Friday, February 27, 2009

Must Watch Friday - Grand Designs

Love the idea of renovating or building your own special place from scratch, but don’t have the money/expertise/stamina to try it? Has Annie West got a show for you!
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.


18 comments:

  1. Ooh, Annie, Blackmailed Bride, Innocent Wife has finally hit the shelves! Everyone, this is a GREAT read! As you know, Annie, it's one of my faves of yours right from that heart-stopping opening scene to that gorgeous, poignant happy ever after.

    You know, I don't think I've ever watched all of a Grand Designs. I'm not sure why. I've enjoyed the snippets I've seen. Especially when the house is in the Highlands as a few of them have been. One of the joys of pay TV is that we get endless UK renovation shows and some of them are quite addictive. There's one called Selling Houses Abroad that is full of schadenfreude! It's easy to say "what a silly thing to do" when you're sitting on your couch in Caloundra and watching someone try and deal with planning officials in Spain about something they weren't allowed to build in the first place.

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  2. Love the show, but I am not always enamoured of the building couple. Last night's was fantastic!!

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  3. Anna, tsk tsk. Will have to keep you company with an episode of GD next time you visit. As you say, relaxing under your own roof, preferably with a glass of chilled white after a long day, it's terrific to watch other make mistakes, and preferably, create something wonderful. I'm amazed the houses in the highlands didn't hold you enthralled.

    Hey, thanks for the lovely comments on Carys and Alessandro's story. Can I admit to sneaking delight at that opening scene too? It was such fun to write.

    Thanks for popping by.

    Annie

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  4. 2paw - I know what you mean. Some of the people building aren't people I'd want to spend time with. An hour is just long enough sometimes. Yes, I saw last night's program. Wasn't it terrific? Was amazed and the renovation they performed.

    Annie

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  5. I love this show, too, Annie. I love Relocation, Relocation, too. Watching the body language the things that aren't being said as couples look at "dream" houses...

    There have been one or two people who it would be easy to see finding a spot under the patio!

    Great for research.

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  6. I love Grand Designs, Location, Location and my fave is house in the country. The perfect opportunity to snoop round great and not so great houses. As I love buildings, I'm completely hooked.

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  7. Liz, we don't get Relocation, Relocation. Will have to watch out for it. You're so right about the body language! Isn't it fascinating? You really do see people with a lot of their social defences stripped away. Glad to find another GD lover!

    Annie

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  8. Hi Nell, it's great to hear about others loving to snoop. For ages we were looking to move and I spent a lot of weekends visiting houses for sale where they were open to view for an hour. It was almost sad when we moved interstate to our new home and I didn't have an excuse to check out other people's homes!

    House in the Country sounds like bliss. Wonder if it will ever come to Australia?

    Cheers,
    Annie

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  9. Annie - I only discovered this a couple of weeks ago. The one where they restored this folly... ohhh. Lightbulb and a half. (My poor DH was panicking in case I had a bright idea of doing it in real life. Um, no. Not after six months of building chaos here with our floor problem!!)

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  10. Ooh, ooh! I love Grand Designs! Did you see the episode where a woman tried to build a Regency-style mansion? I can't quite remember if that was a HEA episode but it was fascinating.

    ~ Vanessa, experiencing *huge* delays in getting her reno done.

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  11. Kate, so glad you've discovered this show! Isn't it a treat? I missed the one with the folly but will keep an eye out. After almost a year getting storm damage repaired (cyclone strength storm which meant builders were in short supply for ages) it was great to sit down and watch someone else deal with building and renovating. So relaxing!

    Annie

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  12. Annie, I adore these kinds of programs... but not as much as I adore attending open houses. I LOVE doing that. No doubt this pegs me as some kind of voyeur... but it is so fascinating to get such an intimate glimpse into someone else's life, and then trying to imagine yourself in it. Hmm... it's Saturday tomorrow and I don't have any plans...

