Grand Designs - House of the Year:a hidden hillside home, a brutal fortress and a 'metal shed' are in the running for top RIBA award

In the first episode of a special series of Grand Designs, Kevin McCloud visits five spectacular country homes that are in the running for the coveted Royal Institute of British Architects' House of the Year prize.

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A special set of Grand Designs programmes starts tonight in the run-up to the coveted Royal Institute of British Architects' House of the Year prize, to be awarded next month.

In the first episode, host Kevin McCloud and Riba judges Damion Burrows and Zac Monro visit five rural homes that are both spectacular and unusual.

Fellow judge Jonathan Dallas says: "We're looking for something that's ultimately inspiring, has responded well to a site, a place you can call home."

Outhouse has outdoor spaces where there were once farm buildings (Charles Hosea)

Outhouse, Gloucestershire

"This first house just doesn't belong to the hill, it's become a part of it," says McCloud, as he introduces the remarkable Outhouse, in the ancient, unspoiled landscape of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.

The 5,300 sq ft three-bedroom house is on the site of a former farmhouse, garage and pig sty, and architect Chris Loyn paid tribute to the new house's origins in a most unusual way - by flipping everything inside out.

A green roof that conceals the house, Loyn says: "We left the footprints of the buildings and scooped the meadow over the top."

Owners artists Michael and Jean Dunwell use micro scooters to get about the vast property where they have separate studios.

Anstey Plum is a lavish but sensitive restoration of a modernist gem (Katie Lock)

Ansty Plum, Wiltshire

In Ansty Plum, the judges confounded expectations that the contest is only about new houses by longlisting one built in 1962.

However, Kevin says the reason it was longlisted was that it had been a project to "lovingly bring architectural heritage back from the dead and make it fit for the 21st century".

Ansty Plum, in the tiny hamlet of Ansty, six miles from Shaftesbury, was designed by renowned architect David Levitt, but was falling apart when architect Sandra Coppin and her husband Nico de Beer bought it.

When the couple moved into the 1,800sq ft two-bedroom house, there was no heating and their first winter was so cold that Nico took to warming his hands in the fridge. A sensitive 14-month renovation project followed.

Sandra says: "There was a lot of unpicking, it's like your favourite woolly jumper that's been moth-eaten, you have to start to unravel bits of it before you can start knitting it back together.

"We recognised that this was something very special that had somehow slipped through the 20th century virtually unnoticed."


A spartan farm building outside, Zinc-House is luxurious on the inside (Mark O'Connor)

Zinc-House, Scotland

The Zinc-House, near Monikie, in Angus, Scotland, won the attention of the judges for its ability to hide.

The 5,600sq ft four-bedroom house, designed by architect Graeme Hutton, was singled out for tackling one of the questions of the moment - what should we be building in our rural landscapes?

The architect set out to make something that situated itself into the landscape almost invisibly. The finished building resembles a 21st century farm on the outside, but contains a modernist villa within.

The Owers House boasts a breathtaking 38ft cantilever living area (James Morris)

The Owers House, Cornwall

The longlisted properties leap from the rugged landscape of eastern Scotland to the idyllic Fal estuary in Cornwall, where architect John Pardey found himself designing a home yards from one of Britain's most famous modernist homes.

Of the glass and breezeblocks of Creek Vean, built in 1966 by Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, Pardey says: "I was intimidated. Any great house transcends its time, so I wanted to pay respect to it."

The Owers House reimagines the villa as a contemporary Californian home.

Most delightful about the 3,000sq ft, four-bedroom house is the breathtaking 38ft cantilever which houses the vast living area, providing views for seven miles down the estuary.

Helen Owers, who lives there with husband Paul, says: "It was all about getting the maximum view, we've now got a view from pretty much every room in the house."

Le Petit Fort's forbidding looks serve to create a sheltered haven (Edmund Sumner)

Le Petit Fort, Jersey

From California dreamin' to a literal fortress, Le Petit Fort was designed by Anthony Hudson to provide protection from the harshest weathers the Atlantic could throw at it.

The four-bedroom, 5,100sq ft house in St Ouen sits behind a vast sea wall and from the outside looks forbidding and austere. 

But inside Hudson has provided what at first sight seems missing from what every new coastal home automatically offers.

As Kevin walks through the house, he's perplexed that he has to crouch to get a sea view. "There's a funny thing going on, these windows only offer a view when you sit down. This is a house for sitting down in, I call that a treat."

Hudson says he used steel and three types of local granite to reflect the dominant coastal architecture of Jersey of Napoleonic Martello towers and sinister concrete German defences.

Kevin concludes: "This house is powerful, a worthy addition to the fortifications and towers, but within the embrace of its walls it is all glamour."

Grand Designs: House of the Year is on Channel 4 on Thursdays at 9pm

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