Emotional Grand Designs sees a family embark on a poignant self-build



fter 20 years in Malaysia, and following the sudden death of her husband, Gretta returns to England to rebuild her life and an Asian-inspired villa in Cambridgeshire Fens.

In tonight’s episode of Channel 4’s Grand Designs, the teacher returns to the UK and, with no place to call home, moves into a trailer in her sister’s back garden.

Gretta’s sister, Mary, and her husband Fernando also went through difficult times.

They lost their business in the global financial crisis and in order to pay off their debts they rent out their beloved family home and live in their backyard – also in a mobile home.

The couple welcome Gretta, a mother of two adult sons, into their life and their garden and the three of them live for a while, side by side in two static caravans.

With no choice but to start a new life, Gretta uses her £ 100,000 of her savings to buy the garden for Mexico-born Mary and Fernando, which will allow them to erase what they owe and go back to their house.

On the land of their son Carlos, an architect by training, will design a new house for Gretta, still right next to her sister in what will be a shared garden. It really is a family affair.

Channel 4 / Malgosia Czarniecka Lonsdale

“The most poignant reason to build is based on loss and mourning and it is perhaps in the darkest times that we discover that those around us, who love us, will step forward and help us rebuild. our lives. And even to build a house, ”says presenter Kevin McCloud.

The whole episode is tinged with sadness, hope, and love, and McCloud worries that the pressure of an erection will test family relationships to the limit. He wonders if – with a budget of £ 300,000 – this extended clan is overcoming past difficulties and building a common future. Especially since Gretta’s nephew is the meticulous architect and her brother-in-law (her father) the novice project manager.

“No doubt there will be buggerations,” eccentric Fernando told McCloud. “But I feel responsible for Gretta, for the time and the budget. We are all in the soup, ”he adds.

Channel 4 / Malgosia Czarniecka Lonsdale

On the show, detailed blueprints will reveal Carlos’ design: the footprint of a rectangular one-story house will be pinned by stakes deep into the solid rock that lies beneath the Fenland’s soil.

At the top is a custom 130-piece steel frame with a well-insulated roof – all of this will be prefabricated off-site. The roof overlooks the property by 2m all around and at the top is the terrace. The walls are glazed from floor to ceiling to connect with the lush green terrain at the edge of the forest while the overhang and roof will be coated with a special Asian burnt wood plaster called Shoshugibon.

Charring the wood gives it a dark, almost glazed appearance, protecting it from the elements and insects.

The style is a not-so-subtle nod to the oriental architecture that Gretta and Ray loved.

The open plan living room and kitchen will form the main space with sliding doors to the garden and wide hallways leading to the three guest bedrooms and the master bedroom with en suite bathroom. A side door through a utility room will face Mary’s house, to connect the sisters.

Construction begins with the site clean-up in February 2020 and in March the country entered containment without any authorized workers on the site, including the architect.

The trio of Gretta, Mary and Fernando were going to have to get their hands dirty.

But would the pressure of the project, especially living there, shake the foundations of the project and of the family?

There are also other problems that will arise. Like the preservation of Fernando’s favorite apple tree, which is over 100 years old, produces an abundance of fruit and was played by his children. It’s right on the edge of Gretta’s new home footprint.

“In this project, everyone is working together towards a happy project, if it goes well,” says McCloud. “If things don’t go well and the emotions unravel, then the sense of renewal that this project represents can erode, and we don’t want it. Love must prevail.

Inevitably, a conflict arises. Fernando – a rewilding enthusiast who had planted a thousand trees on his land over the past 30 years – saw his apple tree fall.

Gretta wondered if the dark Asian cladding was too heavy much to Carlos’ horror, but the architect did as he wanted. This decision cost Gretta £ 10,000 over budget and the windows were costing £ 13,000 more than expected.

There were many delays along the way and the dream of being in the house for Christmas was shattered. She also ended up spending £ 450,000 on the project, which is 50% more than expected.

In August 2021, Gretta finally moved in – two years after Ray’s death – and she describes it as a “peaceful and happy place”.

McCloud says “it represents all that is good in the family.” He declares it crisp and clean with the glistening coating of the Fenland sun and the landscaping signaling his Eastern roots.

“When the foundations of a life crumble, the way forward is impossible to imagine,” he concludes. “But in this house a new future is forged from the vestiges of the past … and they are still a happy family.”


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