Pretty confident that I speak for many when I say Grand Designs on All 4 (United Kingdom) evokes a mix of curiosity and contentment for viewers young and old. For years, I've tried to figure out what it is that makes Grand Designs and it's spin-offs intriguing, even though most of the viewers do not have plans to embark on any building project.
Could it be the opening jingles at the beginning of the show that some of us fall back on as a cue to grab a snack and sit down comfortably, ready to savour architecture and design stories featuring ordinary people on a mission to build their dream home? Maybe it's the simple yet elegant graphics images that accompany the introduction music.
Could it be Kevin McCloud's expert analysis and his interesting conversations with would-be grand designers and builders as he tracks their journeys, through their ups and downs, until the finished building is unveiled? Is it his storytelling, or the way by which he challenges would-be designers the way an accountant grills a creative mind about finances? I love how they grin, usually quipping that they know how much it's going to cost but aren't sure about how they will fund the whole build from start to finish.
Here are the top five lessons learnt from Grand Designs that will inspire anyone with a dream.
1. Where there's planning, there's a way.
In Grand Designs, the goal is to achieve a beautiful home that caters for someone's specific and unique needs. You've heard it before: whatever your skills, gifts or passions are, success comes when you're offering a solution to a problem. However, you have to set realistic plans in place to not only complete the build, but pass planning permission rules and building control. It's true that your environment significantly influences how far you can go, but as the grand designers have proven time and time again, sometimes the only thing that can stop you from achieving what you desire is your own imagination, despite building regulations and restrictions. It's not uncommon to see beautifully crafted homes emerge from restrictive budgets. As the saying goes, "If you can imagine it, you can create it. If you can dream it, you can become it."
2. Team-work moves mountains!
I've noticed a recurring theme in Grand Designs, that there's usually one person who comes up with the bold idea to build something beyond the ordinary. That person knows what they want and can envision the completed project before it even begins. However, it takes the support of another willing partner to get things done. I've seen wives taking over project management duties; dealing with suppliers, construction teams and managing households while the husband goes away to work on other projects so he can raise extra income to fund their new home. In fact, running out of money at some point during construction is the order of the day! I've seen parents, families and friends pitch in to help financially when the banks refuse to help, or when they promise to only release funds when the borrowers reach a certain building level. I've seen the same people roll up sleeves to help with whatever they can during the construction phase, from digging trenches to painting.
I've seen some construction companies continue to build even when banks delay releasing cash injections needed to pay for materials and labour. Sometimes, builders pull out of projects because they can't handle the demands that come with doing things out-of-the-box, which is the hallmark of Grand Designs projects. It all comes down to solid relationships: the more stable they are, the more likely you are to achieve your vision against all the odds.
3. Wrong team players can derail or sabotage your dream.
There's wisdom in the old adage that if you want something done right then do it yourself. However, you can't be an expert in everything and, usually, we all need extra hands to get things done. In Grand Designs, most homeowners kickstart and run the project while working hand in hand with architects, builders, designers and many other stakeholders to turn building plans into reality. Unfortunately, we live in an age where some people have no shame in inflating their abilities. Where there's a need, there's always someone willing to take advantage of you. Because many people don't do their research or are focused on getting more for less (cost cutting), they end up getting involved with teams or people who don't know what they're doing or offer shoddy products and services. I've seen people lose thousands of pounds, suffer delays and get botched results merely because they wanted to cut costs. You often get what you pay for. That desire to achieve something great for less investment can end up costing you more than you bargained for!
I'll always remember one project where the house owner wasted months and poured money down the drain, thanks to a rogue builder who promised solid foundations for their unique house. Because they were limited for space, the only way to go was to create rooms in the basement. It meant digging further down than you normally would, and they encountered a lot of issues along the way. The crucial part of the build almost turned into a disaster because he hired an incompetent builder. His foundations weren't fit for purpose. After a bit of soul-searching, the homeowner gave the builder the boot, showed him the door and brought in a new team. Within days, they'd covered ground and rectified the old mess before taking the grand design to another level!
Cutting costs can end up costing you more than you envisaged. Sometimes, you're better off seeking professional help, but you also have to be willing to pay for it, especially if you have grand visions. Not only will you get what you want, but you'll also save yourself from all sorts of heartaches that come with cutting corners. If money is a concern, then you're better off learning the ropes yourself. I've seen people learn a lot of new things (myself included) after embarking on a new project. Where there is commitment and passion, there's always a way! You'll be surprised how much you can get done if you put your heart and soul into it. To sum it up, involve the right people from the outset, from experts to team players who are willing to roll up their sleeves, not just watch from a distance. Grand designs become a reality when you are surrounded by people who can still see the stars, even when all that surrounds you is mud.
