Grand Designs couple run out of money to finish their family home

Architect who spent £550,000 to convert garages into a family home on Grand Designs fears he may have to sell it after running out of money to build bedrooms for his two daughters

  • Graeme and Mel, from Hackney Downs, appear in Grand Designs on Channel 4
  • READ MORE: Emotional moment woman building £1.2 million home inspired by her grandfather on Grand Designs breaks down in tears on the construction site after he unexpectedly dies at the beginning of the project

A couple with an ambitious plan to convert a tiny twin garage plot in east London into a three-bedroom home for their blended family might have to sell the building after their project was beset with problems. 

Architect Graeme and graphic designer Mel, who appeared in tonight’s episode of Grand Designs on Channel 4, dove into their ambitious project in Hackney Downs with a maximum budget of £450,000.

With the money, they hoped to build a three-storey, three-bedroom home designed by Graeme which has enough space for Mel’s daughter Indie, 13, and Graeme’s daughter Isla, 15, to each have their own room.

After both girls lost a parent (Isla’s mother passed away within weeks of Indie’s father’s death) Graeme stressed the need for the new family home to be a fresh start and a ‘statement’ for the family.

But after two years on the project, Graeme told presenter Kevin McCloud he may have to resort to selling the property as they have run out of money to fix issues with the basement – where the girls’ bedrooms were supposed to be.

A couple who set themselves an ambitious task to build a family home on a tiny plot in Hackney Downs, east London, worry they may have to sell the home after they run out of money towards the end of the project

The unfinished basement (pictured) in Architect Graeme and graphic designer Mel’s home

On Kevin’s first visit to see Graeme and Mel, the couple revealed the tragedies that the family has been through with both girls losing a parent at a young age.

Graeme told Kevin: ‘We are creating a brand new family from two families’ after he met Mel at a wedding and spotted her on the dancefloor.

He described  the house as ‘symbolic’ in giving the family a chance to create their own identity. ‘The new home is just perfect neutral ground for everyone to buy into,’ he says. 

Mel stressed how she and Graeme were doing their best to build new family traditions but also keeping the old families’ memories alive.

The ambitious project has three floors and was described as Graeme as an ‘upside down’ home which makes use of the limited space they have to play with on the plot.

The girls’ bedrooms will be in a basement of the house while Graeme and Mel’s master bedroom and bathroom will sit on the ground floor. 

On the first floor will be the living room and kitchen – and Graeme has also managed to fit a terrace onto the property.

‘We’re a modern family, if you like, and it’s a modern house, a shamelessly modern house,’ Graeme said. 

The modern house, which is covered in red cladding, was built on the site of what was once twin garages

The interior of the home is still quite bare as the family have not yet moved in by the end of the episode

The first floor of the house is the kitchen, dining and living area which makes the most of the light 

The project was off to a good start when the couple realised they have a little bit more space than they had initially anticipated after paying a total of £35,000 for the land on another garage plot adjacent to where the home will be built – meaning there’s space for a garden.

However after an initial stroke of luck, the couple ran into problems with the basement, after their initial contractor pulled out of the project which had been agreed at a price of £150,000.

They eventually found another contractor to dig on the site and build the basement, but it came at a cost of £20,000 more than their original budget for that part of the build.

And once the dig started, the team ran into plenty of issues, with both the supply chain and the plot of land.

The contractor said the dig into the basement was a ‘major challenge’ because there was ‘no space whatsoever’. He revealed there wasn’t even enough space on the tiny site for a skip because the build is so boxed in.

Building the basement and setting the foundations for the home became such a big project that it took more than six months to complete. From there, however, the build started to speed up and progress was quick.

But just when the finish line was in sight, the basement came back to haunt the couple, after a test on its concrete walls raised concerns about the amount of cement in them and their longevity.

‘I’m trying not to be too down about it but I’m really distraught about this,’ Graeme explained, while Mel said she was ‘hugely disappointed’ and ‘worried’ about the issue.

A modern staircase leads from the ground floor, where Mel and Graeme’s bedroom will be, up to the living area on the first floor

The kitchen is kitted out with red cabinets and work surfaces to match the red exterior of the home

The house sits on a tiny plot of land which once housed twin garages – which caused problems during the construction process

Kevin’s final visit to the couple’s home in September 2023 revealed the house was built and watertight, covered in red cladding and making a statement compared to the other houses on the street.

Although the couple were overall pleased with the house, Graeme admitted the unfinished basement was the ‘void’. 

He explained they are hoping there is a solution as they plan to add another layer of lining to the concrete walls – however this will decrease the overall space.

The architect says they essentially have ‘a two storey-house’ for now and will extend into a third floor ‘when that space becomes available’.

The family still plans to move into the home soon, with one daughter set to sleep on a mezzanine floor that has been created – while the other will ‘camp out in the living room’. 

Sitting around the table at the end of the episode, Graeme told Kevin: ‘At the moment we can afford to finish the project but not to pay for the remedial costs of the basement.

‘It’s a question mark as to how we fund that right now, we don’t honestly have the answer to that.’

He added that the ‘worst case’ for the family would be that they may not be able to afford to fund the remediation and; ‘the net effect of that will be that we’ll have to sell it’.

Kevin told the camera: ‘After everything this family has been through in the two-and-a-half years I’ve known them, selling this would be a bitter pill indeed.’ 

Graeme revealed the total cost of the project has exceeded their initial budget of £450,000 and is now looking to be more like £550,000 in terms of the mortgage.

Despite having had a bumpy ride on the build, Mel believes it has been worth it to live in their dream home. 

She said: ‘I’m totally in love with this building, and we are at one with this building now.’ 

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