Ben Law's wooden house from Grand Designs

Ben Law’s wooden house in West Sussex

The nation was captivated when a woodsman hand built his own home in the forest

By Karen Stylianides | 4 January 2017

If you ask a fan of Grand Designs which programme they remember most, it’s often: ‘the one where the guy built his house in the woods’.

Ben Law‘s wooden house struck a deep chord with millions of viewers (4.5 million, to be precise) back in 2003. Woodsman Ben wanted to build the property using the forest’s resources, while also ensuring it blended into the landscape. We avidly followed the construction of his home from the felling of the timber to the running of the first bath because, well, who hasn’t dreamed of building a house in the woods?

ben law's wooden house from grand designs

Photo: Stephen Morley

He acquired Prickly Nut Wood in 1992 through barter – his labour was exchanged for land – and from then until the house was erected 10 years later, he lived in a caravan. Occupying the site for so long offered a unique advantage: ‘I got to know where the sun was at what time of day and built the house accordingly,’ says Ben.

He had no recent precedents to draw on; his house was the first to be built in a forest for 50 years and when he finally received permission to build, there were conditions: if he was ever to sell the wood or his coppicing or charcoal business, he would have to take the house down.

By using traditional building techniques, packing his house with solar panels and wind turbines, and employing the help of many friends, Ben managed to keep costs low – the build cost just £28,000 and took eight months. 

The walls are made from 300 barley bales, which were shaped with chainsaws, fixed into the wooden framework with chestnut stakes and plastered with lime – something Kevin McCloud marvelled at in the programme. ‘I’ve had no problems at all,’ says Ben. ‘They are fantastically efficient and easily meet building regulations requirements.’

ben law's wooden eco house

Photo: Stephen Morley

Part of the appeal of the show was how much fun Ben, and his friends and helpers seemed to have on site. Indeed Ben still thinks that the best thing he spent money on was good food for his workforce. ‘Keeping everyone happy is so important,’ he says. ‘Even if you are contracting with a building firm, it will work better if you bring out the odd cake.’

Now, more than 10 years since Ben Law’s wooden house was first built, the oak cladding is fading into the forest. Unlike in the original programme, the single hammock has gone and the building is now filled with furniture for the family.

Every detail is functional, aesthetically pleasing and ecologically sound: improving it would be difficult. Since the show, Ben has sunk a hot tub into his verandah, but the main structure remains unchanged.

He is obviously a very satisfied man: ‘I love living here,’ he says. ‘Every day, waking up is a pleasure.’