Tonight’s Grand Designs revisited the moment where Kevin McCloud came to Cornwall to visit a couple hoping to build their own home in Falmouth.
Interior designer Kathryn Tyler and boyfriend Chris Brown were living at home with Kathryn’s mother when the idea to build their own came about after it was discovered that the house her parents bought came with a building plot at the bottom of the land.
The Channel 4 show tells how it had been a plan of Kathryn’s for several years, however the plans to build her dream house were delayed after the death of her father.
She said: “I always had the intention of building quite soon but then my father got ill in 2007 and he sadly passed away so that stalled things and we waited until now. It feels like now is the right time. It’s been five years in the making and I just want to get started now.”
Their plan was to build a four-bedroom, 200 square metre Scandinavian-style house at the bottom of the garden, which faced challenges along the way including the steep hill required to reach the land.
Presenter Kevin McCloud’s initial thoughts of the project were that it rang “alarm bells”, saying to Kathryn: “Given the fact you’re an interior designer does ring some alarm bells in my head because it tends to make me think it’s going to be all about what the building looks like rather than how it functions.”
The property design also included two balconies, a design studio, an underground garage and two bathrooms in a compact and efficient design, designed to “maximise the use of the space”. It would be built with a brick and mortar base, giving way to a timber frame top floor.
The programme followed the couple and their team of builders as they set about the construction of the house facing challenges including the notoriously unpredictable Cornish weather and the property being accessible down a steep hill.
It showed the team of builders racing against time to get the house watertight before the worst of the Cornish wet season set in but as they do so, the weather joins them to soak the inside of the partly-built property. It’s noted in the programme that while most timber frame houses are pre-built off-site, this particular one is being built using the traditional construction method of building on-site. The frame is near completion two weeks later.
One of the reasons for this was due to the difficult access to the site. McCloud notes: “Given the issues with access, it makes sense that it should be built on-site, but I would expect this method to be slower. It’s clear, however, that this is a crack team.”
The difficult access to the property also sees the team having to carry heavy materials such as the timber cladding down to the building site by hand. The access issues would come to bite again as the builders found themselves turning back the delivery of the property’s largest window, for it was impossible to get down the hill and too heavy to carry.
It was an issue circumvented by removing the window from the frame, and transporting it separately, albeit manually – using skateboards on the footpaths next to busy traffic.
By spring, the show visits Kathryn, Chris and friends turning their attention to the interior and aesthetics, laying down underfloor heating and painting the bricks white.
The next challenge came with the construction of the underground garage, which involved digging a significant hole into the land. With the amount of earth that was taken away, it ate into Kathryn’s budget, costing over £3,000 with her estimating by the time the earth removal was completed, the figure would rise to £4,000.
A broken-down lorry was next to bite as the team tried to make progress, with the concrete beams required to build the garage arriving two weeks late, due to the fact the only lorry in Cornwall capable of carrying them and delivering them to the difficult to access site, had broken down.
“I’ve had a general love-hate relationship with this road because of the steepness of it,” commented Kathryn. “Everything’s been a nightmare generally. We’ve had to get specialist vehicles for every single item that comes in so it’s just another one on the list of having to find the way of getting the items in.”
Fifteen months later and the project is finished, a few months over schedule. The majority of the house, except for two items, is furnished using contents either vintage or found, and in many cases restored and reconditioned by Kathryn and Chris.
Chris said of the design when asked if the end product was his thing or if it was a case of just not minding: “It was more a case of I didn’t mind but now it’s all in place and I can see it, I love it, it’s amazing. But it’s more a case of this is how Kathryn always envisaged it. She knew what she was doing. In some ways, it feels like I’m living in Kathryn’s head.”
Unlike some Grand Designs, this was one that came in under budget. “Because I misunderstood the VAT rebate, I should be getting 20 to 25 grand back.” said Kathryn “Our total spend was about £275,000.”
McCloud described the final build as elegant, saying: “You know the word elegant is really underused, and that’s because there isn’t that much in this world that is elegant but this house is. Kathryn has crafted something which captures light and space and views out of nothing, she’s maximised the site, she’s made it efficient.
“Despite the fact it reflects entirely her taste, it’s also a blank canvas from which her and Chris can build their future lives. It does what I think all buildings should do and that is to reflect the best in people, and place.”