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The fall and fall of Grand Designs’ saddest home - and the marriage it helped end

The house sits on the cliff edge (Knight Frank)
The house sits on the cliff edge (Knight Frank)

When Edward and Hazel Short put their life savings into building their fantasy home on the coast, they hoped it would change their lives for the better and give their two children a fabulous childhood.

Instead, more than 10 years on the luxury house is relisted for sale at knockdown price, the couple’s marriage is over and millionaire Mr Short is still paying off some of the money he borrowed for the ambitious building project.

It was first listed for sale in February last year but despite rumours of celebrities including Harry Styles expressing interest - a buyer failed to emerge.

And now the five-bedroom home is back on the market again, listed by Savills on behalf of Joint Receivers at a knockdown price of £5.25m on Rightmove.

Chesil Cliff House in Croyde, Devon, divides opinion locally to this day. It is certainly a spectacular creation – a clean-lined art deco affair, all white and glass, with a four-storey tower that recalls the lighthouse originally on the site.

Edward Short is still paying off some of the money he borrowed for the ambitious building project (Tom Wren SWNS)
Edward Short is still paying off some of the money he borrowed for the ambitious building project (Tom Wren SWNS)

Sitting right on the cliff edge, it has triple-glazed floor-to-ceiling windows that give panoramic sea views and an infinity pool.

In 2019, it was featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs, dubbed by viewers the “saddest ever” episode, as it showed the family borrowing £500,000 from a hedge fund, then another £2.5m from private investors. This was for a smaller house built first, next to the main development, so that he could secure a larger loan.

The Shorts’ daughters said they were even holding car boot sales to raise money to put towards their parents’ dream luxury build.

However, as presenter Kevin McCloud said in the introduction to the episode: “If a lighthouse has a single message that it shouts out, it is this: ‘Stay away – or risk destruction’.”

His warning carried perhaps even more portent than he realised. Not only is Chesil Cliff House, which has never been lived in, up for sale for a second time after a first planned deal failed to go ahead but the build cost the couple their 20-year marriage.

The rooms in the tower have panoramic views (Knight Frank)
The rooms in the tower have panoramic views (Knight Frank)

Amid rocketing costs, crippling debts, and sleepless nights, Mr Short was put under increasing pressure that he said ultimately contributed to the breakdown of his marriage to Hazel.

While he caveated the build was not the sole reason the couple’s marriage ended, he told The Sun last July he regrets the stress his “messed-up dreams” put on his wife and two daughters, Nicole and Lauren.

“There’s no doubt what I put Hazel through was horrendous,” said the former music industry sales executive. “There’s a lot of guilt about that. But there was no way out, once we started. If we didn’t finish we’d have been in big trouble.

“It was awful for the family because I pulled the stability rug from under them, without being able to give answers of how we were going to get out of it, other than that I had to carry on.”

The house is pile-driven to save it from falling into the sea when the cliffs erode (Knight Frank)
The house is pile-driven to save it from falling into the sea when the cliffs erode (Knight Frank)

The ambitious scheme was hugely expensive and as the cost of the work spiralled over the years, Mr Short was reportedly £7m in debt at one point.

There was also scepticism about it locally. When the Shorts first knocked down the 1950s house on the site and the diggers and lorries descended, there was much muttering about the disruption.

Mr Short brushed off concerns about coastal erosion leaving the house at risk of falling into the sea, saying if it hung over the cliff edge, it would be dramatic.

But during the application for planning permission, local objections included that lights shining through the windows would dazzle drivers on the main road above, as well as loss of uninterrupted views of the cliffs.

And then there was the huge cost, which managed to put some local noses out of joint.

Walls of windows are designed to let light in and give an airy feel (Knight Frank)
Walls of windows are designed to let light in and give an airy feel (Knight Frank)

Any potential buyer would need to fork out an estimated £10m in all for the property – £7.5m for the main house, and a sum to be negotiated, but thought to be around £2.5m – for the three-bedroom annexe next door.

“It’s over the top,” said Braunton parish councillor Derrick Spear of the design. “You could say it’s avant-garde – or, more likely, it doesn’t blend in with its surroundings, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“Here we are trying to get affordable homes – which there’s a great need for around here – but this is obviously a home for a very wealthy person,” added Mr Spear, who said he was horrified by the estimated price tag.

The house is at Saunton on the coast (Google Maps)
The house is at Saunton on the coast (Google Maps)

But the television show brought a turnaround in local attitudes, as people saw the human story that unfolded behind the years of building.

“After the documentary came out, there was a huge lots of sympathy for Ed,” says one north Devon resident. “He used to be a parish councillor and I knew him a bit. I can’t speak for the people of Croyde, but before the programme people were concerned over the cranes for a long time, the size. For neighbours any building site is difficult.

“But what he’s done is great. The actual building now is fantastic. It just took a long time.”

The infinity pool with views of the sea (Knight Frank)
The infinity pool with views of the sea (Knight Frank)

Even after all these years, the house itself is still not quite ready to live in, with the kitchen still needing work. According to agent Knight Frank, it “has been finished as an exciting blank canvas, giving the new owner the opportunity to design their own interior fit-out”.

The agent’s brochure describes Chesil Cliff House as “the perfect property to enjoy watching the sunsets, the dramatic storms and the surfers on Down End Point”. And privacy at “one of the UK’s most spectacular newly built coastal homes” is paramount, it says.

To this day, opinions in the area are still divided. “It’s beautiful,” wrote one user on Facebook when the episode was aired again. “The rotunda looks great,” wrote another. Others branded it an “eyesore” and wondered how permission was ever granted. “Too close to the water’s edge for my liking,” was one comment.

The sea appears to come right up to the house (Knight Frank)
The sea appears to come right up to the house (Knight Frank)

The local MP, Selaine Saxby, said she was frustrated by the high number of empty properties in the area, including holiday homes, but she had not had complaints about Chesil Cliff House.

“Everyone recognises the difficulties behind it and wants to see finished,” she said. “It’s so sad when they’re sitting empty – properties need life breathed into them.”

A decade on, Mr Short himself is upbeat - about his life and the property. He has a new fiancee, nurse Jalia Nambasa, while he and Hazel, who also has a new partner, are “still the best of friends”.

“There’s a happy ending to the story in that, in my opinion, we managed to get through a divorce and ended up with a bigger family and better relationship,” he told TheSun.

Daughter Lauren would appear to agree, saying her parents are much happier now than they were.

“What happened between my mum and dad, even without the house, would probably have happened anyway,” she said in a follow-up episode of Grand Designs last October.

As for the property - an overseas purchaser had reportedly been close to signing on the dotted line last month, but failed to do so.

Mr Short remains confident the deal will go through, a source close to the sale of the property told MailOnline.

He also hopes the house itself will one day lose its “saddest ever” tag - something that finally getting a £10m signature would no doubt go a long way to solve.