Man, 63, hopes to build dramatically elevated steel-framed house on the Essex coast on Grand Designs

A 63-year-old man moves into a caravan while he project manages the construction of a dramatically cantilevered steel-framed house on the Essex coast on Grand Designs. 

For many, retirement means the promise of relaxation and stress-free days filled with gardening and playing golf. But not ex-advertising man Geoff – he’s decided to spend his golden years building a pedestal palace right on a flood plain with a £700,000 budget and ambitious eight month schedule.

In tonight’s episode of the Channel 4 show, Geoff, who grew up in the East End of London, explains that he is selling his luxury villa in Spain, where he has been for 20 years, to take on one of the biggest challenges of his life – a flood resistant architectural marvel on the Essex coast.

Unlike his daughter, Geoff sees no risk in sinking every penny he has into this unusual building and moves into a small caravan on site.   

In tonight's episode of Channel 4's Grand Designs, Geoff, 63, who grew up in the East End of London, moves into a caravan while he project manages the construction of a dramatically cantilevered steel-framed house on the Essex coast, costing a total of £700,000. Pictured, the living room

In tonight’s episode of Channel 4’s Grand Designs, Geoff, 63, who grew up in the East End of London, moves into a caravan while he project manages the construction of a dramatically cantilevered steel-framed house on the Essex coast, costing a total of £700,000. Pictured, the living room

Geoff didn't have a say in designing the gravity-defying building because he actually bought the land with planning for £325,000. Pictured, the complete kitchen

Geoff didn’t have a say in designing the gravity-defying building because he actually bought the land with planning for £325,000. Pictured, the complete kitchen

Geoff (pictured left, with Kevin McCloud, right) sees no risk in sinking every penny he has into his unusual building and moves into a small caravan on site

Geoff (pictured left, with Kevin McCloud, right) sees no risk in sinking every penny he has into his unusual building and moves into a small caravan on site

‘I’m at the stage in my life now where I don’t know how long I’ve got left, so what I’ve got left, I want to enjoy,’ says Geoff, whose early retirement was soon followed by the breakup of his 32-year marriage. ‘I’m 63 but I still feel like I was when I was 23. I don’t feel that I’m old.’ 

The plot of watery wilderness is an empty canvas on which Geoff plans to paint a new life and is an impressive 7 and a half acres big – but it doesn’t come without its problems. 

‘A large site it may be, but it is a flood plain so the planners have insisted any house here would need to be flood-resistant,’ explains presenter Kevin McCloud.

Geoff – who wants to get involved with the construction despite no previous experience – predicts the build, which is a resilient, radical heavy-duty response to the ever-changing threat of our climate – will be approximately 15ft or so above the ground. 

As Kevin McCloud explains: ‘Geoff didn’t have a say in designing this gravity-defying building. He actually bought the land with planning for £325,000.’ 

He adds that the original architects who have a lot of experience with flood-proof houses won’t be involved and that Geoff isn’t even using a professional project manager – because he plans on doing that job himself.

Despite several setbacks - including Covid and a drop in the Spanish property market - Geoff remains positive. Pictured, the living area

Despite several setbacks – including Covid and a drop in the Spanish property market – Geoff remains positive. Pictured, the living area

The 63-year-old explains how he's decided to build the project right on a flood plain with a £700,000 budget and ambitious eight month schedule. Pictured, the dining area

The 63-year-old explains how he’s decided to build the project right on a flood plain with a £700,000 budget and ambitious eight month schedule. Pictured, the dining area

Geoff plans to build a flood resistant architectural marvel on the Essex coast budgeted at a whopping £700,000 and with an ambitious eight month schedule. Pictured, the exterior

Geoff plans to build a flood resistant architectural marvel on the Essex coast budgeted at a whopping £700,000 and with an ambitious eight month schedule. Pictured, the exterior

The plot of watery wilderness is an empty canvas on which Geoff can paint a new life and is an impressive 7 and a half acres big, Pictured, the exterior of the finished build

The plot of watery wilderness is an empty canvas on which Geoff can paint a new life and is an impressive 7 and a half acres big, Pictured, the exterior of the finished build

Noting how this is a really complex house to build, Kevin continues: ‘Arguably, the most important part of Geoff’s solo project will be underground. Here, 30 heavy weight, concrete steel piles will be drilled 14 metres deep. 

‘These piles will be key in anchoring this house to the ground. Some will have to resist upward forces of over 200 tonne. The piles will connect to an industrial steel-strength frame, comprising 560 steel girders – forming one huge cantilever. The frame’s job is to transform the load of the building into the earth.’ 

He continues: ‘The ground floor will be poured in waterproof concrete and will house a utility area and a garage.

‘Upstairs, the external and the partition walls will all be made from timber – wrapping between and around the steels. On this floor, an open plan living room and kitchen will lead to a large balcony through floor to ceiling windows, with views that will stretch out across the estuary.’

Kevin goes on to say that the three bedrooms will each have a slice of these views and have their own en-suite bathrooms, while an eye-catching, jagged roof finished with solared tiles will help to power the highly unusual island home.

He adds: ‘Should the local flood defences be breeched, a bunged wall will keep Geoff’s garden dry, but if the waters rise further, his power supply and drainage will be protected and the living spaces will continue to function.’ 

Geoff's finished living room (pictured) features bold blue carpets, a red sofa and breathtaking views of the estuary

Geoff’s finished living room (pictured) features bold blue carpets, a red sofa and breathtaking views of the estuary

Geoff predicts the pedestal palace, which is a resilient, radical heavy-duty response to the ever-changing threat of our climate will be approximately 15ft or so above the ground. Pictured, the living room after the transformation

Geoff predicts the pedestal palace, which is a resilient, radical heavy-duty response to the ever-changing threat of our climate will be approximately 15ft or so above the ground. Pictured, the living room after the transformation

Geoff – who explains that he’s already sold his property in London to buy the land – says that he’s got enough money to start the project but to finish it, he’ll have to sell his villa in Spain, which is already on the market.

Having sold his UK home, he has to find somewhere to live for the duration of the build – a caravan. This is his base through wind and the rain as he project manages the complicated construction of a house designed to be safe in a one in a thousand year flood event.

But ten months on since he started, after £190,000 worth of anchoring steel and concrete foundations are drilled over fourteen metres into the ground, Geoff hits double trouble – not just Covid but a collapse in the Spanish property market, meaning he’s struggling to sell his villa.

Without funds to continue and trapped in his cold caravan, the odds are stacked against him – and Geoff is delayed for another agonising five months.

Geoff says that he's got enough money to start the project but to finish it, he'll have to sell his villa in Spain. Pictured, the finished kitchen

Geoff says that he’s got enough money to start the project but to finish it, he’ll have to sell his villa in Spain. Pictured, the finished kitchen

‘This could be one of the last building days for a long time yet until I get some more money,’ he admits. ‘Everyone thinks I’m making a mistake – my bank manager thinks I’m making a mistake, an awful lot of people I know think I’m making a mistake. But, the more people who think I’m making a mistake, the more I think I’m doing it right because I’ve been told that my whole life.’

Refusing to give up, there is one expression this East End boxer knows well – ‘No guts, No glory’!

But soon, Geoff encounters another issue when the building team realise they’ve been working off the wrong plans, which they claim they ‘hadn’t been made aware of.’

As a result, some of the columns the team installed weren’t lining up where they thought they’d be – adding a further six weeks onto the project length.

While the steel team swallow the extra costs, Kevin McCloud notes that you could argue it was the project manager’s responsibility.  

‘I can’t ever be at fault – I’m the project manager,’ says Geoff. ‘I’m never at fault!’  

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