“Grand Designs,” “Restoration Home,” “Restoration Man,” “Double Your House for Half the Money,” “My Dream Derelict Home,” and “The House that £100K Built” are all TV programs you’ve likely not heard of or watched … and you should … and you can. That’s because thanks to YouTube, we can enjoy these UK and Australian programs too.
The fare on HGTV and DIY is fare-ly repetitive. If the market is roaring, we see house flipping, second home buying, and fire-stoking, get-rich-quick real estate stories. When the market shrinks, it reverts to cheap renovation, cheap decorating tips and blanding your house for a quick sale; awaiting the market to awaken.
Throughout it all, there is “House Hunters,” featuring couples who should never have married and “House Hunters International,” which is full of Americans lamenting itsy-bitsy refrigerators in far off lands.
Of course, it’s been fairly well reported that most of the shows are in some way fake. “House Hunters” is more about guessing which home the buyer has already purchased. Renovation shows always act shocked about “catastrophes” (revealed seconds before the commercial break) that a blind house inspector would have caught. Finally, there are the inane budget talks … you know what I mean …
Agent: “What’s your budget for your studio condo in Des Moines?”
Buyer: “$1 million.”
Agent: “Welllll, that’s a tight budget, it’s going to be very difficult. You may have to compromise.”
Regardless of the program, it’s all repetitive fake drama wrapped up with a bow in 21 or 43 minutes (subtracting commercials). This isn’t to say I don’t watch HGTV. I just watch it for information while trying my best to avoid the theater – the best way to do this is with a DVR and liberal use of fast-forward (and not just through the commercials).
Other Worldly Programs
My language skills are poor outside my cheeky mastery of English. Luckily, the English-speaking world has a plethora of interesting home building and renovation TV programs. These programs differ from American shows in two major ways. Many of the programs concentrate on restoration and renovation of centuries-old structures. I joke about these programs … “We plan to restore the 11th century abbey to its original grandeur … and look, we have two original bricks to get started!” Sometimes, the joke isn’t far off.
Living in a country without much architecture of this age or style, I find them fascinating to watch. The building techniques are completely different. The ornate craftsmanship and materials are often a challenge to replicate.
Some of these shows add a layer of interest with experts who trace the ownership and history of these historic properties to explain the home’s journey. Again, it’s interesting to understand the house in context with history.
The other difference are programs showing new homes being built from the ground up. Here, these programs tend to be rare. The reason is because building a home takes time and commitment from the network that simply doesn’t exist here. These foreign shows visit a build’s progress at various points over 2-3 years before an hour-long episode (no commercials on BBC) showcases the entire build. Our production cycles simply don’t have the commitment or attention span for this type of show.
Here are my favorites. If you know of more, share in the comments.
Grand Daddy: Grand Designs
With 145 episodes spanning 16 years, Grand Designs is the longest-running home building show I’m aware of. It’s been hosted since the beginning by Kevin McCloud, and follows a homeowner or builders from start to finished home often over the space of several years – these are no weekend warrior projects. Projects have included underground homes, high-tech German kit homes, rammed-earth homes, barn conversions and eco-homes built of straw. Budgets range from tens of thousands to millions of pounds (£ not lbs.).
One episode showcased a woodsman who built a simple home with materials from the forest with help from volunteers. Another episode showed a brash family building an enormous home only to be caught in the recession with their bank cutting off their mortgage mid-build. On the brink of bankruptcy, after the program aired, a viewer loaned the family the money to finish the home that they turned into a bed and breakfast to generate cash.
Another episode featured a gay couple converting a Victorian water tower into a large home with a very large living room built within the top-floor water tank, offering unobstructed 360-degree views of London.
The show has spawned a number of spin-offs, including an interiors-focused Grand Designs Indoors, Europe-based Grand Designs Abroad and a full Australian version that has racked up five series so far. The Aussie version tends feature very modern structures in beautiful and unique surroundings. New Zealand is due to begin their own series later this year.
