Grand Designs

Buying a house not challenging enough? Why not build one!

What’s The Show? Grand Designs

What’s It All About, JG? Middle-class tosspots with too much time and/or cash spend vast sums of money self-building houses, either from scratch or restoring old buildings that have fallen to wrack and ruin, while host Kevin McCloud sneers at their attempts until The Big Reveal, when it turns out he liked it all along. Every. Time. To describe Grand Designs as repetitive would be something of an understatement, but it would also completely miss the point. In a sense the whole purpose is repetition, watching different people and buildings emerge from similar circumstances and assessing the results. This could have been made into some ghastly “reality TV competition” type thing, but instead it’s one man (McCloud) expressing a genuine passion for all things architectural and his absolute love and joy for what he’s doing radiating off the screen all while just letting people who want to undertake these projects get on with it. The show has been running since 1999 and is still going strong – it’s just kicked off its 19th season at time of writing.

Why Did You Give It A Go? I have a lingering interest in architecture – my best friend from school went on to become one professionally, and his father ended up doing what amounted to a Grand Designs restoration before that was Actually A Thing and it was fascinating to see it all take shape in real life. Plus, I like good design. You may fairly deduce from that sentence that I am one of the above-described middle-class tosspots.

Is It Any Good? Oh yes. Obviously there are certain things any potential viewer needs to get past – there’s Kevin McCloud’s sometimes often overly-effusive metaphors and alliteration for one, the sometimes stifling sense of someone stretching something somewhat. But Our Kevin is generally a great host, and it’s his enthusiasm for what he’s doing – presented in an unpretentious and unfussy manner – that allows everyone to appreciate what’s happening, from non-experts upwards, while the man himself remains rather charming on screen. Not every project succeeds – one woman a few years ago tried very hard to build a mock-Tudor mansion and ended up with what amounted to a self-inflicted nervous breakdown and a large muddy hole in the ground – but the vast majority do, and Grand Designs is the rare show where you really do want people to succeed for the most part. The fact there’s no artificial “competition” element that dogs and bogs down so many not-dissimilar shows of people showing off their passions for little more than love (any number of cooking shows, for example, but let’s single out Bake Off here as the grande dame) means that there’s a genuineness that eludes many of those shows. And there’s something to be appreciated about the fact that much of the point of Grand Designs is to make something which has genuine architectural quality and will actually last – unlike someone’s fondant fancy (well, unless they’ve really messed up their ingredients), these buildings should be around for decades and longer. Every season is usually only around seven or eight episodes long, but there’s almost always a focus on eco-building at some point, and not just hippy off-the-grid nonsense, but being able to use green buildings as something sustainable and, more importantly, practical and affordable. A focus on good, sustainable design, made with passion and commitment? Maybe it is just house porn for the middle-classes, but I think there’s something rather admirable about trying to do a show which has the genuine capacity to improve the quality of life of people – not just the self-builders but the ideas that can be taken from projects and applied to the larger world.

How Many Episodes Did You Watch? All of them, and a fair few more than once, if I’m honest.

Would You Recommend It? Very, very much so. Look, I know the show can sound a bit affected and precious, but the actual experience of watching it is very rarely that, and it’s impossible not to get swept along as people struggle to realise their passions. There tends not to be a focus on people’s “narrative” either – we’ll usually get a bit of details about who’s building, but mostly just so we have some idea of who it is we’re looking at rather than some artificially constructed reality-TV life story. Some guy’s from Spain, and that influences his decision when it comes to interior design (or whatever). Fine, that’s clear, we don’t need to know about his poverty-stricken childhood. Some woman’s spent her life in the countryside and always dreamed of living in a modern house and not some twee country-kitchen affair and now she’s going to give it a go. Great. We don’t need to hear about her mother’s obsession with, I dunno, pine cabinets or something as a motivating factor – she can just get on with the business of making a really great piece of architecture. The buildings always remain front and centre of Grand Designs, and we have Kevin McCloud on hand to gently guide us through anything else – and that’s just how it should be.

Scores On The Doors? 8/10

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