4. Can you stand the rain?
We all want success and would do everything to avoid problems if we could. Grand homes on Channel 4 are built to last and withstand all sorts of adverse weather conditions, while providing comfort and healthy living to inhabitants. However, most big achievements are usually found on the other side of pain, sacrifice, disappointments and sheer hard work. I'd say almost all participants on Grand Designs have had successful careers before embarking on the building projects. Not only are they well-travelled, but most of them also dress impeccably and are always full of positive optimism at the start of the project. However, it's a different sight when they are interviewed at the height of the construction phase! Kevin McCloud is usually greeted by highly stressed out individuals who look rough thanks to hard labour, sleepless nights, and all the difficulties that come with building something from scratch.
I've observed small children becoming ‘feral' not because parents don't care, but because they need to focus more on the building project so they can move in as soon as possible. Most people live on site (usually caravans) and endure long periods of discomfort and basic living. Without prior knowledge of the whole story, you'd think that they're crazy, silly and lost. I too have been there. Those sleepless nights while you work on a project or study. It often means sacrificing a few luxuries that make life a bit more exciting. It will certainly have an impact on your general well-being and outlook. I've got a friend who understands this concept well because she too has lived it, and is gracious enough to admit how tough life can sometimes be. We've often laughed at how terrible we look when going through certain challenges as we try to rebuild our lives. Making life-changing decisions and implementing them is not for the faint-hearted. It often means making huge sacrifices, and loads of tears! Eight hours of sleep turn into nothing but a dream, you can forget about eating out (frozen vegetables and cheap meals here we come!) and going on holidays is nothing but a distant memory. You can forget about facials, visits to the hair salon, let alone buying a moisturiser that works for your skin type! This is why I love Grand Designs Revisited; there's so much joy in seeing a completed, well-furnished home now being inhabited by glowing couples and families.
It doesn't matter how passionate you are about what you want to achieve in life, you will often encounter difficult and rough moments, however beautifully crafted your vision is. I once saw a grown man break down and cry in front of the camera thanks to mounting pressure and unforeseen circumstances. When you think they've gone through the worst, things frequently get even worse in the form of delays, disappointments, and sometimes frustrations that stem from being weary and reaching breaking point. Still, in Grand Designs, giving up is never an option. Often times, Kevin McCloud has analysed how challenging their problems are in a bid to work on a new way forward. I'm always amazed by their quiet determination, energy, drive, uncompromising attitude to quality, positivity and faith in action.
We too can learn from their resilience and understand that all experiences good and bad, can be utilized for our benefit. That includes pain, being broke, and living in a mess. Whatever you do, don't let temporary difficulties discourage you from pursuing your dream even if the challenges stay for longer seasons than usual. Take a break if you need to, learn if you have to, redraw the plan if it's possible, ask for help if you can and make some cutbacks to make inroads. Do whatever you can to withstand the rain; the mental, spiritual and physical storms. Your grand dreams, visions and goals are on the on the other side of challenging situations. Kevin McCloud once said, "Even the most beautiful buildings can have the most difficult births."
5. Grand visions must be built on stable foundations to stand tall.
The bigger the house, the further they dig down so that the structure can be fully supported. Whether it's a concrete, brick, mud, timber or steel frame, they always stabilise the building so it won't crash down upon completion. It doesn't matter whether the house was inspired by a childhood dream or travel experiences, grand designs are rooted in firm foundations. Anything not supported by right foundations will not last and create problems in the future. Same with our dreams, if they are built on wrong or shoddy foundations (greed, selfishness, cutting corners etc.), it won't be long before we see multiple problems which often end up taking more from us. Prevention is always better than cure.
Sometimes, grand designs involve upgrading and restoring old structures. You might have to destroy what was to build something grand. In life, it could mean getting rid of your old beliefs, thought processes or even people who can't handle the new you. Most Christians are well versed with the story of two men who went on a mission to build houses. One built his house on the rock (more work, longer time frames), and the other one built his home in the sand (convenient, quick and easy). When the rains came down, the house on the rock stood tall, but the house built on sand was washed away. This point is related to the one I made earlier about standing the rain. However, when building any dream, a company, business, family or career will stand tall and withstand the test of time if our values and principles lie on solid foundations. Remember too that just because a vision is small doesn't mean it's easy. Growing big isn't necessarily a sure way to survive. Sometimes, it all comes down to your ability to adjust to your needs and perform well. As long as you're firmly rooted in the right foundations, you can withstand and recover quickly from life's ups and downs.
Grand Designs is one of the most popular TV documentaries that showcases different stories about building projects. But it's not just a factual documentary about people with grand visions to build homes that leave you with an appreciation and much admiration of what it means to achieve a dream. Grand Designs is also a real-life story hub featuring ordinary people in pursuit of their goals, inspiring us in the process. Hope you've enjoyed some of the best motivational lessons that we can apply in our own lives as we embark on our dreams, grand and small!
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