Box clever

Box clever

Elaine and Theo Leijser built an eco, double-storey, cedar-clad timber box sitting on a concrete basement

By Jason Podesta |

I’ve always had a soft spot for this project,’ said Kevin McCloud when he stamped his seal of approval on Elaine and Theo Leijser’s impressive cedar-clad house from Grand Designs series six. ‘It’s modest, sustainable and has a proper dialogue with the landscape around it. It’s the meeting of urban Modernism and rustic charm.’

And it wasn’t just Kevin who rated this Scottish eco-home – more than five million viewers tuned in to see Theo and Elaine complete their project. The couple had been thinking about building a house long before the TV cameras started to roll.

Since meeting as aid workers in Sudan, they had traversed the African continent on numerous postings, but in 1998 they returned to Elaine’s native Scotland, seeking stability for their two boys.


Photo: Jefferson Smith

They couldn’t find a house they liked within their £350,000 budget, but Dutch Theo had house-building in his blood. ‘My father did it and I’d always wanted to do the same,’ he says.

So, when they found a 1,200-square-metre field with staggering views, only 16 miles from Glasgow, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. The couple enlisted Studio KAP to help them realise their vision.

‘During the process there was constant discussion,’ says Elaine. ‘The design kept getting better, and after a year we got it right.’ The result is a double-storey, cedar-clad timber box, sitting on a concrete basement.

grand designs theo and elaine

Photo: Jefferson Smith

While a local contractor built the concrete section, Theo sourced the prefab timber frame from a company in Devon, which built almost everything – including plug sockets – into the design at the factory, so that the structure could go up in as little as two weeks.

Sustainability was massively important to the pair, and Theo sourced some triple-glazed, super-insulated windows from Sweden. ‘We didn’t want to build an eco house full of gimmicks,’ he says, ‘but with our budget, we decided that the most effective solution was to make the house thermally efficient.’

The build began in March 2005, and Theo and Elaine aimed to move in six months later. Unfortunately, however, the decision to go green severely held them up, as the hi-tech glazing arrived a whopping five months late.


Photo: Jefferson Smith

Despite this, the couple still think the windows were worth it, along with the rock-wool insulation, heat-recovery system and a wood-burning stove, which was added for extra eco benefit.

‘When the house was designed, they said that we wouldn’t need any heating, but we didn’t believe them,’ says Elaine. ‘However, our gas bill for the first three months came to £3.50!’

Surprisingly, considering how fondly Theo and Elaine speak of it, the couple no longer live in the house, having left in 2008 when a dream job drew them to south-west England.

Although there are no further projects on the cards at the moment, it’s clear that Theo relished the experience.

‘Elaine and I moved a lot before we built the property – we had lived in hundreds of different houses, and picked all the best bits to puzzle together,’ he says. ‘Having lived in a home you designed yourself, you realise just how comfortable it was when you move elsewhere.’

grand designs theo and elaine

Photo: Jefferson Smith

Lead Image: Jefferson Smith