Patrick Bradley's shipping container house

Kevin McCloud’s favourite Grand Designs

Which projects made it onto Kevin McCloud’s top 10 Grand Designs houses?

By Intern | 11 January 2017

Ever wondered what Kevin McCloud’s favourite Grand Designs houses are?

There have been some real gems since the first episode of Grand Designs launched in 1999. And with more than 100 projects to choose from, picking his top 10 was a challenge.

Despite the variety, each project has one thing in common – a remarkable story of the sheer determination of self-builders to create a unique home for themselves, while overcoming a fair few obstacles along the way.

Relive some of Kevin McCloud’s favourite Grand Designs houses, with quotes from the man himself.

1. Shipping Container House (Series 14, 2014)

Key facts:

  • Budget: £130,000
  • Build time: seven months
  • Size: a modest 115 sqm

Four shipping containers make up the structure of this house by architect Patrick Bradley, built on on his parents’ farm in County Derry. The containers were stacked in a cross shape and covered in natural-coloured cladding that differentiates between the communal and private spaces.

Kevin McCloud says: ‘This is where engineering and steel meet landscape and it is beautiful. It’s rare to come to a place and find a building that lifts the spirits, such as this. This is proper architecture, a genius exercise in upcycling and, now, a powerful part of this place.’

The shipping container Grand Designs house is one of Kevin McCloud's favourite TV houses

Photo: Aidan Monaghan (and lead image)

2. Straw Bale Eco Home (Series one, 1999)

Key facts:

  • Build cost: £600,000
  • The plot cost just £78,000
  • It took five years to clear the site

The site of this property was big enough for six houses and cost just £78,000. It took five years to clear the site and the build cost £600,000. Straw bales and sandbag cladding were unusual ingredients for this London build and Kevin loved it for its eco-qualities.

Kevin McCloud says: ‘This is remarkable. Simon and Jasmine are heroes of the self-build community and I am proud to know them. It hasn’t and won’t destroy the planet, and it hasn’t cost the earth. It’s not just an example of how we could, and should live, this is a clarion call.’

The straw bale eco-home in London is on of Kevin McClouds favourite Grand Designs

Photo: Stephen Morley

3. Ben Law’s Wooden House (Series three, 2003)

Key facts:

  • Build cost: £28,000
  • 300 barley bales formed the walls
  • 4.5 million viewers watched the show

Ben Law’s Wooden House took more than eight months to build and cost £28,000. The project struck a deep chord with viewers (4.5 million of us watched, making it one of the most popular episodes of Grand Designs ever aired) as we avidly watched Ben building walls from barley bales. He even runs courses on sustainable woodland management and eco-building, and runs a few ticketed open days each year to visit the house.

Kevin McCloud says: ‘It’s an eloquent essay about sustainability… a love story between one man and a place.’

Ben Law's wooden house is one of the most popular episodes of Grand Designs ever

Photo: Stephen Morley

4. Monty’s Underground Home (Series five, 2005)

Key facts:

  • Build cost: £220,000 (including the plot)
  • The retractable roof measures 10.5 sqm
  • Two tree preservation orders were issued

Planning permission took 2.5 years for this stunning property, and two tree preservation orders were issued. The £220,000 underground home features a retractable roof that measures 10.5 sqm. Other features include an LED light fitting that doubles as a shower, and a bed that slides away to reveal a bath.

Kevin McCloud says: ‘With its hidden baths and sinks, there is a magical side to this home. ’

Monty's Underground Home is one of Kevin McCloud's top TV houses

Photo: Jake Curtis

5. Twenty-First-Century Chalet (Series 10, 2010)

  • They bought the plot in 2006
  • Planning permission was granted in 2007
  • The house size was scaled down from 220 sqm to 190 sqm
  • Build costs were slashed from £579,000 to £220,000

The owners of the 21st Century Chalet bought the plot in Woodbridge, Suffolk in 2006 and got planning permission in 2007. A year later, one of the owners was diagnosed with cancer and, later, tragically passed away. The house was scaled down and building costs were cut back, but despite these unbelievable challenges, what emerged was house that was beautiful, sustainable, dramatic and truly inspiring.

