Grand Designs couple go £500,000 over budget to transform an old reservoir

This week on Grand Designs, Kevin McCloud visited Rosa and Craig in the Wye Valley as they transformed a family-owned railway reservoir into a unique living space.

The disused water reservoir once powered steam trains in the valley from the late 1800s until 1941.

The reservoir and surrounding fields were a special place for Rosa whose family have lived in the valley for generations.

The family purchased the reservoir and surrounding fields from a local farmer and Rosa’s granddad Leo long dreamed of one day converting the disused building into a property to live in.

Building a home felt like a pipe dream but then audiologist Rosa met Craig, a skydiving instructor.

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Craig said: “I think it was about six months after we started seeing each other properly.

“Rosa brought me up here one day, and I was instantly in love with the fields, the reservoir and everything from that first moment.”

Before the project began, Kevin visited the property with the couple and their dog Truffles.

Rosa’s grandfather had been working on the building for 10 to 15 years and had previously drained the water from the building by hand using a wheelbarrow and a bucket. Sadly, Rosa’s granddad Leo, the inspiration behind much of the project, passed away suddenly before it was completed.

Rosa and Craig enlisted architect Chris Loyn and his team to help realise their transformation of the reservoir.

The land itself only cost Rosa and Craig £800. They had an original budget of £700,000 for the project, of which they planned to borrow £500,000. They were also hoping to complete the project in 12 months. However, their budget was soon tested when quotes for the building work started coming in way above their £700,000 budget.

They managed to negotiate a construction price of £950,000 by compromising on the exterior landscaping but they were still spending £250,000 more than they originally anticipated.

Over halfway through, Rosa and Craig “ran out of money”. They couldn’t pay one of the outstanding bills they owed the builders so they were forced to borrow an additional £80,000 from the bank.

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Craig said he was having “sleepless nights” thinking about the cost of the project. He said: “I’m not going to lie I have had sleepless nights thinking about ’are we actually able to achieve this’? Or,’are we going to find ourselves in bankruptcy because of it’?”

“There are serious consequences to taking out loans and mortgages and borrowing money off people, you’ve got to pay it back at some point.”

The project took them a total of four years to complete – three years more than they anticipated. It also cost them a stomach-churning £1.2million in total – £500,000 more than their original budget.

To complete the project, they borrowed money from family members and did some of the work themselves.

The project involved excavating 3,000 tonnes of earth from the hillside to the north to reveal the reservoir’s stone walls.

Three huge holes were then cut out in the exposed stone wall – two for enormous picture windows and the third for a walkway which connected a new exposed concrete structure.

The new building is home to a dining room and bedrooms and was then buried underneath 200 tonnes of earth so that it blends into the surrounding landscape.

The centrepiece of the property is the reservoir itself. The dilapidated roof was replaced by an insulated steel frame one, windows slotted between the original brick piers and curved glazing filling the entire gable ends.

Inside, there’s a slick new mezzanine underneath the arched roofs and there’s a bridge which leads to an airborne snug with incredible views over the valley.

A steel staircase leads down to a large open-plan kitchen and sitting room and the reservoir’s giant ballcock sits proudly on the wall.

The two enormous glazed windows allow natural light to flood in and face the beautiful green courtyard garden.

The walkway, which connects the old with the new, leads to an epic dining room, a family bathroom and four bedrooms.

The most impressive bedroom is the master which has large floor-to-ceiling windows, a stunning walk-in shower and a copper free-standing tub.

Grand Designs airs tonight at 9pm on Channel 4. The episode is also available to stream on All4.

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