Army couple Leah and Craig left their military lives and erected a totally factory-made house from Poland in tonight’s Grand Designs: The Streets, while project manager Jitinder created a batchelor pad worthy of the Hollywood Hills.
The fifth episode of the Channel 4 series follows the fortunes of a community of self-builders let loose on a site in Oxfordshire.
Graven Hill is a district of oven-ready plots sold off to self builders who want to express themselves, according to presenter Kevin McCloud who this week watched over the two projects of Leah and Craig, and Jitinder.
Army surgeon Leah and ex-army officer Craig, who is now an IT consultant, have lived in army accommodation all over the world including in Germany and served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, but opted to settle in Graven Hill in Bicester. “We have seen enough of the saddest side of the military, we decided it was time to put roots down,” explained Leah.
“They have broken with military discipline and the barracks beige,” McCloud said in his introduction. However, they opted for a regimented and efficient approach to house building and bought one from a catalogue. The pre-fabricated timber panels which came with windows and inbuilt plumbing were made in the factory in Poland. The timber framed house was rendered in an off-white with a red clay tiled roof and was built and erected in a mere couple of weeks, costing (including the land) £502,000.
However, the efficiency of the build outpaced the speed with which the Army signed off the Help to Buy loan for the couple which delayed the deal to buy the plot – even as the house was travelling across Europe. This was the main hurdle for the couple who managed to secure finance just in time.
Their home, which McCloud described as a “charming and correctly European house, portraying all its Polish origins,” has an open plan ground floor with deep windows and electric shutters that they close in the late evening to “bunker down”. The kitchen turns into a void in the middle of the long barn-like house where there is a gym and dining room and at the end is the living room opening onto a garden and outside study.
The timber staircase leads up to the landing which overlooks the void, with three bedrooms running off it. “It is simple and therefore the crafted elements such as the staircase sing out,” said McCloud. But just because it came from a catalogue does not mean the couple did not have choice, he added. They could choose the taps, for example, where the windows go and the size of the roof lantern. Then there are the touches of creativity such as the timber worktops made by Craig and the telephone box bar.
“Ambitious self-build experiments are taking place at Graven Hill as people push themselves to their limits in pursuit of their visions,” McCloud said, referring to the next project being run by consultant Jitinder. Over the course of the episode Jitinder built his “lifetime home in which to retire” having spent 26 years living on his own in a small flat in Reading, with no room for guests. “I looked for nine years for a house to buy but everything I saw needed too much work to turn it into a home suitable for me as a single man,” he said to McCloud.
This routine-loving project manager, who described the art of batch cooking on camera, led the build himself of a Hollywood Hills-style contemporary home in Graven Hill. Having been in a cramped flat, light and outlook were important to him so he designed a home that could “grab view and the changing seasons”.
Despite his experience as a project manager advising businesses on how to be more efficient, Jitinder ran into problems he couldn’t have foreseen or control. He disagreed with the tradesfolk he was trying to manage on the smallest of details such as the shape of the guttering. At one point the Graven Hill risk team had to intervene, and claimed that the health and safety assessment of Jitinder’s build was like “something you would get off the internet” as the team craned six tonnes of steel over the home of his to-be-neighbours.
The final straw was the carefully-selected off-white render which, when it arrived, looked like it had a tinge of violet. As it turned out, when applied, it did have a pink tinge. “I can’t imagine any other colour now,” said Jitinder, luckily. The statuesque structure cost him £650,000 to £700,000 including the plot and was made from giant panel, studded with insulation, slotted together and reinforced with steel beams and joints. On the ground floor are two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a gym and a utility kitchen.
The open stairwell leads up to an entirely open plan first floor with the main kitchen and living room designed for entertaining, and a balcony and roof terrace. The top floor is home to his master-bedroom and further balcony with views across the meadow beyond.
The smooth finish of the floor is the result of six layers of resin which look like “cloud has been poured over it,” said McCloud. “It is a bold monolithic statement”, he added, and the perfect accompliment to the “weird and wonderful” collection of homes taking shape at Graven Hill.
To watch this week’s episode of Grand Designs: The Streets go to the Channel 4 website or All4 app.