A contemporary barn forged from steel and concrete, an urban house on a plot the size of a London Tube carriage and a Scandi-Scottish lochside bolthole are among the unusual properties competing in the latest heat to be named Grand Designs: House of the Year.
In the second programme of the series, airing tonight on Channel 4, Kevin McCloud and his co-presenters, architect Damion Burrows, and design expert Michelle Ogundehin, visit five exquisite homes across the UK battling it out for a place on the shortlist, all of which push the boundaries in conventional design.
The houses in this category all excel in their use of materials. Some of them are like master craftsmen taking stone and wood and patiently honing it to polished perfection.
‘Others are more like mad scientists experimenting with engineered steel or poured concrete,’ Kevin said. These houses don’t just show us what they’re made of, they celebrate and revel in it.’
Among the startling inclusions are a family home in the Surrey Hills designed to bring delight to two brothers born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The home is wheelchair accessible and their bedrooms open straight out onto the garden, allowing them to make the most out of life.
Elsewhere an east London Victorian terraced home is given new life with a modern, wood-clad extension that seamlessly traditional architecture and contemporary design.
Here, a closer look at the five homes…
A modern barn: In the second programme of the series, airing tonight on Channel 4 , Kevin and his co-presenters, architect Damion Burrows, and design expert Michelle Ogundehin, visited five exquisite homes battling it out for a place on the shortlist, all of which push the boundaries in conventional design. Pictured, Wold’s Barn, by ID Architects, in Lincolnshire
Stylish extension: Another home on the longlist was a wooden wonderland, hidden away behind a traditional Victorian home in east London. Grain House was draped from top-to-toe in wooden batons, some in a grimy black and some left natural
The final long listed property was the House for Theo & Oskar, in Surrey, which was designed by Tigg and Coll architects. It brings delight and joy to Theo, 10, and Oskar, eight, who were both born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy
Urban house on a plot the size of a London Tube carriage
Slot House in London, which was built into a tiny 2.8 meter gap between two other homes, was the first property on the longlist (pictured). It is an excellent example of extremely compact living
The first long listed home lay in the dense streets of South London, where houses are so crammed together you could think there was no free space to build anything.
But that’s exactly where Michelle found Slot House, built into a tiny 2.8 meter gap between two other homes thanks to a pared back steel frame and an innovative steel staircase. Kevin praised the home as ‘as glamorous as it is clever.’
It was built by husband-and-wife team Sally and Sandy Rendel, on a tiny scrap of land beside their own house.
They challenged themselves to make a viable home on a plot the size of a London Tube carriage.
Sandy explained: ‘It’s not this grand bit of architecture or anything, it’s the opposite. It’s just a very modest little house. But hopefully it proves we can create something of worth in such a tight space. It has something of quality of it as well.’
Sally said: ‘It’s pleasurable to be in.’
She revealed that before the couple built on the space, there was ‘nothing there’, explaining: ‘It was an access route back and it never had a proper structure on it, definitely not a dwelling.’
When they bought the disused alleyway it came, unbelievably, with planning permission for a three-bedroom family home.
Sandy said: ‘It shouldn’t be a family house, it’s a tiny scrap of land. It was just trying to find the appropriate level of development for the plot.’
Sally added: ‘We were told more than once by developers that we were underdeveloping. But actually, we wanted to make something with some joy, sustainable and lovely to live in.’
The open plan ground floor contained a double height kitchen and living room, while upstairs there was a bedroom, bathroom and study.
Given its compactness, you might expect shoebox proportions inside, with Michelle saying: ‘It’s so much bigger and lighter than you expect it to be.’
Sandy said: ‘I think moments where you can breathe a little bit more was what the aim was.’
The RIBA judges celebrated the way the materials had been left exposed throughout the house. To make the most of every tiny space, the timber jousts had been left bare and nothing was plaster boarded or skimmed.
Another master stroke was the use of a slimline steel frame to build the skeleton of the home.
Peter Laidler, the structural engineer, explained: ‘Conventional wisdom to build a house would be to build brick walls up each side, but you’d immediately lose half a metre. The steel frame is really critical because the columns are only 77mm.’
