Miss last night’s episode of Grand Designs: The Streets?

Here’s what you need to know…

The third episode of Grand Designs: The Streets followed architect, John and office administrator, Julia, who have been planning to build an amazing house built by John for the last thirty years. Unfortunately the couple have been plagued by bad luck; recessions, job losses and being outbid on plots have all got in the way of their self-build dream. Finally, they managed to secure a plot at Graven Hill and were more determined to build than ever.

Architect John designed a beautiful modernist wedge of a home for them to retire to – a classy escape from the trials of life. But as soon as they start, their run of bad luck continued. The lockdown brought construction to a halt and every month spent in their expensive rented house ate away at their tight budget and in turn threatened their vision for a comfortable retirement.

Adding to the pressure is John’s health. Nevertheless, with limited funds, he has no option other than to project manage this complex build himself.

We caught up with John and Julia ahead of the programme to get more details about their self-build journey.

Meet John & Julia

What made you decide to build your own home?

We have been wanting to build our own home for a number of years as John is an Architect, and over the years, we’ve made a number of attempts to build locally. Latterly the price of building land in Oxfordshire had been prohibitive.

Why did you choose to build at Graven Hill?

We first saw the proposals for self-building at Graven Hill in the press when it was first announced and monitored the progress.  We have lived in a local village in Cherwell for 32 years and thought this would be a perfect opportunity for us to build our own energy efficient home in which to retire in a unique community, whilst staying in the same area as our friends.

What was your build process and what challenges did you need to overcome?

Initially we were considered for one of the original ‘pioneer’ plots which were featured on the first series of Grand Designs: The Street but did not get through to the final selection of self-builders, we then waited for further phases to become available and finally reserved our plot in December 2017. The first challenge we came across was selling our house as the market was difficult and our village had a proposed new expressway set to pass close by. However, eventually after nearly 2 years we sold, even if it was considerably below the valuation, which immediately reduced our budget.

However, John had designed everything and our ‘Golden Brick’ process with Graven Hill ran smoothly so we were ready to go on-site with our SIPS frame in March 2020. Unfortunately, as the country entered a lockdown, so did the factory manufacturing our frame. This delayed our build by three months and was followed by delays due to the difficulties with the supply of materials and availability of tradespeople. Our warranty company also disputed our renter system, which delayed us considerably. Escalation of costs due to the building boom caused by the pandemic was also a problem. We ended up doing more of the work ourselves than we anticipated and John project managed the whole build. Most of the stress that came with our build can be directly attributed to the pandemic.

What are some key features of your home?

The key feature of our home is John’s innovative design which considers the shape of the plot and includes a large first  floor terrace which is a ‘hidden garden’. We built a smaller house on the plot to give us maximum garden space which was very important to us with large glass sliding wall to bring  the garden inside.  It has all the usual energy efficient elements such as MHVR, air source heat pump and underfloor heating. It is extremely warm and comfortable. We are also pleased with the kitchen which includes a ‘breakfast cupboard’ which we particularly wanted to conceal our appliances from the living area.

We are pleased with the house and the community; I am already involved with the choir and the gardening club; we have great neighbours and we are looking forward to more socialising as we emerge from the pandemic.

Grand Designs: The Streets was first broadcast on Wednesday 13 April on Channel 4 at 9pm. If you’re interested in finding out more about Self-Build at Graven Hill, join us for our Self-Build Made Simple webinar on Tuesday 31 May and get the answers to all your questions and take the first steps towards your dream home.