From castles and churches to caves and lifeboat stations, unique buildings have become homes for many Grand Designers.
Image: Andrew Wall
Over the many years Grand Designs has been on the air, there has been an abundance of brave self-builders that have taken an unusual building that appears a far from obvious choice for a conversion project and turned it into a triumphant home.
Here are some of the best examples that have featured on Grand Designs and where you can watch the episodes.
The Water Tower
Image: Jefferson Smith
This water tower project, which Kevin McCloud referred to on TV as a monster, a beast, a crumbling giant, was built in 1877 and had been empty for decades, with gaps between bricks, trees inching their way through the walls, and hundreds of dead pigeons inside (plus the poo of many more, still alive). And Leigh Osborne and Graham Voce didn't do things by halves, with an ambitious budget and timeline.
Watch the episode: Kennington Water Tower
The Gothic Chapel
Image: Mark Luscombe-Whyte
Originally built in the 1830s, this Gothic chapel had fallen into disrepair. Andrew and Jackie bought it and restored the tower and roof before converting the interior into a home. The walls were deliberately repaired with a different colour brick so the story of the rescue work became part of the fabric of the church. Converting a church can frequently prove more of a penance than a pleasure. As Kevin McCloud pointed out, the soaring proportions are often compromised by having to squeeze in bedrooms.
Watch the episode: Gothic Chapel, County Mayo
The Cave House
Image: Andrew Wall
As far as rarity goes, a cave home has got to be the most singular project ever featured on Grand Designs. Angelo Mastropietro bought the abandoned 800-year-old property near the Wyre Forest in Worcestershire after seeing it advertised in a local supplement. He tackled most of the renovation and improvement work himself, straightening the walls and lowering the floors by hand, and excavating 70 tonnes of stone in the process. Angelo also dug service channels into the sandstone floors, drilled a borehole for running water and laid cables across his neighbour’s field for power.
Watch the episode: The Cave House, Wayre Forest
The Life Boat Station
Image: Chris Tubbs
Plots don’t get much more spectacular than Tim and Philomena O’Donovan’s renovated lifeboat station on the Tenby coast. They don’t get much more difficult either. It took them 7 years just to start building, which involved negotiations with the Crown Estate to buy the freehold for their strip of the beach.
Next came the hard part: getting steel, glass and other materials to the site with no road access. Most were transported across the sand and craned up the 40ft-high pier, which meant regular dashes between the tides. Once on site, it transpired that the building was so warped that it was almost impossible to fit the straight steel beams, which doubled the initial 9-month build time.
The Derelict Vinegar Factory
Image: Rhiannon Slatter
For many city dwellers, the sheer convenience of having everything they could ever desire within walking distance means that a move to the suburbs is simply out of the question. For Melbourne-based architect Adrian Light and his partner, Liz Murdoch, packing up shop was not an option, and so the couple undertook a quest to find a structure with substance and character that they could embrace and make into a home in the heart of the city. Enter the vinegar factory.
This gritty, crumbling building was constructed by the Melbourne Vinegar Company in the Twenties and later owned by iconic local brand Skipping Girl Vinegar. The building had been abandoned for more than 40 years before Adrian stumbled across it and hatched his plan to transform an unliveable space into one fit for a growing family.
Read more: Vinegar Factory, Australia
Ed and Vicky Versluys spotted the site entirely by accident on their way to Dartmoor to take a week off from house hunting. Climbing through a hedge to find a cowshed they'd been told about, they decided to contact the farmer even though there was no For Sale sign.
Fortunately, the landowner said that he would be willing to sell the 5-acre plot, although there was no planning permission. The couple took a 6-month option on the site, and feverishly set about designing a building that would change the mindset of planners from a long-standing 20-year ‘No’ in the face of various proposals to develop the site into a single dwelling, into a ‘Yes’.
Watch this episode: The Cowshed, South Somerset
The Barn Conversion
Image: Rachael Smith
Kevin McCloud voted this grand barn conversion as one of his top 10 favourite Grand Designs TV houses of all time, explaining: "Most of us when faced with a building of this scale and size would get freaked out by the challenge of doing anything with it – but not Ben and Freddie. What they made was a grand, triumphant addition to their collective autobiography of made things... I love this place… a home with all the attitude and resilience of its owner."
The original barn in Colchester, Essex, dated from around 1560. The owners saved £500,000 on the surveyor’s quote of £1.3million. A modern roof belies the stripped back nature of the interior. There’s no plasterboard or paint to hide the bare bones of the structure and the shell of the barn has been transformed into a liveable space.
Watch the episode: The Barn Conversion, Braintree
The Converted Church
Image: Jefferson Smith
Kevin McCloud’s initial assessment of Dean Marks was ‘bordering on the lunatic’. The builder reckoned he could transform a Grade II-listed Birmingham church into a comfortable family home without an architect, or even a mortgage for the first 7 months of the build. So convinced was Dean of his vision that he put in an offer the day after seeing the church. However, it took another four and a half years to get permission to change the usage of the building into a home and begin construction.
The church building had fallen into disrepair after a decade of disuse, yet behind the decay was a huge amount of space, lofty ceilings and an array of original features, including 12 beautiful stained-glass windows. When it came to the church conversion, Dean was determined to go it alone; he eschewed architects, whom he felt were too uncompromising about their own ideas. But he made sure his daughter Abbie, wife Hilary and stepson Jonathan, who has Asperger’s and would find a new house unsettling, were as involved as possible.
Watch this episode: The Church Conversion, Birmingham
The Georgian Folly
Image: Fiona Walker Arnott
The first installment of the 2018 series of Grand Designs' saw Jaime and Mimi Fernandez, show us how new technology and traditional restoration methods merged to transform a Georgian folly into a unique home. ‘We’ve created a family home but we’ve also restored a local landmark to its former glory – one that lay abandoned for more than two centuries,’ says Mimi.
The foundation stone for Dinton Castle was laid in 1769, but architect Jaime Fernandez has used modern technology to bring the building back to life. Jaime and his wife, Mimi, and their two sons, George, three, and one-year-old Lucas, turned the rundown folly, in Aylesbury Vale Buckinghamshire, originally built by local landowner Sir John Van Hattem as a showcase for his fossils, into a home.
Watch the episode: Georgian folly, Aylesbury Vale
Which home conversion project is your favourite? Share your thoughts with us by tweeting us @granddesigns or post a comment on our Facebook page.