Yes, these shows are formulaic too. There’s always a point, to create imitation drama, where McCloud sucks air through his teeth about something he doesn’t agree with only to be bowled over in the end. It’s still TV after all.
This show’s 20 programs over three seasons (and counting) showcase very old, dilapidated homes with interesting histories. In addition the show’s hostess, Caroline Quentin, there is an architectural expert and a historian who address the building’s and its owner’s histories.
The first episode follows the restoration of the St Thomas à Becket Church dating from the 14th century. It’s located on a small island in the middle of a river that has had flooding problems that caused a partial rebuilding in 1868 only to be finally re-flooded 200 years later and deconsecrated. A newlywed 20-something couple purchased the wreck in 2008 and renovated it for £300,000 (a shoestring considering the size) with the husband quitting his job and doing the work almost completely himself while surviving on the wife’s salary.
At the other end is a woman who purchased Cassillis House, a 14th century, 110-room home linked to Scottish royalty for £3 million. She proceeded to spend four years restoring the home and uncovering the homes links to Mary, Queen of Scots and that the fourth Earl of Cassillis was involved in the murder of Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley. She spent millions on the restoration only to ultimately sell it before moving in.
The kitchen tells the story of the state of the building.
They were able to match the original kitchen floor design but of course everything else was replaced and rebuilt.
Similar to Restoration Home, George Clark’s show also follows crumbling historic buildings and their history. This show leans more towards re-purposing old non-residential structures into homes.
Included are water towers, windmills, a WWII Air Force bunker, an ice house and a water pumping station. Clark’s demeanor and sing-song voice can be a little annoying, but the projects are really cool. The owners also get a book containing the history of their structure turned home.
Double Your House for Half the Money
Hostess Sarah Beeny meets with two homeowners each episode who are building significant additions to their homes rather than buying a double-sized home for twice the price. Certainly there’s a bit of hyperbole here because they often seem to seek out homes in wealthier areas to do their comparisons (it’s still TV). But in the end, with the help of a professional developer (Beeny) subjects not only get the space they want, but often with design help that really makes a difference.
Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t list “Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare” series about Beeny’s shoestring restoration of her own 28-bedroom, 19th century manor house called Rise Hall.
My Dream Derelict Home
Another show highlighting derelict properties in danger of falling down. This 12-episode series chronicles the challenges and difficulty in restoring centuries-old homes. They’re often without much in the way of electricity or plumbing, but are almost always full of leaking roofs, crumbling plaster and decomposing stonework. Not on YouTube today, you never know, it may pop up at some point.
The House that £100K Built
Last but not least, this little gem isn’t about glamorous projects. This program (2 seasons and counting) is about normal people with less than £100K to build a house. There are two hosts, Kieran Long and Piers Taylor, who help these self-builders create some pizazz within their tiny budgets. Sometimes the subjects take the advice and sometimes not. The show hasn’t gotten the best reviews because it lacks the glamor of other renovation/build programs and is overly focused on the budget – oh, you mean like the rest of us? Sure I’ve found some of the results tacky (one Middle Eastern couple’s home is particularly garish as it tries for bling on a string) but others are interesting (one was a kit house that the pair managed to spiff up for less money).
It’s still TV
Sure, these programs each follow a slightly different format (e.g. at 17-minutes in, everyone will gasp and hug), but the housing stock and projects are very different from what we see here. We also do not have programs featuring buyers restoring wrecks. This is certainly what makes them interesting to me. That and being able to watch a whole conversion/build, sometimes covering years, summarized in an hour is interesting enough without being tedious. Oh, and you very quickly understand that nearly EVERYONE goes over budget – and when you decide to renovate or build, you will too.
Remember: Do you have an HOA story to tell? A little high-rise history? Realtors, want to feature a listing in need of renovation or one that’s complete with flying colors? How about hosting a Candy’s Dirt Staff Meeting? Shoot Jon an email. Marriage proposals accepted (they’re legal)! firstname.lastname@example.org