Grand Designs is just about my favourite TV program. People in the UK may be growing tired of this by now as it’s been around for a few years, but here in Australia it’s only been screening since last year and it’s must watch television.
Thursday night, when Grand Designs hits the Aussie TV I don’t cook, I don’t answer the phone, I make sure I’ve stopped writing for the day when this comes on.
It caters for those who imagine the perfect house we’d design and build one day if the stars were in alignment and the finances perfect, the land ideal etc, etc. For those who drool over design magazines or even for those who are interested in state of the art or environmentally friendly building techniques, this is addictive viewing.
The format is simple. Presenter Kevin McCloud and his camera crew visit someone (usually a couple) who have plans to build or renovate. Not your basic suburban bungalow but something a little more interesting. A ruined castle, a Georgian water tank (really!), a self sufficient eco house in a forest, a medieval cottage, a modernist house that looks like a work of art. Even a series of houses built by the tenants themselves as an alternative to government-funded cheap housing.
The show charts the realisation of people’s dreams, whether they are follies or something truly practical yet special.
Kevin and the crew visit every few months for anything up to a couple of years so we see the stages of the building, sometimes right from conception. We’re drawn into the ups and downs of the approval processes, particularly for heritage listed buildings, the vagaries of the weather, difficult sites and suppliers who don’t necessarily supply.
However, and this is a major thing for me, unlike many reality TV shows, this one doesn’t dwell on people’s distress. That’s sometimes on screen but it’s not the focus of the episode. The dream is. What amazes me is that, while those who start with previous experience of building have an obvious advantage, some of the most successful results come from people who’ve never before built, but who have a dream.
My favourite part of the program is when we see the final product (even if perhaps it’s not completely finished), usually at sunset, when the lights glowing inside make the most of the new design. It’s like the happily ever after in a romance story for in most cases the end result is a resounding success, even if it took longer or more cash then expected.
Kevin McCloud is the perfect commentator for this program. He has boundless enthusiasm for good design coupled with a pragmatic understanding of building processes. He’s been known to roll up his sleeves and help out on the building site when they’re behind schedule and desperate for help. He’s also useful when the program ventures offshore to Spain, Italy or France and his linguistic skills come in very handy. He has decided views but isn’t pushy about them and is willing to admit when an idea he thought ill-advised, works wonderfully.
On a personal note, I should add that the progam’s visit to Saint Chapelle in Paris, to show exquisite medieval design to a couple renovating an old house, convinced me it was a place I couldn’t afford to miss on my recent too-short visit there. How right I was – it was fantastic!
In many ways this program is the architectural equivalent of a category romance. Short, intense, satisfying, with an amazing journey, major change and, hopefully, a satisfying Happy Ever After.
No wonder I’m hooked!
Have you seen Grand Designs? Or something similar perhaps? What did you think?
Speaking of Happy Ever Afters, Annie’s pleased to announce her latest book, BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INNOCENT WIFE is available now in hard cover. Then comes a May UK release and a June Aus/NZ release for paperbacks. To read about it, visit Annie’s website book page. To buy, click here for the current edition or here for the paperback.