grand designs pond house in chichester with natural swimming pool

Biodiverse waterside home in Chichester

Inspired by a wellness resort, Dan and Nina's self-build marries architecture with nature

By Emily Brooks | 29 September 2021

Dan and Nina Rowland transformed a tired house next to a stagnant pond into a nature-filled family retreat. The Grand Designs Chichester house, which features on the new TV series, has wellness architecture (the conscious effort to design wellbeing into home building) at its core.

But bringing this self-build to life required some vision. It wasn’t the tired state of the 1930s house in West Sussex that had kept the property on the market for two years. No: it was the huge, stagnant pond sitting in the garden that was putting people off.

Dan and Nina saw a way to turn this difficult, swamp of a plot in Bosham into a waterside wonderland, however. The old house was demolished to make way for a beautiful, light-filled contemporary home that sits right by the water. It’s so close that they can dive off the deck outside the kitchen into a crystal-clear pond.

The indoor outdoor poolside area of the Grand Designs Chichester pond house

The house makes the most of its waterside location. Photo: James French

At one with nature

Dan, 44, an architectural designer, and Nina, 42, an interior, furniture and lighting designer had been searching for a self-build project for many months. The search began in London, where they were living, but they soon started looking somewhere more rural where they could bring up daughters Isla, 6 and Lexi, 5 in a more nature-filled setting embracing biophilic design.

‘It made a lot of sense for us to do our own project, because it’s within our skill-set, and it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to buy anything on the open market [that was right],’ says Dan. ‘We wanted to create something that was really quite special, that had a close, intimate relationship with nature and a sense of adventure and exploration for the kids.’

The duo’s vision even led them to co-found their own niche practice,, integrating the disciplines of architecture, interiors and nature.

Grand Designs pond house in Chichester looking out over the decking to the swimming pond

The house makes the most of its waterside location. Photo: James French

An eco-friendly build

The pair had travelled the world together and were looking for a location that reminded them of the laid-back surfing beaches of California or Australia, but closer to home, and this corner of West Sussex fitted the bill. So did the Siberian larch cladding they sourced for the exterior of the property – the perfect material for their Grand Designs Chichester pond house.

The couple wanted a house that promoted wellness and relaxation, partly inspired by a forest spa they had visited in Thailand, where walkways weave around boulders, with pools and waterfalls to calm and soothe. And of course, it had to be eco-friendly – made from SIPs construction to minimise waste and ensure exceptional thermal efficiency, passively ventilated and powered by renewable energy.

Inside the open plan kitchen diner of the Grand Designs swimming pond house in Chichester

The bespoke kitchen units are made with offcuts from the larch timber cladding. Photo: James French

Overcoming the hurdles

All this was a tall order, of course, without even factoring in the additional hurdles that eventually turned this into a three-year build: the death of Dan’s father in 2019, and Covid stoppages and the accompanying materials and labour shortages.

The low point, says, Nina, was the first lockdown in March 2020: ‘Leading up to that point there had been a huge period of torrential rain, and when at last it was spring and we were ready to get going, overnight I was thrown into full-time childcare while still trying to keep the build going.

‘It was one of the hardest times of my whole life. But when you think there is literally no way you can carry on, then somehow you find the strength to get up and do another day.’

To find out how Dan and Nina overcame the hurdles to build their Grand Designs pond house, tune in at 9pm, Wednesday 29 September, on Channel 4.

Want more from Grand Designs? Get your tickets to Grand Designs Live Birmingham for all the inspiration you need for your next project.