Joe and Lina from Grand Designs

Meet Grand Designs’ Joe Stuart and Lina Nilsson

Joe and Lina on the highs, lows and costs of their east London self build

By Jenny Mcfarlane | 8 May 2018

Grand Designs’ Joe and Lina share insights on their self-build journey, from how they found a cheap plot in London to striving for Passivhaus standards and the disasters they faced along the journey.

Tell us about your project…

We got the land back in 2012 and started building in 2015. It’s a stone’s throw away in east London and it was the smallest two double-bedroom house under the London regulations at the time, built on a small postage stamp-size plot.

the living room in joe and lina's tiny self-build passivhaus in east london

Photo: Fiona Walker-Arnott

How did you find your east London plot?

Off the back of a chance meeting where we were at another project for a friend. When I said we didn’t have a very large budget [for my own project], they said they knew someone who had something more my sort of size.

What are main things to consider when embarking on a self build?

Preparation – do your research. Know the product you want to buy so you can ask clever questions to your suppliers. Have a vision, a design for the house and know what you’re trying to achieve so when you get into the details you don’t lose sight of what you’re trying to do. You also need to be able to tell the people who are helping you build what they need to do.

The bathroom in Joe and Lina's Passivhaus

Photo: Fiona Walker-Arnott

What were the main issues you faced during the build?

Probably managing the fallout of choosing the wrong contractor. When you’re on a project like this and you’ve got a schedule, to then take a huge step back right at the start, it’s something that emotionally, you can’t figure out how you’re going to react to until it happens so I think that was certainly the biggest challenge.

The rest was just to stay true to what we wanted to deliver. Everyone was just saying, “well, you could cut this corner” or “just do that”, but for us it was about delivering the ideal of what we wanted.

What materials would you recommend using?

It depends on the design, your preference and what you like. We liked the raw materials, using wood, we liked the white and grey tones. I think a bit of contrast between things, but it all depends on the palette and the style of what you’re going for.

It’s good if you can be responsible with the types of materials you use – using the sort of thing with better eco credentials than just the cheapest thing on the market. But, I think it’s very much product dependent and project dependent.

In the interior, we did a moodboard and we looked at colours we like, and we liked the grey tones – we went for white, greys, concrete, black and because our house is open plan, we had to think about the holistic understanding of the interior and make sure that we couldn’t have, for example, a pink room. We needed to make sure every room felt like it belonged together. I think that was very important, to feel like everything is the same and it feels like it’s thought through.

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