviation from that agreement, that clearly undermines the broader relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, which is in nobody’s interest and therefore that’s why the UK with the EU have to work very hard now in the coming weeks.

“I know the European Union are anxious to resolve this and want to resolve it but they need to see a similar reciprocity from the UK side.”

When asked if the protocol is undermining Northern Ireland’s place within the UK, Mr Martin said: “We’ve never seen the Protocol as a constitutional issue, it doesn’t in any way interfere with the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as defined and articulated in the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement.

“We’re very clear from the Irish Government perspective on that, but we do believe in seamless trade on the island of Ireland, it makes sense. We believe in seamless trade insofar as we possibly can between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.”

‘A bit of respect’

British foreign secretary Dominic Raab accused EU leaders of trying to undermine the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.

After talks at the G7 summit in Cornwall between Boris Johnson and key EU figures failed to achieve a breakthrough in the dispute over the implementation of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in Northern Ireland, Mr Raab said the EU was showing a lack of respect.

“What we cannot have is the continuing disruption of trade and effectively try to change the status of Northern Ireland, contrary to the consent and wishes of the people, which is not just contrary to the Northern Ireland Protocol but also to the Belfast Agreement,” he told Mr Phillips on Sky News.

“We have serially seen senior EU figures talk about Northern Ireland as if it was some kind of different country to the UK. It is not only offensive, it has real-world effects on the communities in Northern Ireland, creates great concern, great consternation.

“Could you imagine if we talked about Catalonia, the Flemish part of Belgium, one of the lander in Germany, northern Italy, Corsica in France as different countries. We need a bit of respect here.– PA

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