What Grand Designs Has Taught Us

Designer and presenter Kevin McCloud (yes, he of Grand Designs fame) has become known as much for his architectural advice as for his pearls of wisdom regarding life in general, so when he says, “If you’re not willing to take chances on the unusual, you’re settling for the ordinary,” we are inclined to believe him.

Grand Designs has been running for 25 years now and Box™ is proud to have participated in the New Zealand version of the show with a house on the edge of a cliff in Hillsborough (see it here).

But what exactly has this obsession with the long-running series taught us, if anything, about building?  

Aspirations usually outstrip budget

When you’re building your own grand design, whether your budget is $500K or $3 million, it seems to be human nature to want more than the grounding reality of a fixed fiscal plan allows. Often this comes down to what researchers call the ‘optimism bias’. And it affects everyone – even architects.

Our experience is that potential clients believe that going over budget simply won’t happen to them. If Grand Designs has shown us anything it’s that, however well prepared you are, the many variables of what is essentially a complex project conspire against this. After building more than 250 houses, managing these aspirations with a clear-eyed programme and an integrated design/build and costing team has a way of bringing these aspirations into focus – and into line.

The DIY lie

Who wouldn’t get behind a good, keen gal or guy who is willing to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into project managing and/or physically constructing elements of the house to keep costs down? It makes for soul-stirring telly. But self-building isn’t a silver bullet for the budget. Understanding the true cost of taking this on yourself is critical. Far apart from the call on your time (and perhaps a reduced focus on your own business), many don’t realise the risks or the work involved in being responsible for the supply chain.

Other elements can trip you up, too: importing tapware or (insert product of choice) from (insert country of choice) might seem like a good idea but if it doesn’t arrive as scheduled and then needs work because it’s non-compliant with the New Zealand building code, have you really saved on the deal?

High ideals, high stakes       

Unique, boundary-breaking projects are what makes the Grand Designs model so captivating; let’s face it, who’d get caught up in a reality series about building your average bungalow? Shows like these have suffused the public consciousness, but along with the high ideals – the challenge and the ultimate triumph – there lies a darker side. In the many years it has been on air, 80% of the projects televised have run over budget but others haven’t even made it to small screen. These are the owners who go bankrupt halfway through, or who can’t follow the process through for one reason or another and end up selling. 

These projects are not small gambles: they represent significant financial risk and, potentially, ruin. Of course, you’ll never see this on the show. A happy ending is imperative. We think so, too. Building your own home is incredibly rewarding – you will certainly experience personal growth – but don’t be naïve. Take sensible risks. A steady hand to hold onto is essential to the adventure.

People power

At its core, Grand Designs is about drama. The skeleton might be the design-and-build process, but the meat is our emotional connection with the protagonists. From go to whoa, it’s a showcase of the energy, creativity and resilience of the human spirit. The importance of relationships is paramount: talents that come together to achieve a collective vision. This dynamic is right up our street. The idea of architects, builders, project managers, estimators and, most important of all, clients, working under one roof, and collaboratively to achieve a unique, personalised result underpins the Box™ philosophy.

A final word

Grand Designs is a highly amplified version of reality curated to ignite our passions and appeal to our emotions. At Box™, we want less of that. While building your own home is exciting and can be stressful at times, with the right plan and the right people in place, there is no real potential for catastrophe. So sure, yes, as Kevin McCloud advocates, strive for the unusual and the original. Just do it with a good support team on your side. 

By Box
27/03/2024

More Design Bites

Storing the Printed Word

Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks, beseeched Dr Seuss. Here are some rather more stylish ways

Design Bites – May

What got us thinking:  Earlier this year, the British Government hosted a design competition entitled Home 2030 to tease out ideas for affordable, efficient and

The lowdown on construction drawdowns

Building a home is an exciting challenge, and financing it doesn’t have to be daunting. Together with Kiwibank, we’ve compiled this no-jargon beginner’s guide to