Grand Designs house branded "ridiculous" by project manager

Property investor hoped to construct "one of the best homes on the planet" on rugged Devon terrain.

A builder has revealed his struggles to construct an eye-catching Grand Designs house based on rugged Devon terrain as he branded the job a "nightmare".

Property developer Joe O'Connor, 35, and his wife Claire, from Devon, appeared on the Channel 4 programme as they set out to build an enormous home inspired by rocks in the Devon countryside with a budget of £835,000.

But the couple's build was hampered by difficulties from the outset, including issues with the timber frame, challenges installing 46 panes of glass costing £200,000, poor weather and the Covid-19 crisis.

Grand Designs Devon home

Their project manager Phil said he was "completely baffled" by the build, at one point revealing the issues are "worse than he ever expected" and adding: "I'm going to lose my head with it. It's ridiculous. The cost is just horrendous.... We've found no end of problems."

In November 2017, Kevin McCloud visited the couple at home, with Joe revealing he was planning to build an enormous 6,000 sq ft property on the paddock next door. 

Appearing on the programme, Joe, a major property developer in Exeter, said he wanted to have "one of the best homes on the planet."

He said: "It'll be a sculpture in the landscape, made of zinc and glass. Quite loud."

Joe confessed he plans to jump into the project with both feet, revealing he plans to stick to a budget of £835,000 and build the property in under seven months. 

The plans for this home were the epitome of ambition - deep concrete pad foundations would support a gigantic timber frame, with 222 beams bolted together to create a massive structural hub stretching 10 metres into the sky. 

The shards would be clad by hand with zinc and the remaining apertures would be glazed with huge performing shards of glass.

The couple hoped solar panels would help power the interior and the home will be filled with gadgets, including facial recognition and intelligent heating. 

It would also include a gym, open plan living area.  

But from the outset, the couple faced delays as they struggled to get the build off the ground due to the challenges of the engineering.

Joe said: "It's definitely going to be more expensive than we initially budgeted. What we were quoted originally to what is coming back is vastly different. All the indications say I'll have to go someway over £1 million."

By autumn 2018, the transformation of the Devon hillside began. Concrete pad foundations were poured and work began on the garage. 

Within six months, the frame for the garage was complete, while the factory cut timber arrived for the first of the four stages.

However as the first of the engineered pieces of wood were craned in, nothing lined up. Damp had swollen the timbers so what once slotted together in the factory now didn't fit.

Grand Designs timber  

Phil said: "We're struggling here. I would have hoped for it not to have been like this, the first piece. It's stressful. Every part of this project going forward is going to be difficult. it's a nightmare."

By February 2019, it seemed the pre-fabricated construction technique designed to simplify the project was failing. Drilled holes weren't lining up with steel brackets and the construction was impossible to connect.

The project manager added: "We've got six blokes trying to put in one beam. We can't go on like that." 

Michael Taylor, the carpentry foreman, said: "The problem we've got with this, is it's designed with no tolerance. It's designed millimeter perfect. It just doesn't fit. You're going to have the same scenario right across the build."

There are over 300 beams in the building but it took over three weeks to fit just 12. 

Phil admitted: "I'm going to lose my head with it. It's ridiculous. The cost is just - horrendous. The first phase was going to see where the problems were - we've found no end of problems."

Meanwhile Joe arrived on site, saying: "If lessons aren't learned and there are the same cockups, I am going to get angry about it."

To control the rising costs, the team moved away from the modern simplicity of pre-fabrication to something more old fashioned. Instead, they decided to fit everything on site by hand. 

It took two further months to complete the first phase of the timber frame, with Phil confessing the challenges of the project feel unrelenting. 

He said: "It's a nightmare. The last two weeks of weather we've had rain, 70mph winds. You can see the shape of the scaffolding around is a nightmare in itself. To get to this stage, the work and the intensity and logistics behind it all are just a nightmare. I wouldn't want to live in a house like this. Ludicrous isn't it really?" 

Meanwhile Claire and Joe admitted the project was becoming "a bit excessive", with Claire adding: "I've not really thought about practicalities." 

Eight months into construction in August 2019, the project was continuing at a pace but by the autumn, the site was once again pounded by high winds and weeks of rain.   

Meanwhile the laborious installation of each of the panes of glass within the build went on for weeks. Phil admitted: "It's worse than what we ever expected."