Grand Designs Australia

There’s a plethora of home renovation shows vying for your attention. Shows that give you homemaker tips, shows that pit home designer against home designer and shows that spruce up your house for auction.

Arguably the most popular of them all is the UK’s Grand Designs -not so much a renovation show as a show about home building. At its heart are stories about real people with dreams to build their very own castle.

Most of the homes and self-builders featured in the show are one out of the box. They are bold, lavish, innovative, historical, impossible, ridiculous. There to guide us through the storytelling is host Kevin McCloud.

Now the LifeStyle Channel unveils its long-awaited adaptation, Grand Designs Australia, produced by FremantleMedia Australia. Hosting this first international version is architect Peter Maddison.

More than a year in the making, this is a show that is a labour of love. But this perfectly matches its subjects.

The first episode features construction manager Chris Clarke, who was working so many hours in his city-job that he became a victim of chronic fatigue. But after 7 years he built a haven in the Victorian rural town of Calignee, a dream home in the bush that was his personal retreat. He finished the home in January 2009. Two weeks later it was razed to the ground by the Black Saturday fires.

It’s this kind of personal story that draws you in.

Now with the cameras documenting every stage of his recovery, Clarke is rebuilding “Calignee 2”, which promises to rise Phoneix-like from the ashes.

What is always so remarkable about the Grand Designs brand is that the viewer sees the narrative unfolding from a blank canvas. Maddison walks through the burnt shell of “Calignee 1” as Clarke begins to outline his next dream. It’s impossible to grasp how such a home, and such an individual, could rise from such despondency.

Eye-catching graphics illustrate the new home so that we can share in the vision. Clarke’s ideas are ultra-modern, ultra-green and hell bent on being a fire-proof furnace. He has $400,000 from insurance to realise it -meaning he has had to scale back from his original 3 bedrooms to just 1.

During the building stages, Clarke is hands-on. He picks out every rock, every old beam and oversees every nail going into place. His building crew are none too pleased by the scrutiny. There are challenges with budgets, near-disasters and a looming deadline. But it’s impossible to ignore Clarke’s passion, and we completely empathise with his circumstance.

Maddison’s narration points out the challenges and helps highlight Clarke’s emotion. Unlike some observational series, his is no post-production voice-over. He’s even seen pitching in with the labour. Points for that.

As expected, the finished home is a work of contemporary art. Slap a Spa Retreat sign out the front and I’d be there for the weekend.

The series features nine ambitious homes across the country, capturing the bush, the city and the beach. One house being showcased is said to have been lost along the way (now there’s some drama that would make good telly).

Like the homes it is filming, this is a faithful reconstruction that takes a blueprint and begins to build with an eye for detail. Sure the host isn’t Kevin McCloud, but Maddison is clearly invested and informed in both the projects and the people he is presenting.

The LifeStyle Channel has a little gem on its hands here. Why can’t commercial television give us stuff this good, please?

Grand Designs Australia premieres 8:30pm Thursday October 21st on LifeStyle.


  1. @Col : “This week’s brickbat (November 18) goes to the statement that the Northern Territory building site is in “an environment unique to anywhere else in the world”. Please, Editor, could you be professional and ensure future dialogue makes sense?”
    Absolutely – what an embarassing script blunder. But the rest of tonight’s show (we only get it now in South AFrica – 2011) was amazing. The courage of Trevor and Francoise and all their setbacks gave me a big lump in my throat. It was incredibly moving. What a genuine, loveable, likeable guy. All good things to him and his family and may he have good health for many years to come to enjoy that amazing home in the bush.

  2. My partner and I love watching Grand designs, Kevin McCloud is the best presenter,
    I dont have paid TV when will this be shown on free to air TV. The dream is your dream.

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