Grand Designs Houses: 7 self build tips from the architects and owners

From how to budget for your self build to the best building materials to use, here are some of the Grand Designs TV house owners with their priceless, been-there-done-that advice.


Who else is better to give you self building advice than the Grand Designs house owners themselves? 

Read on for their personal insight into everything from Cross laminated timber and a concrete formwork system, to budgeting for a self build. 


On ICF usage, Malvern house, Series 17, 2017

a house in the hillside by John Malvern and Gill Flewers, featured on tv show Grand Designs on Channel 4

Image: Chris Tubbs

‘With an insulating concrete formwork system (ICF), all that was required was to nail the timber batten cladding on the outside of the house and fit the plasterboard as normal on to the inside. There is no extra structure and in that sense it’s easy. You can make curves with this structure and cantilever with it, just as you can with a steel-frame building.’ Jon and Gill Flewers, Malvern House

On building with CLT, County Down Shed Home, Series 17, 2017

shed style timber clad house in Ballygowan, County Down, Northern Ireland featured on Channel 4 tv show grand designs

Image: Bradley Quinn

‘CLT is a beautiful material (to work with) and so versatile… The walls, roof, stairs and some built-in furniture are made from CLT and it creates an incredibly warm and cosy space.’ Micah and Elaine Jones, Ballygowan, Co. Down house

On assembling your build team, South Hertfordshire, Series 17, 2017

 garden view of a self build house in St Albans, South Hertfordshire

Image: Fiona Walker-Arnott

‘My advice in assembling a project team is first to get to know in detail the people you are employing, and second to obtain the very best and most experienced site manager available, one who is versed in all trades as well as relationships with the local authority and utility companies involved.’ Chris and Koyo, south Herefordshire house. 

On self build budgets and costs, converted run-down yard to industrial-style home, Series 14, 2014

a converted industrial yard home featured on Channel 4 tv show, Grand Designs

Image: Matt Chisnall

‘Do your research thoroughly, then double the money you think it’s going to cost. And it seems ridiculous, but it’s also the luck of the draw who will be assigned to you from the planning department. Our planning officer just didn’t understand the house at all and thought it looked like a shed. However, he moved to a different section in the council, and the next person we got loved it.’ Tracy and Steve Fox, south-east London house.

On building decisions, Self build mews house in London, series 11, 2011

Mews Self Build House in London as featured on Channel 4 tv show Grand Designs

Image: Chris Tubbs

‘Be strict about your decision-making process – nothing costs more than changing something when it’s half-built. Ask your architect to explain their drawings to you, or create a 3D model so that you can be sure about your choices before work starts. Once you decide on the structure and layout, you shouldn’t go back – ensure you factor in time to sit with the plans, so that you’re certain on every detail.’ Ian Hograth and Claire Farrow, Kensington houseHograthIan Hograth and Claire Farrow, Kensington house.

On setting a budget and trusting your architect, Cliff-side home in Wales, series 11, 2011

a cliff side self build home in Wales as featured on Channel 4 tv show Grand Designs

Image: Andrew Well

‘Get real with the budget; don’t assume that doing something simple is cheap, as often the opposite is true. Keep searching until you find the perfect architect and, once you do, put all your trust in them. Don’t fiddle around with their ideas – arrive at something you really like and let them get on with it. Most importantly, be ambitious and dream big.’ Rob Hodgson and Kay Ralph, cliffside house in Wales.

The shipping container build, series 16, 2016

a shipping container home as featured in Channel 4 tv show Grand Designs

Image: Aidan Monnaghan

‘I always approach my projects in the same way – I’m given the budget, I start designing, and then I bring in a quantity surveyor. As the build progresses, I know at any point if I’m going over, and an idea or specification can be adjusted to bring it back under. If you do your research and bring the right people on board, then budget should never be an issue. From the day you start digging, you should know your budget and your design should reflect that.’ Shipping container house.

For more self-build tips, get a ticket for Grand Designs Live where you can get top advice from experts and the TV House owners themselves.

Or why not buy the December issue of Grand Designs Magazine, out now.

Newsletter Signup