Grand Designs: Ambitious couple attempt to build concrete spaceship in Kent

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fter spending four long years looking for a home, merchant sea captain Dorran and his wife Vereuschka take the plunge and build a sunken spaceship in a Kent quarry to house a young crew.

Tired of browsing Canterbury’s busy property market, the couple, who rent with their three children, have splashed out £375,000 on historic hillside land with a ready-made design for a hidden home.

Dorran, a meticulously organized military man who works in the North Sea, and Veruska who works full-time for a pharmaceutical company, have invested all their savings (including the sale of their house) in the construction which they believe will cost more than a million pounds. in total.

In the latest episode of this 23rd series of Channel 4’s Grand Designs, presenter and self-build guru Kevin McCloud met the ambitious duo who took a journey into the unknown.

The journey began in the summer of 2017 with huge machines digging 3,000 cubic meters of red sand out of the slope, which was once an old fort and then a gravel pit. It sits on the outskirts of Canterbury with the cathedral spire just visible above the trees.

The concrete shell will be wrapped in a waterproof membrane, with industrial strength walls strong enough to support concrete roof slabs.

The house is located on an old gravel pit converted into a hill fort

/ Channel 4

Steps lead to an open central garden with a rectangular water feature, surrounded by the walls of the room – clad in horizontal bands of chestnut.

The house is divided into two halves, the living room, sitting area and kitchen on one side, and the bedrooms, bathrooms on the other with an underground garage and a state-of-the-art car lift to bring the car up from the depths from the earth to the outside world.

“It’s daring, demanding and difficult,” says McCloud, who wonders how this well-organized and no-nonsense professional duo will cope with the chaos and madness of a construction site.

A dilapidated site is exactly what McCloud discovers when he shows up in March 2018 – the month Dorran and Vereuschka had planned to move in. The concrete structure is embedded and the roof in place, but McCloud is disappointed to find that little progress has been made. because Dorran fired the builders.

The captain, who works in the North Sea installing giant wind turbines, alternates five weeks away and five weeks at home. As he says, “some people are born with the sea in their blood, and I am one of them”. Having little choice, he will henceforth assume sole responsibility for the project.

“So far they’ve spent £400,000 on a semi-buried concrete structure,” says McCloud. “They were seduced by a high-tech design but building it themselves was never part of the plan.”

So, will they stay the course and, as McCloud says, “Will Dorran finish the project or will he finish it?”

The second half of the show takes place nearly two years since construction began as a long cold winter, which froze the ground around the construction, comes to an end in early 2020. Vereuschka is working from site and programming the next piece of five weeks of work in anticipation of Dorran’s return. The giant elliptical window frame for the living room has been installed, along with the air source heat pump system. Landscaping comes next.

Though the harrowing five-week stop-and-start schedule makes life difficult for any entrepreneur, Dorran won’t give up control, driven by a promise to his family, guilt, and a need for perfection. It improves the waterproofing membrane – a 5mm thick spray coat – which adds £100,000 to the budget. And then the first knocks of covid lockdown.

The exterior walls of the house are clad with horizontal chestnut slats

/ Channel 4

“For the first time, cracks appear in Dorran’s stoic resolve,” McCloud says, when he admits in retrospect, when he fired the builders he should have sold the site, the envelope and the plan to someone. another.

To move forward, he makes the brave decision to quit his job at sea and focus on delivering the house. To make up for lost family time, they move in and camp in the building as it takes shape around them.

In 2022, when McCloud finally returns, he describes the finished house as a “concrete submarine that has broken through the surface of a wildflower meadow”.

As he disappears among the poppies, he descends the planted terraces which lead him four meters underground.

“You have no idea what’s underneath. White terracing draws you into a crater-shaped house surrounded by greenery. It’s like a buried monument to what human effort can accomplish,” McCloud says.

The presenter is full of praise for the sailor who, according to him, entered an apprenticeship and became a master builder.

“And it’s a home,” he concludes, “the creation of two people who shared a belief in perfection and each other.”

Grand Designs’ new series airs on Channel 4 on Wednesdays at 9pm

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