The frame had to be craned in in enormous sections, each of which was just shy of the gap.
Sandy said: ‘All the connections exposed are fully welded. Even the orientation for the steels, just to try to tease out a couple of inches.’
To minimise the structure, they fixed the staircase onto the steel structure too. Upstairs, the mezzanine study hung over the living room below.
Space saving ideas even include using brick slips on the outside of the building, which are a third of the thickness of a traditional brick. They are handcrafted from clay, biscuit fired, dipped in pewter and gold glaze.
Building the house took over four years, with Sally and Sandy fitting it in around their day job.
Sally confessed it wasn’t always easy, adding: ‘It was a pressured time but we were in it together so we could share it.’
Contemporary barn forged from steel and concrete
The top half of Wold’s Barn, designed in the Lincolnshire countryside by ID Architects, was made by weathering steel, while the bottom half was crafted from chunky concrete and black cladding (pictured)
Downstairs, buried into the bank of the hill, were the garage and plant room, while on the garden side there was a large kitchen and dining area, taking in the view (pictured, the kitchen)
The second house on the list was in rural Lincolnshire, where agricultural buildings dot the landscape – except this contemporary barn was not any ordinary rusty old shed.
The top half of Wold’s Barn, by ID Architects, was made by weathering steel, while the bottom half was crafted from chunky concrete and black cladding. It’s home to Henry, an engineer and Jen, who works in finance, as well as their young children, Percy and Pippa.
Henry said: ‘The previous house we lived in before was just a small little cottage in a local village, it was just a two-up, two-down kind of semi-detached cottage. We always knew we wanted something a bit bigger, we always knew we had plans for children in the future so we kind of…outgrew the house.’
Downstairs, buried into the bank of the hill, were the garage and plant room, while on the garden side there was a large kitchen and dining area, taking in the view.
Meanwhile upstairs, there was a row of five bedrooms for the children, guests, as well as an enormous master suite.
Jen and Henry didn’t set out to build the house in such grandeur, admitting: ‘We just wanted to build a standard house we could grow old in, with maybe a wooden beamed porch.
‘That’s what we had in our heads when we went to the architect. But it got blown out the water.’
Their architects revealed that because it was in a sensitive rural area, the only way they would be allowed to build a new home would be if it was exceptional quality.
Henry said: ‘From the first meeting we had with them, they said, “You’ve got no chance of getting what you wanted through. Then they said, “But we could go down this route?”‘
Kevin called the house ‘remarkable’, adding: ‘It is the home of beautifully crafted concrete.’
But constructing the barn was anything but magic, because there was no chalk bedrock to stop the house sinking into the ground.
Henry’s team had to put 99 concrete supporting posts into the building, which blew a quarter of the couple’s budget. When they came to building above ground, they used a local builder called Michael Hogan, who confessed he was nervous from the get-go.
He said: ‘It was a head’s scratcher. Something we don’t come across very often, not on a house. And it was challenging, very challenging.’
One of the biggest challenges came when they laid the concrete, with Michael saying: ‘A lot of it was a wing and a prayer to start with.’
Scandi-Scottish lochside bolthole
Kyle House, in the Highlands and crafted by Groves-Raines Architects, has rugged walls and a traditional slate roof, while locally quarried stones rub shoulders with an exquisitely crafted Danish oak interior
The layout was elegant and simple, with a kitchen and lounge downstairs, and a bedroom and bathroom upstairs (pictured, the eco-retreat)
The next longlisted property forged an international alliance with a country across the North sea.
Kyle House, in the Highlands and crafted by Groves-Raines Architects, has rugged walls and a traditional slate roof, while locally quarried stones rub shoulders with an exquisitely crafted Danish oak interior.
It’s a stylish eco-retreat for rent, the money from which goes into efforts to plant trees and ecology.
The layout was elegant and simple, with a kitchen and lounge downstairs, and a bedroom and bathroom upstairs. Until recently, what stood there was a derelict, dark, almost windowless farmhouse.
Damion praised the architect Gunner Groves-Raines, adding: ‘Gunner, it looks incredible just from the outside. I haven’t seen many barns or cottages with a punched square.’
