Grand Designs drama: a look back at the most emotional projects and reveals of the last series

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 (ES Composite)
(ES Composite)

The dramatic highs and lows of the ambitious projects featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs have kept architectural fans hooked for 20 series and counting.

Invariably delivering triumph and tragedy by the skip-load, episodes follow presenter Kevin McCloud as he visits intrepid self-builders in the early stages of creating their dream homes.

McCloud then returns however many months later to unveil the finished architectural marvels at end of each episode, or that’s the plan.

After the peak drama of last year – with what was billed the show’s “saddest ever episode” – the most recent series was still impressive in its heartstrings pull factor.

Festival goers Olaf and Fritha took on a hugely complex build which saw them create a three-storey, triangular, timber-framed home on a tight plot in West Sussex.

The couple, who were also going through the IVF process to start a family, realised early in the planning stages that they were about to create their dream home above a sewer. Costs mounted up as they worked to make their site buildable.

Kevin McCloud with Olaf and Fritha in West Sussex (Channel 4 / Stef Kerstall)
Kevin McCloud with Olaf and Fritha in West Sussex (Channel 4 / Stef Kerstall)

In Cambridgeshire, one family divided a plot to pay off debts and complete an emotional tribute build which came in the form of an Asian-inspired villa in the Fenlands.

The third instalment followed Ian and Jenny as they swapped city life for a rotten hut on a historic Scottish estate. Most intense of all perhaps, they had to convert the Grade II-listed bothy into their forever home under the scathing watch of the other estate residents.

In Chichester, Dan and Nina were determined to build a warehouse-style house suspended over a natural swimming pool. All on an incredibly tight budget, that gets pushed to its limit when a remortgage loan falls through.

Dan and Nina were determined to build a home overlooking a natural swimming pool (Channel 4)
Dan and Nina were determined to build a home overlooking a natural swimming pool (Channel 4)

In the Lake District, couple Rob and Ruth took on a crumbling pig sty ruin with huge dreams and the pressure of funding the project with a parent’s retirement fund – a loan they would have to be able to pay back alongside their mortgage.

The final episode in the most recent series saw retired ad man and former boxer Geoff swap a luxury villa in Spain for a self-build project in the remote floodplains of Essex to be closer to his grandchildren.

Rob and Ruth’s former mill-turned-pig sty ruin in the Lake District (Channel 4)
Rob and Ruth’s former mill-turned-pig sty ruin in the Lake District (Channel 4)

Memorable projects from previous Grand Designs series include the now-infamous Devon lighthouse which, at the time of filming, was labelled an eyesore by locals. The emotional rollercoaster episode revealed that Edward and Hazel had split after spiralling costs, debts of over £4 million and extensive delays caused irreparable damage to their relationship.

The North Devon lighthouse is due to be finished and listed for sale in the coming months (Alan Phillips)
The North Devon lighthouse is due to be finished and listed for sale in the coming months (Alan Phillips)

Having been started more than nine years ago, the project is due to be completed in the coming months and will be listed for sale with a guide price of £10 million.

Last year’s series also saw design engineer Mark embark on a journey to build a wheelchair-friendly family home on a tight budget in Warwickshire. Mark and his wife Penny separated a year into the build, although Penny continued to project manage, and the home was listed for sale just a month after Kevin McCloud’s final visit.

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