Channel 4’s Grand Designs first came onto our screens in April 1999, and is this week celebrating its twentieth anniversary. The show has been an institution on British screens for many years, covering some of the most innovative and captivating architectural projects in the country and delighting viewers with the beauty and elegance of the the finished creations.
Each of the nearly 200 episodes to date sees Kevin McCloud visit the site of an inventive or unusual new house-building project at various stages during its development, beginning with the design and planning stages and following the build through to its completion - chronicling the journey of the homeowners throughout the process.
The show’s focus on bold creative vision and the pushing of technological limits has always been a good match for our ethos and attitude here at Cantifix, and during the series’ run we have had the pleasure of working on a number of the featured projects - in some cases pushing the boundaries of glazing technology along the way.
Today, in celebration of the show’s 20-year milestone, we’re going to take a look back at some of the most inspiring and memorable projects we’ve undertaken on the programme…
The Jewel House
This project from the early days of the show is one that we still remember fondly. Originally broadcast in the summer of 2001, the episode titled “The Jewel Box” featured a strikingly beautiful house of reflections comprising a large quantity of glass installation.
Designed by Mike Tonkin of Tonkin Liu for Sarah Jordan and Coneyl Jay - a jeweller and a photographer - the two-building house in East Finchley was commissioned to be both a home and a studio in which to work, drawing inspiration from the homeowners’ love of light and space.
Tonkin Liu are based in London and have completed many impressive and high-profile design projects such as Hull’s Solar Gate and the as-yet-unbuilt Tower of Light for Manchester - and are currently working to design a new bridge to facilitate access to the famous dinosaur statues of Crystal Palace Park as part of a crowdfunded venture.
Their work on the Jewel House remains startling even eighteen years later - the entire house forms a giant camera obscura, and with the window blinds drawn down an inverted reflection of the living room is projected onto the back wall of the studio space across the water.
In combination with the water in the central courtyard, our glazing forms a beautiful interplay of infinitely reflected surfaces and is one of the most striking elements of the entire design - creating a wonderful and symmetrical illusion of a house that extends beyond its own physical parameters.
Five years after the programme aired, the property was eventually sold by the owners for a cool £1.25million - and we think it must have been worth every penny of the asking price.
The Sylvan Glade
A later episode from September 2011 entitled “The Contemporary Mansion” covered the construction of Sylvan Glade - the first house in the UK to incorporate Heat Mirror Film glazing (facilitated by Cantifix).
Paul and Penny Denby had lived in their mock-Georgian 1940s Kent home for seventeen years before deciding to demolish it and build something new and remarkable on the same site. The building was designed by the architect James Engel to embody the couple’s love of glass design in a style that they - the owners - described on the show as “modern classic.”
Engel’s London-based architecture company, Spaced Out, has an impressive portfolio of clients such as The Arts Council, Islington Council, Ogilvy Interactive and Nike, and states that its mission is to “provide exemplary ideas and solutions that will survive all elements of resistance.”
Situated in a neighbourhood of faux-Tudor and other historically inspired properties, the new house in Keston Park represented a radical break with tradition - and it took the architects five years (and two complete redesigns) to acquire planning permission for the project.
Built with a £1million budget, the Sylvan Glade incorporated state-of-the-art energy-efficient glazing. The use of our Heat Mirror Film glass allowed for very high levels of insulation and protection from solar rays, and it meant that the Denbys could enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits of the natural light in their home without needing to endure extremes of temperature.
The completed house incorporated an enormous 6-metre tall living area, two guest bedrooms, a cinema room, a library, and glass balconies at both the front and rear of the property; it was completed in April of 2011 - five months before the episode aired later that autumn.
Two Cocks Farm
Series 13’s episode “The Christmas Farm” - originally broadcast in October 2013 but often repeated since - focused on the project of Londoners Phil Palmer and Michael Butcher to build a combined house and microbrewery on the site of a Berkshire turkey farm, renaming it in the process to “Two Cocks Farm” (an appellation they later described as “memorable, but not illegal”).
Replacing the rustic wooden chalet that existed previously on the site, the new build would be a dramatically sloped, rubber-roofed building incorporating what was at the time the largest sliding glass door anywhere in the world (6 x 3.2 metres in size) - and as if that weren’t enough of a challenge, the door would need to be mounted at a diagonal angle.
The building was designed by TAATE, an architectural design company that has worked on projects in diverse locations including in Berkshire, Dorset and Sydney.
“It doesn’t look like your old conventional farmhouse, but it suits that purpose,” said Sara Gardhouse (one of TAATE’s co-founders) on the programme. “Farmhouses are no longer about people sitting around in tractors; they’re able to bring people here, they’re able to enjoy it, they’re able to connect to the outside and it becomes one of the tools for them to farm with, essentially.”
Drawing inspiration from the construction of a nearby church, the new building’s facade would be clad in flint for a striking textural appeal, and it was over this surface that the record-breaking, parallelogram-shaped motorised glass door - designed and constructed by Cantifix - would be located. A chain-link mechanism was embedded into the flint walls, allowing the heavy Pureglaze door (which weighed 1.5 tonnes) to be smoothly operated without any visible assistance.
“Yes, this place is a farmhouse for the modern age,” said Kevin McCloud of the finished build, “but it’s also a urban party pad; it’s a rural retreat; it’s an idyll - it is these things all mixed up, and it is something else, I believe. It is an exemplar of the 21st-century country house - life-giving, life-changing [and] game-changing.”
Throughout the history of Grand Designs, Cantifix have been proud to see our handiwork on numerous episodes of Channel 4’s much-beloved homebuilding show. The ethos and heart of the programme has always been in close alignment with our own values - those of bold imagination, pushing the boundaries of both design and technology and always striving to create something new.
We’ve been honoured to have been a part of a show that so strongly celebrates values of innovation and ambition in architectural design - and whichever ventures are yet to be undertaken by the ambitious homebuilders of Britain, we hope that television viewers will continue to see both these new building projects and our glazing together on future episodes of Grand Designs.