It is a life experience that inspires fear and tears, pain and joy. It takes years of devotion and can drive you to near breakdown or bankruptcy. And once you’ve done it, you vow ‘no more!’ – only to go and do it all over again.
Having kids? Could be, but no. This particular rollercoaster is the one familiar to the millions who have tuned into Channel 4’s Grand Designs – the tale of tenacity and torture that is building your own designer home.
The results are invariably awe-inspiring, but there comes a time – a lifestyle change, a need for a new challenge or the desire to cash in on the upgrade – when you have to move on. And that, as TV presenter and architectural designer Russell Harris discovered when it came to selling his Grand Design, is almost as hard as building it in the first place.
Harris, 58, and his wife Jannette, 47, spent seven years turning a derelict 19th-century water tower in Lymm, Cheshire, into a magnificent, minimalist 90ft-tall family home. The ground floor of the Victorian five-storey structure is wrapped in a modern, curved extension whose 20ft-high windows bathe the living space in dazzling light and offer uninterrupted views across fields and woodland.
It’s a family home – the couple’s two children grew up there – yet is a clutter-free vision of white minimalism,
with just a few statement features including a bath on a mezzanine suspended above the master bed and a rooftop hot tub with views across four counties.
Turning an uninhabitable structure into a home came with its fair share of pain. “There were periods of tremendous stress and lots of tears over whether we would even complete the job,” Harris recalls. “There were good days when we would reach milestones. But we got through three sets of architects and we had to downsize in rented properties because we ran out of money.”
It all worked out and the family has lived there happily for years. “But now the children have left home, it’s just Jannette and I in a 5,500 sq ft house, and that’s why we’re selling,” Harris explains. He says he spent about £1 million on the project – of which £138,000 went on buying the tower – and has put the Lymm Water Tower on the market for £2.5 million through Strutt & Parker (01244 354880).
“Selling it was a big decision, so to test whether we could say goodbye, we let it out for two years and moved into a rented farmhouse,” says Harris. “I learnt that I could move on, but I never want to live in an old house again.” Harris has already planned their next home: a “glass box near the sea” inspired by the architect Philip Johnson’s 1949 Glass House.
“Fear” and “pride” are the words that spring to Jo Lucas’s mind when recalling the five years that she and her husband Tim, both structural engineers, spent crafting their family home in Kew, London, from a row of derelict garages.