Kevin McCloud says: ‘I love this place… a home with all the attitude and resilience of its owner.’

The 21st Century Chalet home is one of Kevin McCloud's favourite Grand Designs

Photo: Thearle Photography

6. Kent Water Tower (Series six, 2006)

Key facts:

  • The water tower was originally built in 1915
  • It’s almost 50 sqm bigger than the average UK new-build
  • Costs escalated by £50,000

When the owners bought a gamekeeper’s lodge in rural Kent, they also inherited a huge concrete water tower designed by architect Sir Edward Lutyens. The owners reinstated Lutyens’ original roof and cut windows into the concrete walls. Remarkably, they sold off the lodge to pour all their energies into preserving the water tower. The results are inspirational.

Kevin McCloud says: ‘A build with vision and integrity.’

The Kent Water Tower was one of Kevin McCloud's top Grand Designs

Photo: Elizabeth Zeschin

7. Isle of Wight House (Series 10, 2010)

  • Budget: £200,000
  • Seventies bungalow gets a makeover
  • 214 sqm were added to the existing 84 sqm footprint

The owners of the Isle of Wight House transformed a 1970s bungalow on a budget of £200,000. The bungalow was clad in burnt larch on the outside and filled with Modernist art inside. In the process, the owners quadrupled the footprint of the property, extending it at both ends and including a private living space for their daughter in the centre.

Kevin McCloud says: ‘It’s one of the great illusions of architecture, pulled off with utter bravado.’

The Grand Designs Isle of Wight House saw a 70s bungalow completely transformed

Photo: Elizabeth Zeschin

8. Arched Eco Home (Series nine, 2009)

  • The house is one of the UK’s best-performing Passivhaus dwellings
  • It’s constructed from 26,000 handmade tiles
  • 10 tons of newspaper were used as insulation

The arched frame of this Kent property was inspired by a 14th Century technique. The one-acre plot included a worse-for-wear thirties bungalow, which the owners bought in 2006 for £353,000. Their aim was to use local skills and materials and reduce pollution. The triple-glazed argon-filled windows cost £43,000, but the house is now one of the best-performing Passivhaus dwellings in the UK.

Kevin McCloud says: ‘It is one of the greatest illusions of architecture, pulled off here with utter bravado. Richard has produced a beautiful house full of surprises, of joys of delight; it is creative but it is also risk-taking and ground-breaking. It is an architectural first in this country.’

The Arched Eco Home from Grand Designs is one of the UK's best-performing Passivhaus dwellings

Photo: Douglas Gibb

9. Isle of Skye House (Series 12, 2012)

  • The owners saved for 10 years to fund the build
  • Completion took just nine month
  • Energy bills are just £50 per year

The owners saved for 10 years to fund the build for this 90 sqm home. It was completed within nine months and energy bills are just £50 a year. The house is sympathetic to its enviable location yet very different from the nearby local cottages. It has a unique lozenge shape with concrete foundations and reinforced steel ribs to counter the challenging weather conditions of Skye.

Kevin McCloud says:  ‘It’s nestling beautifully into its setting… one of my favourite houses. Ever.’

The Isle of Skye House is one of Kevin McCloud's favourite Grand Designs ever

Photo: Douglas Gibb

10. Artists’ Barn Conversion (Series 11, 2011)

  • The Artists’ barn dates from around 1560
  • It’s eight and a half metres tall
  • The house measures a huge 690 sqm

The original barn in Colchester, Essex, dates from around 1560. The owners saved £500,000 on the surveyor’s quote of £1.3million. A modern roof belies the stripped-back nature of the interior. There’s no plasterboard or paint to hide the bare bones of the structure and the shell of the barn has been transformed into a liveable space.

Kevin McCloud says: ‘Most of us when faced with a building of this scale and size would get freaked out by the challenge of doing anything with it – but not Ben and Freddie. What they made was a grand, triumphant addition to their collective autobiography of made things… I love this place… a home with all the attitude and resilience of its owner… A triumphant addition to their autobiography of made things.’

The artists' Barn Conversion in Colchester, Essex, featured on Grand Designs

Photo: Rachael Smith


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