Views over Devon from the Grand Designs new series shard house

The daring Devon shard house    

The landmark hilltop Hux Shard combines a sci-fi exterior with a luxurious interior   

By Jayne Dowle | 1 September 2021

As befits the opening episode of a new series of Grand Designs, the shard house in Exeter makes a big impression. Nothing like it has been seen on Grand Designs, or in the tranquil Devon countryside, before. The Hux Shard‘s sculptural exterior walls are formed of shard-shaped panels set in a jagged 70m line following the contours of the Huxham hill on which it stands. Inside is just as impressive, with sleek contemporary furniture teamed with hi-spec fixtures and fittings.     

No ordinary commission  

When architectural concept designer Mick O’Connor met Joe and Claire Priday in 2014, he was expecting to discuss renovating their bungalow just outside Exeter, Devon. But it soon become apparent that a far more exciting project was on the cards.

Joe, 37, the managing director of a financial services company, wanted to build a new house on the adjoining paddock for him and his wife Claire, 42, and their three young children: Jasmine, ten, Evan, five, and three-year-old Rory.

Joe and Claire gave Mick, 71, free rein to create a house that would sit on the exposed site. Inspired by the rocky tors of nearby Dartmoor, Mick envisaged a design that consisted of a series of geometric shard-shaped exterior walls set in a jagged 70m-long line following the contours of the hill.

Metal exterior of the shard house in Devon from the new series of Grand Designs

The shards take their inspiration from sculpture and the surrounding countryside. Photo: Mark Bolton

Shaping the shard house

Taking their inspiration from sculpture and the surrounding countryside, Mick and his son Alex, 39, an architectural assistant and product designer, looked at ways to get more natural light into the building.

‘That’s how we came up with the shards,’ says Mick. ‘One of the things I really like about the house is that, from the inside, you can see their edges through the windows. It creates a connection to the landscape.’

Exotic planting contrasting the metal walls of the shard house from Grand Designs in Devon

Lush vegetation helps bed the sculptural house into the landscape. Photo: Mark Bolton

Ambitious sculpture versus family home

His design required deep concrete pad foundations to support a gigantic timber frame. This consisted of 282 glulam timbers bolted together with industrial-scale steel brackets to form a wooden skeleton reaching 7.5m high. The walls would be made from 34 insulated timber shards, which are clad in 1,350sqm of zinc and interspersed with 46 equally complex glazed panels.

From the outset, the sheer intricacy of the structure taxed the builders, the engineers, the suppliers and the budget. There was also a tension between the idea of living in a sculpture and the practicalities of it as a family home.

‘The official line is that we are living in a sculpture,’ says Claire. ‘But it’s not just a sculpture to me – it’s my home, somewhere we will grow older together. At the end of the day, it’s our house and it has to work for the whole family.’

Inside the sculptural house in Devon - dark walls and a dark kitchen island contrast with white walls and lots of natural light

The edges of the shards are visible through the large windows. Photo: Mark Bolton

To hear Kevin McCloud’s view on the project and find out how Joe and Claire fare with the stresses of the Hux Shard in the Exeter Grand Designs episode, tune in to the brand new series of Grand Designs at 9pm, Wednesday 1 September 2021 on Channel 4