One downside of getting English TV, apart from the difficulty of choosing what to watch from 100 channels of unwatchable rubbish, is that I have discovered that one channel seems to show a lot of re-runs of Grand Designs.
I always was a ‘Grand Designs addict’ and now it seems I have nine years of missed episodes to catch up on, which should keep me busy during the winter. This includes a sprinkling of episodes set around France, which are especially interesting to me.
Those of you who have visited this blog very often will know that we ourselves live in a large open-plan barn conversion that we renovated when we first moved to France. This was inspired in part by Grand Designs (1999 style) except our budget was rather smaller than most of the projects shown on the television show. Actually a lot smaller which is why I’m jealous when I see owners on the programme bring in marble flooring from Turkey, custom made furniture from Italy and spending more on a kitchen than we spent on the whole project. Another £500k and our place would be amazing!
But despite our more modest budget I still can’t watch Grand Designs without feeling the urge to rush into a local estate agents and buy a tumbledown shed for renovation, and I’m not sure I can get through a whole winter of watching without making an excessive offer on an isolated building plot at the end of a long gravel track miles from anywhere just so I can construct a great glass and concrete blot on the landscape.
Happily over the years I have discovered a couple of things that might be useful to people planning to construct their dream home in France:
1) Almost everyone designing their own house seems to make it far larger than necessary or sensible.
2) Almost no-one designing a new house succeeds in improving on traditional designs and techniques, even less on making it fit well in the natural environment. Unless you are a close friend of Daniel Liebeskind or Frank Gehry and they will sketch out plans for you. (And if you are Mr Liebeskind or Mr Gehry looking to do some free architectural sketches for a tobacco barn renovation in France I’ve got just the project for you…)
3) If you love the landscape, ask whether your planned build will improve it or not for other people. Traditional old houses don’t detract in anyway from their environment, they are part of it. Seems to me this is rarely the case with new buildings.
4) Just because your architect doesn’t say your plan is oversised and ugly doesn’t mean it isn’t oversized and ugly…they might well know it is a carbuncle but be too polite to mention it, or think it’s not their business to tell you what they really think as long as you keep paying the bills.
I’ve seen some enormous houses get built over the years that would fit better in the Dallas TV studios than southern France and the curious thing is – the owners often rush to sell them within a year or two when they realise what a mistake they made, leaving their lucky neighbours sat in the cool shade of an unoccupied version of Southfork Ranch and wondering what happened to the field of sunflowers that they used to look out on.