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Latest Grand Designs sees retired ad man and former boxer Geoff swap Spain for an unusual self-build on the Essex coast

·3-min read
 (Channel 4)
(Channel 4)

Retired ad man Geoff tries to sell his luxurious Spanish villa to build a £700,000 water resistant, island home in the remote, flood plains of Essex.

In the latest episode of Grand Designs on Channel 4, the recently-divorced, 63-year-old, with a Peter Pan complex, returns to the UK to build a spectacular three-bedroom house on steel stilts. He wants to watch his grandchildren grow up who also live in Essex.

“It’s the first time in 32 years I can do what I want to do,” says Geoff, who was raised in the East End. But will he heed the warning from presenter Kevin McCloud? “Architecture can do many things but it cannot keep you forever young,” says McCloud.

For £350,000 the Cuban cigar-smoking Geoff bought a 7.5 acre plot with views over the watery wilderness with planning permission. He doesn’t have to design the structure, he just has to follow the plans.

The cantilevered house will stand 15 ft above the ground on 30 heavy-weight concrete and steel piles that will be sunk 14 metres deep.

They will support an industrial strength steel frame comprising 560 steel girders which will transfer the load back into the earth below.

The stairs will be made of timber as will the walls which will envelop the steel. The property will be wrapped in floor-to-ceiling windows with a jagged and eye-catching roof covered in solar panels.

Each of the three bedrooms will have views across the water. Running up through the centre of the house will be a glass lift.

 (Channel 4)
(Channel 4)

A bund wall will protect the garden and in the event of an extraordinary 1,000-year storm the water will cover the garden and the ground floor but won’t reach the living area. The power supply and drainage system will all be protected. “In the event of such a storm, Geoff will just need a boat,” says McCloud.

The project gets underway and all the foundations dug before Geoff comes up against his first major, build-stopping stumbling block. In order to complete his island home he must first sell his villa in Spain.

The plush pad with a £1.5 million price tag has been sitting on the market for a year and Geoff refuses to accept an offer of £1.2 million.

If he cannot sell in Spain Geoff is unable to afford to build the rest of his gravity-defying dream house and will have to spend one wet winter after another in a static caravan on site as he manages the project all by himself.

The villa in Spain finally sells and Geoff gears up to put his house on top of the stilts. But once again the unrelenting force of Geoff (a boxer in his childhood) meets an immovable object: Covid-19 strikes and the build halts again for five months.

Come the summer 2020 and the property is starting to take shape on top of the cantilevered column. An optimistic Geoff is determined he will be in by Christmas – much to McCloud’s scepticism.

Aware that he is eating into his retirement fund he makes some cost savings by shortening the bund wall and replacing a lower concrete wall with timber.

Once complete, although not yet landscaped, McCloud pays a final visit. Filled with quirky and bold interior design choices, he describes the house as “an autobiography of Geoff and everything that means something to him.”

The master bedroom is completely unsupported due to the clever shape of the house with views over the sailing club. The vista from the jutting balcony, which is also the overhang, stretch across the estuary and survey the wetland wildlife.

Geoff’s lowest point was when “it just wouldn’t stop raining” and he had to build his house against the rising water. As McCloud puts it: “This building is a survivor and so are you. It has been built to withstand gravity, time and the tide.”

Grand Designs airs on Wednesdays at 9pm on Channel 4. Episodes are also available to stream via All 4.

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