One of my favourite shows back in the UK was Grand Designs and I was therefore delighted to see that it’s made it over here as well – we get it on the BBC Lifestyle channel. OK, so we’re (at least) a couple of years behind the UK, but what we do know doesn’t hurt us and watching people building homes isn’t exactly time sensitive and neither is Kevin McCloud’s insightful and detailed commentary.
We’re in the middle of a Grand Designs Revisited series here at the moment and tonight was one of my favourite episodes from way back when.
The guy building his own house was Ben Law, who works as a woodsman in Sussex. But this was different from most situations in that Ben wasn’t moving from a house to his new-build – he was living in the woods in a tent and a leaky caravan and had been doing so for 10 years. No hot water, no heating. It was – perhaps unsuspectingly – a solitary life. But he was happy with it, which is surely the most important thing.
But time came to build his own place. And being a woodsman and a craftsman, he did most of it himself – from the woods that surrounded him. The basic plan was a timber A-frame and the gaps between the wood was filled in with bales of straw. Add homemade lime mortar and locally-sourced clay and suddenly, a low-tech, green, but very liveable house came together.
But it was a house for one. Which is why I was amazed when they went back and found that not only did he have a wife, he also had a 19 day old son. And then they went back again a few years later and they’d had another kid. The mudbath in front of the newly-built cottage in the photo above had been replaced with a beautiful garden, complete with homemade wooden toys for the kids. Also, a workshop whereby Ben could do stuff with the wood that he harvested from the woods around them.
I was impressed with Ben’s choice of lifestyle. Not because I’d want to live that way, but I had a certain admiration for his abilities, skill and dedication to living his sustainable green life. And I love the way that he connected with the woodland and lived off the land. And I don’t think I was the only one intrigued by the way he did things: now he has books out, he runs courses on woodland management, he sells his products and he even does tours of his house.
All in all, it’s an amazing turnaround for the guy who was living under canvas in all weathers. And there are messages there for everyone. To the big consumers – an example that you actually can live off the land; that traditional methods can still have a place in our modern life. And to the the greenies, a lesson that you can combine being eco-friendly with living in the real world.