In the second episode of the new series of Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud describes architect Matt White’s plans for a whopping 4,500 sq ft extension three-and-a-half times bigger than his house as a “great big shadow of death about to gobble up the cottage”.
But the commercial architect’s decision to build a gigantic, barn-style building that interconnects with the family’s 19th century gamekeeper’s lodge in Horsham, Sussex turned out to be nowhere near as sinister as the large, looming dark property looks from the outside.
In fact, Matt and his wife and business partner Sophie built their gigantic “fun house” to a detailed and whimsical spec set out by their three children.
So, what happens when your clients are four, six and eight-years-old? You build a cavernous, colourful family home filled with unexpected flourishes: a hidey hole, a rotating bathtub, hidden entrances, secret passageways and ladders leading to hidden dens.
The Art Deco-style living room and continental kitchen appear very grown-up but they contain the dreams and desires of an entire family, with doors that open up entirely on both sides, a pub cubby hole and a child-sized spiral staircase behind a bookshelf that leads upstairs to the family theatre.
Built inside a steel frame, the behemoth of a property is a testament to Matt’s commercial background and all the internal components are movable so the positioning of the rooms can adapt over time with the family's needs. The kiddie staircase, for example, is built in the shaft intended to one day become an elevator – presumably so that the young family can play there well into old age.
Levers, neon, rainbow colours, a family portrait that allows you to spy on the sitting room from behind the fireplace – every unexpected and light-hearted idea is incorporated.
Each child has their own room with a hidden ladder and climbing wall inside their wardrobes leading through secret tunnels up to a playroom at the top of the house.
But it isn’t just the kids who get secret hideaways. The double-height master bedroom for the parents has a separate compartment in the rafters, a “Bond-pod” designed to look like a villain’s lair complete with round window and Barbarella furniture overlooking rolling Sussex countryside.
The Whites remortgaged their similarly quirky self-built London home to buy the £750,000 plot and gamekeeper’s lodge in Horsham. The build cost them a further £840,000 – coming in £40,000 under budget.
“If Darth Vader were to retire, move to earth and build himself a country estate, this is what it would look like,” McCloud remarked of the finished property’s exterior. But, while the force might be strong with this particular “bonkers” Grand Design, it is a tribute to the light side.
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