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.
The couple bought the plot in 2010 for £400,000 and turned it into an award-winning modern home. Its central courtyard is flanked by two gabled wings with steep rusted steel roofs, connected by a tall, glass atrium with Tim’s favourite feature, a steel staircase running up the middle. Among the quirkier details in this 4,000 sq ft home is a wooden slide that runs down to the basement playroom, carpeted in fake grass.
“We wanted to create something architecturally significant, but at all times making it a practical house for a young family, with lots of light and fun and creative spaces,” Jo says.
She admits she isn’t sure how much they spent in total. “We borrowed as much money as we could and started, so we never had a fixed budget. Bespoke design is more about controlling risks than being able to tie down fixed costs,” she says. And as structural engineers, she and Tim produced many of the drawings and managed the project themselves.
Jo says they now plan to build a new home “with the bespoke metal fabrication we used on Kew House”,
which they hope to sell for £3.8 million through The Modern House (020 3795 5920). “It hasn’t been an easy decision as we put so much into creating this house, but life moves on, circumstances change and I think at heart we are builders.”
Another couple who immortalised their self-build on the TV show are now moving on to a new line in Grand Designs-style development. Ian Hogarth and Claire Farrow’s West Kensington home became known as the The Disco House thanks to its dance floor in the basement, inspired by Hogarth’s childhood love of the Blackpool illuminations. “The disco has been such a hit that we now run a regular club night,” says Farrow of their family home, which cost £750,000 to build.
Now their attention has shifted to the Cornish town of Bude, where they have been holidaying for years and have built four terraced houses, “seconds from the sea”, says Farrow. The candy-coloured facades are once again inspired by Hogarth’s nostalgia – this time for Battenberg cake.
The eco-friendly homes, which cost £1.5 million to build, excluding the cost of the land, are made from Lego-like foam blocks called Polarwall. “We used those in London and haven’t turned on the heating for two years,” says Farrow. Features include a yoga and pilates room, bespoke ski chalet-style bunk beds and storage space for surfboards.
Prices start at £695,000 for a four-bedroom house and £795,000 for six bedrooms, listed with Colwills (01288 355828). And while the couple expected demand to come from holiday-home buyers, the first has sold to a retired couple seeking a seaside home that will entice their grandchildren to visit.