Gunner explained: ‘the first thing we looked at was how we really opened up to the views. We were quite careful about where we placed the openings, so as we passed by the building, they’re concealed by the natural form of the landscape. So what you see is the original openings on the upper level but not on the lower level. We were very keen that whatever we put in here doesn’t stand out as something overtly modern.’
Meanwhile inside it was a modern Scandi-Scottish bolthouse, with Damion calling it ‘incredible.’
The kitchen was wall to wall Danish oak, stained and stabilized with butterfly joints. It cost tens of thousands of pounds, and all of it was almost ruined on the way overfrom Denmark.
Gunner said: ‘When the oak arrived actually, at some point on the way, it got transferred from the lorry into a smaller truck so it lost its covering. By the time it arrived here it was completely uncovered in the rain. It was a scary moment. Thankfully our builder is a joiner by trade and he really understands what needed to happen to the timber to protect it. He was able to salvage almost all of it.’
The RIBA judges praised the joinery to fine cabinetry and said the house was a masterclass in attention to detail, from a handcrafted staircase to doors which disappear seamlessly into the walls.
All of which was built by a lower builder, Euan McCray. He said: ‘We were a little bit – well we were a lot – out of our comfort zone at the start to be honest. [It was] a lot of the construction and finishes, we’ve never used before. There was a lot of head scratching and sleepless nights.’
But Euan and his crew can rest easy now because the work at high house is as polished as it gets.
Wooden wonderland in London
The celebration of timber spills out into enthusiasm for other materials too – with the couple opting for lime plastered walls and worktops made from Italian marble
The next home on the longlist was a wooden wonderland, hidden away behind a traditional Victorian home in east London.
Grain House was draped from top-to-toe in wooden batons, some in a grimy black and some left natural to weather.
In the new extension, it was a hymn of ash, fir, oak and walnut, with a wooden kitchen diner connecting to a living room, bedroom and bathroom. Meanwhile at the side of the house was a staircase which is wrapped around a tiny courtyard.
The house is home to Max, Lucy and their five-year-old daughter Sylvia, who explained their love of wood stemmed from the start of their marriage.
Lucy said: ‘We got engaged in a forest and we got married in part of a wood. We love the fact that it does mean of the woodland. Wee love trees.’ Max added: ‘We just get a real sense of calm from the wood throughout the house.
Kevin said: ‘Architects have a habit of paring things down to just one wood, and what you’ve done is explode the choice.’
Lucy responded: ‘We wanted to use woods in different ways, different sizes and different grains. Actually, when you put it together, it does work.’
The celebration of timber spills out into enthusiasm for other materials too – with the couple opting for lime plastered walls and worktops made from Italian marble.
These materials were all thanks to Lucy who came to site every week and was intensely involved in the project.
Max said: ‘The amount of research Lucy said on the materials was extensive. I remember being shown a constant array of tile finishes or marbles or wall finishes or…research was in overdrive. I remember the builders getting angry because you were taking a long time picking light switches. Everything was a long long process in terms of choosing the final finish.’
Meanwhile Lucy also wanted the best craftsman for the job, commissioning the kitchen from the ‘wood wizard’ Sebastian Cox.
To make the house beautiful was the couple’s great aim, including the courtyard which could have been a space for an extra bedroom.
The architect said: ‘There was quite a lot of back and forth on, should we do it, should we not do it? The fact you’re taking valuable square meterage away and turning it into an outside space. But square meters isn’t the biggest issue and salability isn’t the biggest issue. It’s about creating a space they want to live in.’
To turn the Victorian semi into a space that would work elegantly, the stairs were moved to reconfigure the layout. It took them nine months and thousands of pounds worth of work. Then, three days after they moved in, it was almost ruined by a burst pipe.
Lucy said: ‘I woke up at 3am and thought our daughter had turned the shower on or something. I ran down to a load of water at my feet. There was a big hole in the ceiling and water was just cascading down. It had come down through onto the lower ground.’
Max confessed: ‘I thought it was an absolute disaster and we were going to have to move out, but within an hour it was cleaned up.’