    Love your analogy about Grand Designs being the architectural equivalent of a category romance. I do so love a happy ending!

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  13. Vanessa, commisserations on those delays. I hope the result is worth the wait. Yes, I saw that episode. From memory it wasn't finished inside but she had the most amazing ideas for furnishing it. There have been so many fascinating episodes.

    Annie

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  14. Hi Michelle, glad you like the analogy. It only struck me as I wrote the blog. I told my daughter about it and she just rolled her eyes (teens!)- you could see she thought I'd been writing and reading too many romances (G).

    Isn't it just wonderful peeking into other people's homes? When I was little I used to love Christmas when people would leave their curtains open so if you were going by you could see their decorated tree in the window, and usually a glimpse of what was going on inside.

    Annie

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  15. Dear Annie,

    We've been watching Grand Designs in our house since it started over here in the UK--totally hooked!

    I wonder if one of the episodes you describe is my most favourite one ever. The one where the woodsman and lots of eco volunteers build his wooden house (and compost loo)in the forest. As I recall the planning agreement meant it could never actually be sold as it was so connected to his work, so when he died it would have to be torn down--truly HIS house! And there was an amazing staircase made out of a tree trunk which had me coming over all a bit 'Magic Faraway Tree'and the walls were made from bales of hay. There was real romance too! The poor bloke never had much luck with women (sleeping up trees and in the bushes etc was a bit limiting)but as the credits rolled and the sun set through the cottage garden lupins, we discover that his new house brought him a gorgeous wife and a baby boy! I cry every time I see it.

    Annie, you will begin to notice over the series that some of these projects drag on so long there are even two new babies by the time it's finished. Or maybe there's something magical about sleeping in a leaky caravan for a couple of years!

    Love,
    Rach (UK)

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  16. Hi Annie

    Yes, Grand Designs has been addictive viewing here in the UK, for a few years now.

    There was always one house that stuck in my memory, it was a few series ago now. A very wealthy couple had bought an old warehouse, right next door to the English National Opera building in London. They had the worst time trying to get planning permission, from English Heritage, mainly because it was a listed building.

    By the end of the renovation, they had the most incredible house I have ever seen. It had glass flooring, a kitchen to die for, it was built over 3 floors, with open glass walls. It had a huge WOW factor, a true house of your dreams.

    The series has changed a bit over the last couple of years. Kevin McCloud seems to have gone more for the eco friendly house. In the series that's airing at the moment, this week's episode had a couple building a house in France, out of car tyres, with mud walls. Not my kind of house. But, hey-ho, it only cost them £150K, (land and building).

    By the way, I love your writing, your books are fab, can't wait for April for next gorgeous book to be on the shelves.

    Best Wishes

    xx Karen

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  17. Rach,

    Yes, I do remember that episode. I definitely remember the staircase. It was like the Magic Faraway Tree. It was one of the first episodes I watched and that's how I got hooked. There are quite a few that stick in my mind, some for the house or the site and others for the people.

    Hm, the idea of building or renovating through the conception and birth of several babies is just scary. We extended our old home while I was pregnant with our second child. Straightforward extension, no plumbing, nothing unusual, and still I remember talking to the project manager when I was 8 months pregnant and the completion date was way overdue and saying I really, really didn't want to bring a newborn home from hospital to a building site. Don't know if it made any difference but it got finished just in time. Whew!

    Annie

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  18. Hi Karen,

    A house out of tyres? How odd. Will wait for that one with great interest. I do remember an architect couple in London who decided to build the back of their house out of hay, just to see if they could I think. And they had the window down so low you could only see out of it as you lay in bed!

    I do remember the episode you mention. Didn't they have continuing trouble because they didn't match the new bricks to the old, heritage ones? There have been so many fascinating episodes and designs I certainly never could have imagined.

    Hey, thanks so much for the feedback on my stories! That's wonderful to hear. I hope you enjoy Dario and Alissa's story too.

    Cheers,
    Annie

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