Grand Designs, series 16, episode 3:cramped cottage in the Cornish forest is turned into an extraordinary family home with steambent curved cladding

Husband-and-wife Tom and Danielle Raffield had already set up a successful business using steam to bend wood into beautiful furniture. Next, they embarked on a mission to use this unusual technqiue to create a bigger house for their family...

This week’s episode of Grand Designs sees the triumph of craftsmanship over budget constraints as a couple of woodbenders go against the grain to forge their dream home straight from the forest where they live.

Tom and Danielle Raffield had spent three years living in a pokey, mouldy gamekeeper’s cottage in the beautiful forested Cornish valley where they also run their unconventional business – using steam to bend strips of local wood into stunning light fixtures, seating and other pieces of furniture.

With two children and only 470sq ft of space, plus an outdoor bathroom, the family had long outgrown the Grade II-listed property. But they weren't planning to build just any old house. 

“If anyone was commissioning us to make the things we’re going to make it would be astronomically expensive. But we’re not going to charge ourselves. This is a giant playground for a pair of steambenders,” said Danielle.

Using their combined skills of craftmanship (Tom) and mathematics and engineering (Danielle), the duo set about using steambending techniques to create their dream house - an extension to the pre-existing cottage and separate toilet block, linked by a connecting building - with a tight budget of £100,000.

The Herculean task of self-building their ambitious design meant the couple spent hours daily outside of their normal working and family lives filling tyres with earth, restoring the old cottage, painting and, of course, steaming and manipulating the wood into extraordinary shapes.

The building’s bendy façade mirrors the shape of the landscape and was handmade by the couple with wood taken from their own trees. Inside, the walls are clad with various types of wood, hand-laid by a local joiner who fitted each piece together like a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle.

But while the results of their efforts might be brilliant, the build was gruelling. Just six months before the house was completed, Danielle discovered she was pregnant with their third child and became so ill her hands-on approach to the build had to be tempered - something she found very frustrating.

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The curve of the house is intended to mirror the undulating landscape of the valley (Channel 4)

Luckily, their steambending furniture business had become so successful in the meantime, so they were able to outsource more of the building work and ended up spending £160,000 on the house and a bit more on landscaping and decking its surroundings.

Danielle estimates that if she was invoicing a client for the work they undertook the bill would run into hundreds of thousands.

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Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud surveys the handiwork of Tom and Danielle Raffield who steambent their own South Cornwall house from the surrounding trees (Channel 4)

The fact that the wood they used was taken from their own land also saved them a fortune. “About 95 per cent of it is our wood. If you were to buy the wood that we’ve used it would cost you over £125,000,” said Tom.

Grand Designs presented Kevin McCloud described the house as a “wriggling, ribboned manifestation of the hill itself” and said the “beautiful” design was virtually unprecedented. 

Grand Designs is on Channel 4 Wednesdays at 9pm


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