The bungalow with a soaring canopy roof designed for disabled children
The final long listed property was in the Surrey Hills, with Michelle visiting the House for Theo & Oskar, which was designed by Tigg and Coll architects
The final long listed property was in the Surrey Hills, with Michelle visiting the House for Theo & Oskar, which was designed by Tigg and Coll architects.
What is Duchenne muscular dystrophy?
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a neuromuscular condition caused by a lack of protein called dystrophin.
Around 100 boys with the serious condition, which causes progressive muscle weakness, are born in the UK each year.
It is a genetic condition and can be inherited.
The condition starts early in childhood and maybe detected when noticing a child has difficulty standing up.
Children with DMD will struggle to walk, climb and run.
The condition causes muscles throughout the body to weaken and waste, including those of the heart and chest.
Source: Muscular Dystrophy Campaign
While from the front, it appeared like any bungalow on the street, the back of the property had been transformed with a soaring wooden canopy roof which reaches out 11metres from out into the garden and into the house.
It brings delight and joy to Theo, 10, and Oskar, eight, who were both born with a rare genetic disease called Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
They live here with their four-year-old brother Lucas and parents Nick and Clara.
Nick said: ‘For us, the house represents the possibility for Theo and Oskar, with the disease they have, and then just getting the most out of life that they can get.
‘What happens to a Duchenne boy, is the muscles slowly waste. By 11 or 12, they’ll be in a wheelchair fulltime. By 18, they will be on a ventilator, probably, of some description. And they normally die in their mid-twenties.’
Clara added: ‘So we live day to day and try to see the enjoyment and joy out of life.’
A fully wheelchair accessible extension was added to the original house, with Theo and Oscar’s rooms opening onto the garden.
Behind is Lucas’ bedroom and a playroom.
Meanwhile the garden room and family room connect the new to the old, where the grown ups have their own sitting room.
Nick and Clara wanted the boys to have fun space which didn’t feel institutional.
The idea of a roof which had the feel of a treehouse with a leaf canopy was suggested by husband and wife architect David Tigg and Rachael Coll.
David said: ‘This whole design, it was about the relationship with the garden.
‘The trees around us and nature as a whole. It shelters, it was bought dappled sunlight through it, it gave shade during the high summer months. It gave a place for the boys to play.’
Rachael said: ‘The way the structure works is you do have these trunks and then this canopy, floating, above.’
Michelle added: ‘It feels very natural and just floats over the top, but it is a massive structure.’
David said: ‘We had a lot of fun with the engineers working out this problem, how can it be delicate but incredible strong.’
The design needed to be strong to support the hoists and slings that Theo and Oskar will need in the future.
Rachael said: ‘It’s following the concept through of moving from inside to outside, and removing all barriers.’
Even when the boys are no longer mobile, they will still be connected to the outside world, with the floors levelled and doorways widened for wheelchair access.
But adapting the house didn’t come cheap. Nick launched a fundraising campaign to try to raise the funds, but didn’t reach his total.
However his campaign did catch the attention of a friend’s partner, Peter McCall, who worked for a large firm of property developers.
Peter said: ‘When I took it forward to my CEO – he has five kids, three sons and I have three sons- you just look at this family and ourselves and…there, for the grace of god, goes any of us. And if we could do something, then we should try to do it.’
Not only did the company provide expert personnel on site for free, but they also contacted all their suppliers asking if they would be willing to contribute.
Peter said: ‘All of them stood up and said, “Absolutely, if you want help, tell us what you need”. It was a genuine surprise, no one backed off.
During construction, Nick, Clara and the boys were living in a log cabin at the bottom of the garden.
Nick confessed it was a ‘difficult’ period, saying: ‘There were tough times. We were in there for 13 months, with five of us, with an outdoor toilet and shower. With quiet desperation we were thinking, “Please hurry up.”
However he added it had all been worth it, saying: ‘It achieved what we hoped it would achieve, an environment for Theo and Oskar to thrive in.’
Clara added: ‘When we see Theodore laughing with his arm in a sling or in a wheelchair, feeling confident – it’s great for what we have. We’ve been very lucky in being unlucky, I would say.’
Michelle continued: ‘This building shows the power of possibility in architecture, combining determination with ingenuity and compassion.’