Grand Designs TV show’s most dramatic moments: controversial, still-unfinished lighthouse among jaw-dropping reveals

Meghann Murdock
·4-min read

The Grand Designs TV series showcases the sheer determination — and sometimes blind ambition — of Britain’s most courageous home renovators.

The long-running Channel 4 show — fronted by Kevin McCloud and now in its 21st year — is as popular with self-builders and architecture fans now as when it started.

The most recent series also offered viewers drama by the skipload, with the airing of one particular show — the demolition of a family house in North Devon to make way for a modernist lighthouse home — sending viewers rushing to Twitter to declare it Grand Design’s “saddest ever” episode.

We round up the most dramatic, complicated and unusual builds of the last series.

Fremantle
Fremantle

The most dramatic: a still-unfinished clifftop home

Certainly the series’ most memorable project, Edward and Hazel Short decided to knock down their family home on a North Devon clifftop and replace it with a modernist rock star lighthouse.

In the tumultuous years between McCloud’s visits, the couple separate, debts stack up and the already painstakingly slow build grinds to a halt.

Still determined to finish his epic project, owner Edward was ordered to remove an “unsightly” white fence above a stone boundary wall by North Devon Council in May last year. Cranes have since moved on to the site for remedial work to repair damage caused by the weather.

Edward Short told Devon Live that he hoped to finish the build in 2021 but that "nothing is guaranteed".

With locals still referring to it as an eyesore, comparing it to a North Korean missile bunker, let's hope we see the lighthouse home's final stages on Grand Designs before too long.

The most inspirational: team effort to build ultimate family home

Other dramatic projects from last year’s series included design engineer Mark Butler’s journey to build a wheelchair-friendly family home on a tight budget in Warwickshire.

In another emotionally fraught episode, viewers learned that Mark and his now ex-wife Penny had decided to separate a year into the project. Penny continued to project manage the build, however.

With a maximum budget of £600,000, the pair had to cut back on some of the features they had planned but one essential element they didn’t scrimp on was the game changer – a passenger lift that cost £20,000.

They had hoped to be able to keep the property, and find a second home for Penny. But just a month after McCloud visited to see the final results, the family home was listed for sale for £1 million.

Tony Buckingham/UNP
Tony Buckingham/UNP

The most complicated: a big-budget superhome

One of the most complicated projects attempted, one couple’s interest in Celtic roundhouses led to them create a big-budget superhome in Lincolnshire.

Paul Wilkinson, 46, and his wife Amy, 39, are so fascinated by ancient roundhouses built by the Celtic/British Iceni tribe almost 2,000 years ago that they modelled their forever home on these circular structures.

During the build, self-confessed insomniac Paul spends countless hours on site, night and day, until he requires surgery for ongoing back pain and begrudgingly obeys orders to rest for three weeks.

The budget starts to blow by hundreds of thousands of pounds as Paul and Amy are forced to invest in extra manpower to complete the build.

In the end the build only takes one month longer than planned, leaving the couple delighted with their forever home. "But I shall never build another roundhouse, ever again," said Paul at the time.

Fremantle
Fremantle

The most peaceful: creatives build light-filled horsehoe of barns

In rural Suffolk, McCloud visits a young family intent on creating a new house from a serious of interlinking barn-like buildings, wrapped in the shape of a horseshoe around an ancient oak tree.

More like a village than a house, the vast project is arranged across five buildings that include six bedrooms, six bathrooms, a music studio and an annexe.

At one point, to save money, owner and musician Toby decides to do all the joinery work himself.

The couple go £15,000 over budget, but are delighted with their finished home — and still have to pinch themselves that their architectural dream has become reality.

The light-filled home is bright and airy, but Toby can avoid direct sunlight — as is required for his health as part of his cancer recovery: it's a clever way of making the building work for both him and his family.

Scroll through the extraordinary projects featured in the most recent episode of Grand Designs in our gallery, above.