Inside the North Devon maritime masterpiece
It took 11 years to complete this show-stopping lighthouse-style home
Edward Short looks back over the last decade with mixed emotions. His ambitious plan to build a landmark coastal home in North Devon– now known as the Grand Designs Lighthouse – nearly cost him everything, but he never gave up. ‘I always felt this house was the right design for the site,’ he says.
The story starts in 2008 when Edward, who works in the music industry, bought a 1950s clifftop home with his wife Hazel. Perched above two rocky coves, it was a great place to bring up their two daughters, Nicole and Lauren. ‘We would have such fun at high tide jumping off the rocks, kayaking and fishing for mackerel and bass,’ he says.
But the family felt the style of the house didn’t match the dramatic setting, deciding to knock it down and replace it with a modernist mansion designed by architect Alan Phillips. ‘I made regular visits to the 1950s house to understand the direction of the sun and the prevailing wind,’ says Alan. ‘Edward and Hazel gave me a room looking out to sea so I could stick my head out of the window and feel the weather against my skin.’
Edward Short will be on stage with Kevin McCloud at Grand Designs Live on 29 April 2023. To book tickets visit gdllondon.seetickets.com.
A lighthouse-style home
He drew up plans for a two-storey Grand Designs-style lighthouse with a four-storey tower. Planning approval was granted in 2010. Due to the precarious site, the house is anchored to the slate bedrock by 25 deep steel-and-concrete piles.
A geological survey revealed a patch of soft sandstone near the cliff edge, and Alan knew that this would erode over time, so that the house would eventually become partially cantilevered. ‘We turned a potential problem into a virtue,’ he says. ‘It’s rare that the geology of a site and the gradual process of erosion allows a building to change from standing on a clifftop to perching on stilts.’
Edward and Hazel expected to pay for the build through savings and borrowing, but during the economic downturn of 2012 the bank refused to lend them the £1.8 million they needed and Edward ’s salary plummeted. ‘I’d been earning good money from CD sales,’ he says. ‘But by 2013 CDs virtually disappeared, along with my income.’
Not to be deterred, he borrowed £500,000 from a hedge fund in May 2014 and built a three-bedroom, detached home called The Eye at the edge of the plot, hoping to borrow against it to fund the Grand Designs lighthouse. It enabled him to secure a loan of £2.5 million from private investors – more than planned because building costs and professional fees rocketed.
In February 2016 the family moved into a rented house as work got under way. The bedrock proved exceptionally hard and even with specialist mining equipment it took an extra six months to dig the foundations and drive in the piles, mopping up the contingency fund. The budget was further strained by the spiralling cost of a bridge-like driveway linking the house to the road.
Plans to plug the gap by selling The Eye failed as its value was drastically reduced by being beside a hazardous building site, so in 2018 the entire project stalled, leaving Edward almost £4 million in debt. ‘A pause in any build is never good, but this was horribly stressful,’ he says.
Getting back on track
Though he immediately started reorganising his finances, the pressure affected the family and Edward and Hazel separated. ‘It was absolutely horrendous – the hardest and most miserable time of my life,’ he recalls.
A broker connected Edward with a specialist loan provider based in Poole, Dorset. ‘They fully understood my situation as they had experienced the super-prime market in the affluent Sandbanks area developments and brought with them a superb level of expertise.’
It took two years to agree new terms, both to settle the debt with his previous lender and to raise new funds, but work restarted in April 2020 with the original contractor in charge. Edward paid £200,000 to reinstate the site, replacing or repairing the damaged windows and reviving the steelwork, which had to be scrubbed down, resealed, and repainted.
Along with The Eye, which cost £1 million to build, the Grand Designs lighthouse was put up for sale in summer 2022 for £10 million. In February 2023 it was taken off the market while negotiations took place with a potential buyer, and Edward hopes he can soon repay his investors. ‘I might not get back what I put in, but I can move on,’ he says.
Edward and Alan remain on good terms, despite all the difficulties. ‘I believe that when hiring an architect as your expert there’s no point in changing their vision,’ says Edward. ‘Alan is a friend for life.’
Scaling back such an ambitious plan was never an option. ‘Edward refused to change my design, though there was huge pressure to do so, and I will always love him for that,’ says Alan. ‘He believed that the quality of the architecture gave it value and would propel it over the finishing line, and that’s what happened.’
Perhaps most important of all, Edward and Hazel remain good friends and are both in new relationships. ‘My family’s wellbeing is incredibly important to me,’ he says. ‘I know that Hazel, Nicole and Lauren are very proud of the house.’
Will Edward be disappointed not to live in the clifftop mansion? ‘I got my head around that a long time ago,’ he says. ‘My priority is to retrieve the money and give us all some stability. That always motivated me to get the job done.’
— granddesigns (@granddesigns) October 19, 2022