The Show That Fuses Architectural Critique With Real-Estate Porn

Smarter than HGTV and livelier than PBS, the British program ‘Grand Designs’ celebrates architectural problem-solving.

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Host Kevin McCloud, right, with Rob Hodgson and Kay Ralph at their cliffside house in Wales
Host Kevin McCloud, right, with Rob Hodgson and Kay Ralph at their cliffside house in Wales

In an episode of “Grand Designs,” a couple wants to expand a tiny cottage into a three-bedroom family home. One member of the couple, Gregory Kewish, has the idea to use panels of a high-tech wood—called cross-laminated timber—in a new and experimental way, as structural components. His engineer is not so enamored of the idea, and quits. But Kewish perseveres. We see him crawling across the cottage’s roof one night, in pitch darkness and pouring rain, moving the massive wooden panels into place as his partner, Rebecca Sturrock, looks on worriedly.

Building a house can possess a person, become a kind of madness. This is a theme that runs through “Grand Designs.”

In this case, the payoff is worth it. When host Kevin McCloud visits the completed house, it is dark and angular on the outside, and inside, more hygge than a Scandinavian ski lodge, with walls, ceiling, and furniture made of honey-colored wood. “It’s one of the nicest homes I’ve ever, ever been in,” says McCloud, sincerely, as Kewish and Sturrock break down in tears of pride and relief. […]