Grand Designs: Doomed rollercoaster house in posh Manchester is quite the ride

·4-min read
Colin and Adele with Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud on the 23rd series of the popular homebuilding show  (Malgosia Czarniecka Lonsdale)
Colin and Adele with Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud on the 23rd series of the popular homebuilding show (Malgosia Czarniecka Lonsdale)

Daredevil film producer Colin and his wife Adele bought the “ugliest” house in the affluent Manchester suburb of Hale and flattened it to build their own curved Swedish colossus.

Last night, on the first episode of the 23rd series of Grand Designs, the couple attempted to erect their gigantic glass and cedar clad home, which presenter Kevin McCloud described as both gravity and budget defying.

The Channel 4 show is back at 9pm every Wednesday, and it kicked off with a pile of rubble take shape into a three-storey rollercoaster of a house comprising a frame of 205 pieces of steel.

Adventurer Colin, who has dragged his family around the world and shot films in places such as North Korea, is used to finding himself in a tight spot. But this was a complex project for a novice self-builder.

Plans showed the ground floor wrapped entirely in curved glass, with the cantilevered floor above boldly extending out to overhang it. The two upper levels were to be clad in a vertical strips of sandy-coloured cedar wood.

The couple set out to create a gigantic cedar and glass home (Malgosia Czarniecka Lonsdale)
The couple set out to create a gigantic cedar and glass home (Malgosia Czarniecka Lonsdale)

In a sunken courtyard, the ground floor was to house the kitchen, study, plant room and a spiral staircase that winds up to the social living room with a pub games area and a bar. Next-door would be the TV room/snug and off it, bedrooms for the children, Bill and Polly.

The top floor was designed to be entirely dedicated to Colin and Adele’s bedroom and relaxation suite with a yoga space. Once built, light was intended to flood this level from large circular lanterns in the roof, covered in 40 solar panels.

It was to be the perfect family home, but it was so long in the design and planning system – six years! – that it became the family joke.

“I often wonder whether we have done the right thing,” said Adele, as the foundations are being laid. “It’s not a family home anymore.”

Self-build guru McCloud questioned the budget when Colin claimed it would cost £700,000 to create a water-tight building.

“That’s £1,100 per square metre, which is in the territory of social housing,” McCloud said. “For a good quality self-build, you are looking at £2,500 per square metre, making a home of this size cost £1,500,000 to deliver.”

For Colin and Adele, such numbers were a nightmare.

As the project finally got out of the ground, Colin spotted a problem in the plans. There was a rogue column holding up the cantilevered first floor that he insisted should not be there for visual effect. Its removal added £30,000 to the budget and four months of redesigning the complex steel web.

This was just the start of the problems. The episode went on to show Colin handing over £250,000 to a Latvian building firm for the curved glass, only for them to disappear off site. Rather than a large Latvian workforce arriving to get the roof on and protect the wood which had arrived, the firm withdrew. And then the first Covid-19 lockdown descended.

Presenter McCloud questioned the couple’s budget throughout the build (Malgosia Czarniecka Lonsdale)
Presenter McCloud questioned the couple’s budget throughout the build (Malgosia Czarniecka Lonsdale)

“Buildings are like organisms, sometimes they grow and sometimes they sicken and wither,” said McCloud at this point.

“They gave an overseas firm a vast quantity of money with nothing to show for it, which is the equivalent of organ failure. I think this project is doomed, and I don’t think it can survive such major trauma,” he added midway through the episode.

Instead of celebrating his 50th birthday in his new home, Colin and Adele had to apply for a series of expensive loans, find a local builder, source 50 pieces of curved glass and get the house watertight so they could apply for a mortgage.

Finally, and on the verge of litigation, the Latvian workforce came back in September 2020 to finish the job, but the couple never got their money back for the missing glass.

A fleet of lorries turned up on site from Italy, where the property’s interior fixtures and fittings, from wood panelling to bathroom suites, had been stored for three years.

This package of £150,000 worth of interiors was then installed. “Not only does this home now have a chance of being finished,” said McCloud, “it has the chance of being great.”

Towards the end of the episode, he drove through automatic, cedar-clad gates to behold the finished Scandi-style project in the middle of the “fakery and football glitz” of Hale. “It is so different to every other building in this part of the world,” he said.

Bill and Polly, who had been to university and gone travelling during the project, had returned to live at home. “They have reengaged with it as a family asset,” said McCloud.

Colin described it as being “as good as they could have ever hoped for”, and now they have to chip away at the 20-year mortgage they were not expecting to have. In the end, the build cost them more than £1.7 million.

“Colin and Adele showed positivity in the face of trauma in this hurly-burly, Ferris wheel, rollercoaster of a project. Their knuckles are still white, but look at the building,” McCloud concluded. “They have won.”

The brand-new series of Grand Designs is now airing on Channel 4, every Wednesday at 9pm