Grand Designs’ The Streets: Pioneering couple build a ranch house in Glasgow

·3-min read
Local architect Natasha Huq; self-builders Ben Whitney and Joanna Susskind-Whitney; and presenter Kevin McCloud  (Channel 4)
Local architect Natasha Huq; self-builders Ben Whitney and Joanna Susskind-Whitney; and presenter Kevin McCloud (Channel 4)

Pioneering couple Joanna and Ben are the first self-builders to erect their ranch house on the inaugral self-build street in Glasgow.

Working as an animator (Joanna) and carpenter (Ben) they spend their spare time camping in the wilderness, and in Wednesday’s fourth episode of Grand Designs: The Streets, they set out to create a home which embodies their rustic rural passions.

"It’s a house that will throw you out into the wilderness," says Ben, even though the canalside site is just two miles from the city centre.

But the road was rocky, they faced arson and vandalism on the journey to build their "little house on the Prairie" in a gritty part of Glasgow, while staying within their tight £170,000 budget.

The couple had a strict £170,000 budget for their ranch self-build dream (Channel 4)
The couple had a strict £170,000 budget for their ranch self-build dream (Channel 4)

This second series of The Streets, anchored by Kevin McCloud, follows the British self build revolution which started in Oxfordshire. It is beginning to spread across the country, the presenter claims at the start of the episode, with Glasgow City Council launching Scotland’s first urban self-build project with six plots sold for less than £50,000 each.

Joanna and Ben’s project started in November 2019, with Joanna project managing and Ben and carpenter friend Craig doing everything else. "We are making everything ourselves so if we change out minds on, say, the room sizes, Ben can change them. And, he’s free" says Joanna.

The pair got a self-build mortgage of £170,000 with £30,000 going on pouring the foundations at the outset of the project. "Their ambition far outstrips their budget," says co-presenter, local architect Natasha Huq.

But the pair saved on costs such as scaffolding thanks to Ben’s co-carpenter who is also a climber, and Joanna also laid the underfloor heating pipes herself and mixed the clay rendering (with straw mixed in) for the walls.

A heavy timber-framed house was built using native Douglas Fir (Channel 4)
A heavy timber-framed house was built using native Douglas Fir (Channel 4)

In the episode they designed and built a heavy timber framed house of native Douglas Fir, but used huge sections of the wood pegged together to ensure its structural stability. It is the size and solidity of the frame that McCloud describes as "epic."

After the handmade frame was erected the lodge was then wrapped in modern insulation. At one end is the open plan kitchen under a double height ceiling, the living area sits behind a wall of glass facing south and overlooks the garden.

Halfway along is a handmade wooden staircase leading to the first floor where there is a snug and bedroom under a steep sloping tin roof.

A USA-style porch runs the length of the building for sitting outside all year round.

As well as doing everything themselves (including fixing the flashing under the tin roof and around the windows) they faced other setbacks – early in the project Joanna and Ben came back to the site to find the caravan they were staying in (with all their belongings) burnt to the ground, and the sides of their workshop (a wedding marquee) slashed by vandals.

Touch-and-go moments included running out of concrete for the screed floor (Channel 4)
Touch-and-go moments included running out of concrete for the screed floor (Channel 4)

Other touch-and-go moments included running out of concrete for the screed floor. The biggest cause of anxiety, however, was that as they approached completion they were still the only site on the street where any construction had taken place.

"We feel isolated having gone first in what was meant to be a collective project for the good of the community," says Joanna.

As McCloud and Huq turn up to see the finished projects they are welcomed onto a warm wooden stoop and into the double height kitchen which McCloud says is "cathedral-like" with the timber frame – and pegs – completely exposed.

"We could be in Oregan" he says, “Glasgow has its first American ranch."

As the pair of architects revisit the now-finished home they see work beginning on the nextdoor plots. Rather than bemoaning their neighbourhoods building, Joanna says she was relieved to see machinery turn up. They are no longer alone.

McCloud sums it up. "The spirit of generosity of this welcoming home is worthy of this pioneering street," he says. Joanna and Ben’s house is certainty the first frontier of self-build in Glasgow.

Grand Designs: The Streets series two airs on Channel 4 on Wednesday nights at 9pm.

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