Review: It’s always going to be a great show when you start watching big design And heard another homeowner describe himself as “obsessed”.
Sure enough, “The Obsessed” Dan and Nina have an ambitious plan – if they can pull it off and don’t get overrun by frogs and mosquitoes, it’ll be a really cool house.
The couple bought a piece of land near Chichester on the south coast, which includes a 1930s house they planned to bowl and a huge dirty pond. (Host Kevin McLeod called it a “dirty site.”) You can almost smell the pond weed. But it was the pond that sold them the property – they wanted to tame it and build a house on it.
Well, part of the house appears to float like an island – this volume containing the kitchen-living area will be connected to a massive three-storey volume by a glass-walled bridge.
*Grand Designs UK: The double reno that really upset Kevin McLeod
*Grand Designs UK: A couple play shocking triangular house on impossible plot
* British Grand Designs: Young, rich and obsessed, but he got the multi-million dollar shard house
* Grand Designs UK: Does it have to end in divorce?
It will be a huge house for the couple and their young daughters Isla and Lexi. (One might ask why it needs to be so big, but why ruin the fun?)
Do all of these people have unlimited budgets? Because when your vision is as radical as this one, you really need a contingency plan. They have paid £800,000 (NZ$1.54 million) for the property and have budgeted £650,000 (NZ$1.25 million) for construction through savings, loans and income.
The plan includes dividing the pond in two. There will be a smaller natural pond for drainage requirements and a larger, concrete-lined pond or pool with filtration.
Swimming pool with frogs, salamanders and many water lilies
The pool will have “hundreds” of aquatic plants, but Dan says it’s designed “so you can literally open the kitchen window and jump into a natural pool or pool. You can snorkel with the salamanders”.
The overall success of the project hinges on “a complex aquatic ecosystem that can go terribly wrong,” McLeod said.
“If we do it right, then we should have crystal clear water,” Dan said. “Worse, you have cyanobacteria, which are toxic.”
Dan is an architectural designer and Nina is an interior designer, so they know their stuff. But Dan also wanted to build most of the house himself so he could save money.
He watched his element clear the pond, dig and dump the soil, and Dad gave advice on the phone. One of the reasons for the rush to complete the project was that Dan’s father was in poor health and was diagnosed with leukemia.
Sadly, three months after construction, his father passed away.
Credit crunch hits
The couple then learned the loan for the London flat they owned had yet to go through, leaving them short of funds by more than £500,000. They had to sell the property – but it didn’t sell and construction stopped.
We’ve seen this happen before and it’s always been painful. Eight months passed with no work on site. Then in the summer, the apartment was finally sold and it was back to work. But first, Dan installed a tennis court. Not bad, but expensive, and certainly an odd build to start with.
Construction was going well, but as Dan tried to juggle family life, work, and projects, the stress of trying to be everything to everyone came into view. (not big design do not have this. )
After 15 months, the SIP (Structural Insulation Panel) arrives and just plugs into place. Now, the building is beginning to take shape.
McLeod returned for a visit, overlooking the club-sized tennis court and green-like lawn. He thought it looked like a sports club – and the cameras caught Nina looking visibly grumpy. You have to prioritize when the “pool” is currently just a mud bunker and the house isn’t half finished. Frankly, this is puzzling.
McLeod somehow persuades Dan, Nina and the puppy to stand in a dirty swimming pool for an interview. classic.
Nina spent her fourth winter in the old house and they often had no hot water or heating because the boiler was broken. Dan has been working on waterproofing the new house; he’s struggling to cope.
In spite of all advice, he even started decorating the interior without windows, which is silly. They had prepaid £70,000 for windows that didn’t show up on the right day because they hadn’t even been made. This is the last straw.
No, it wasn’t the last straw – Covid-19 hit and there was only one person at the scene. Nina’s sick parents lived with them during this time.
Finally, the work begins again. But money is tight – they can do it with cash on the tennis court and a £10,000 tree.
“Aquatic Garden of Eden” realized
Three years after the job started, McLeod is back. First he encounters the small pond (“slime pit”), then he turns the corner and wow, it’s “aquatic Eden”. (McLeod says aquatic, so it rhymes “quack” in the middle, and some of us think that aquatics should rhyme “what” in the middle — British and American, in case you’re wondering.)
There are reeds, water lilies, flowers, bees, piers and crystal clear water. No blue agave in sight. Sure enough, the house appears to be cantilevered above the pool.
It’s totally magical, as McCloud suggests – he describes it as “heaven on earth”. The house is impressively clad in silver Siberian larch and local flint.
Dan and Nina are happy, but also tired. They had just moved in and the old house was gone. They sit in the pool every day as dragonflies, salamanders, frogs and swallows swoosh down to clear their wings. They are recreating natural wilderness in the landscape. Sir David Attenborough will be impressed. But we do wonder how the pool will perform in winter after weeks of rain.
One of the best buildings we’ve seen
While we can’t really know, the home build is probably the best we’ve seen big design – It’s sharp and detailed. The interior is full of light. Unlike many homes in the UK, this one has direct access to the outdoors, in this case water. The family can dive right through the house into the pool. (Keep an eye on the children.)
A glass-walled bridge to the kitchen is the perfect transition to the huge three-story atrium. McCloud says it’s a nod to the ’60s – he even mentions Tracy Island.
Not sure about the medieval references, but it’s quite striking with its wooden sculptural staircase and large skylight. A minor point, but the small table and seating look insignificant and don’t fit the scale of the space. Also, I can’t see them sitting down and eating across the “bridge” with their plates of food. Maybe for a wine tasting?
It’s an enviable lifestyle and the most amazing thing – they’re only £8,000 over budget, which must be some kind of record.
“We really had to work really hard to make money,” Dan admits. “But what we put in — it’s definitely going to give us more in return.”
Then, right at the end, McLeod dives into the water for a swim. Now this is the first time. He was hooked, and so were we; he didn’t want to leave.This is one of the best big design Build Forever, not least because it proves that England does have a great summer.