Oul mates Dan and Nina move to Chichester and take the plunge, with an ambitious plan to build a three-story warehouse-style house suspended above a natural swimming pool.
The Grand Designs episode on Channel 4 features a couple swapping their home in London for a tired 1930s house in West Sussex – on a large piece of land that also houses the Community Drainage Pond.
Architect and interior designer, the couple are determined to separate the pond into a hidden infinity pool for the neighborhood and a natural pool for their two little daughters, Isla and Lexie.
But it is very complex and strewn with technical architectural pitfalls. Presenter Kevin McCloud sums it up: “For centuries, architects have harnessed the rather wonderful relationship between buildings on the one hand and water on the other… and once introduced, they dance,” he says.
“But the relationship can also be toxic and corrosive, because water can be an architect’s worst enemy. It can be like a narcissistic lover who could destroy a building, ”he warns.
The danger lies in the separation of the ponds, by a concrete bunker. What looked like a swamp, in Dan’s final vision, will be a natural but landscaped swimming pond with crystal clear water. This will hopefully be achieved with a complex filtration system and thousands of aquatic plants to make it clean enough to open the kitchen window and dive straight into it.
“The worst-case scenario is that we have blue algae, which is poisonous,” Dan reveals to Nina at the start of the show.
Money is tight too. From savings, a house sale and the potential mortgage on a rental property, they budgeted £ 650,000 to build the three-story warehouse-like structure. This will be connected by a glass link, above the pond, to a lighter structure to house the kitchen. This part of the house has been designed to give the illusion of a floating island.
The plans reveal that the building itself will be covered with Siberian larch horizontally and vertically to add texture. The entrance will open onto a triple height corridor with a glass and lead wall directly in front overlooking the water beyond. Above, two suspended balcony walkways will connect the bedrooms and offices for the couple, who both run their own businesses.
Dan and Nina are responsible for moving the girls out of the damp, crumbling main house, which they plan to demolish. The looming deadline throughout the show is the race to build the house and seal it before the rising water table from the new pond arrives first.
But they also have another time pressure. Dan’s father dies of leukemia and they want him to share the project before he dies. A multi-skilled farmer who taught Dan how to build a wall and drive a shovel, his father advises him to hang up.
The family wants to “swim with the frogs and dive with the newts” in their new floating house, rich in biodiversity. But with little experience in creating ponds or even building new homes, are the couple overwhelmed?
Only a few months after the start of the project, Dan lost his father and construction stopped for four weeks.
Later, just as he is focusing again, the mortgage fails because their rental property is undervalued – which the couple attributes to Brexit. They now have £ 100,000 to spend on a £ 650,000 construction and have to put their apartment up for rent on the market for sale.
This is their last piece of security and ultimately it sells for roughly to cover the cost of the program. They have to think creatively with light shades made from rolled up sushi mats and there is a scene where Dan is trying to build a torchlight plinth in the middle of the night.
At one point, three years after work began, McCloud is inspecting the site. Although the house is built and promising, the pond is cloudy. “It all sits on the pond now,” McCloud tells Dan who is busy planting the perfect eco-friendly blend of aquatic plants to balance the nutrients in the water to keep it clean and clear. Each piece of watery foliage is so large that the couple are spending £ 10,000 more than budget allows on pond plants.
When the floating house and natural swimming pool are finally completed, it appears to be a fusion of a natural pond and an Ibiza infinity pool with steps leading up to the sparkling, translucent waters.
McCloud praises the house’s spiral staircase which is wrapped in light wood and weaves its way up to the blue sky like a beautiful beanstalk. “It looks like a sculpture,” he says.
But does this building that changes life and improves the environment come at a high price? The couple ultimately passed £ 8,000.
“We had to make our money work really hard,” says Dan. “It has taken its toll, but he’s here now and will give us a lot more. “
Of course, McCloud asks him, “What would your father say?” “” It’s funny you say that. I saw so much more of my father in me in this process than ever before, ”he replies.