What we can learn from Grand Designs
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What we can learn from Grand Designs

TV property pleasure

Grand Designs, the Channel 4 property show has been running since 1999 and regularly entices millions of viewers to follow the stories of intrepid property building greenhorns as they embark on their life’s ambition.

In every episode another visionary appears, armed with a wodge of property-equity turned into cash, ready to build a breath-taking statement of a home which embodies their passions and dreams.



As Wikipedia notes, “the build frequently runs over budget and completes later than scheduled”.  And here is the real secret of the programme; the dreaded element of jeopardy.

Any reality TV producer will tell you that a transformation that runs smoothly and goes exactly as planned makes for dishwater-dull television.

We all enjoy shouting at the wally who’s decided to adapt his architect’s plans for a modernist mansion halfway up a Cumbrian mountain and substitute marbles and papier-mâché for the planned timber and glass.  Of course you know, everything can be improved by coating the papier-mâché in goat’s dung!

I’m sure many viewers play a version of “Grand Designs Bingo” where the same phrases crop up every week.  “Brian’s decision to project manage the whole thing himself has come back to haunt him” is a regular winner here.

There is a long line of idealists who have decided to dispense with the services of professionals,  much to the despair of the show’s presenter, Kevin McCloud, who notes in a recent interview,

“The more effort you put into the planning stages, the better the outcome. …if you don’t do it properly, you’ll decide you want to repaint the bathroom or realise that you can’t open the shower door because the loo’s in the way.”

Of course, what Kevin doesn’t mention here is that the shower door that opens correctly is a ratings loser, whereas the look on Brian’s face then he can’t open the shower door is comedy gold.

Comedy gold




Each episode starts with Kevin learning of the concept for the build from the client, while showing the viewer the 3D visual of the intended finished building so we can see how it should look and then explaining how the whole project should work.

The wise Mr McCloud will playfully arch an eyebrow as he raises the spectre of potential disaster. He might worry about the ground-breaking use of building materials,  or simply the client planning to project manage the build themselves. Some weeks, he shakes his head at the folly of  building a house out of tea crates that is designed to resemble the sinking Titanic in the middle of a quiet housing estate in Basingstoke.

The programme therefore begins from the start of the build process, after all the planning and design has (hopefully) taken place.  The sight of diggers in the ground resisting the inevitably inclement weather makes good television. Sadly, an architect seated at a desk, modelling different drainage scenarios does not, no matter how artfully they suck their pencil.

In a vicious circle of television confusion, many a wannabe Grand Designer therefore sees the design process as the ‘optional boring bit’ before the real work gets underway, a point Kevin himself highlights as a common mistake,

“Not getting the ratio right between planning and building. Most people want to jump straight in with the building and therefore, rush the planning.”

McCloud often flags-up for the viewer the danger in a complicated build of having the architect losing input when the plans are handed over. In the same interview , he is asked if he’d ever project manage his own build.

“Nope. There are no pros….. Buildings are complicated machines, made out of thousands of parts from numerous of suppliers, fitted together in hundreds of different ways. It’s a really tough job.”

The GD Bingo card has a special row of squares for camera shots of a rainy site that has ground to a halt because the different contractors have arrived in the wrong order and no-one ordered the concrete!

Planning architecture


Lessons for the office

It should be said that an office fit-out is not the same as building your dream home, but there are plenty of similarities and there are good reasons to consult the professionals.

A good design and build company will use your vision as the starting point and then involve you in refining the plans to ensure the finished design is a perfect blend of your ideas and their professional skill and know-how.  Like the clients on the TV programme, you will have space plans, mood boards and samples as well as computer designed 3D visuals to show you how your office will look when finished.

Your fit-out partner will be experts at everything from ensuring that the heating and ventilation infrastructure will meet your (and the regulatory bodies’) needs to finding exactly the right shade of pink for the bean-bags in your collaboration space.

By having the architectural planning, interior design, legal and regulatory services, project management, construction co-ordination,  furniture & fittings and aftercare all under one roof, the design & build model will save you time and money throughout the project and for the length of your lease.

All the legal requirements and building regulations will be taken care of, as will the gargantuan task of project managing the armies of contractors, suppliers, fitters and regulatory assessors in order to ensure the build runs smoothly.

By having someone else take responsibility, it allows you to concentrate on your day-to-day work and lessens the chance of you dropping the business ball whilst juggling such a complex project.

A good design and build contractor, whether in the office or the home of your dreams, might make for awful television; but we think that for a smooth-running build, it’s a price worth paying.

So, last word to Kevin McCloud; clearly not just a suave presenter who can sport a hard-hat at a surprisingly jaunty angle, but a wise dispenser of sage advice.

“The other great mistake that we all make is that we are not very good at asking for help. We are all far too optimistic and think that we are capable of doing things ourselves, without the help of designers or architects. It takes someone strong to admit that they’re not very good at something or aren’t an expert in a field.”

Hear, hear.



Kevin McCloud was speaking to Celia Lloyd-Jones for Ideal Home.



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