What I’ve Learned From Grand Designs

One of the nice things about living in the upper left hand corner of the country is getting a Canadian television channel which airs my current fav television show, Grand Designs.

Every weekday I record the hour long show, and then, in the evenings, watch it while fast forwarding through commercials. The format is simple, each episode Kevin McCloud follows one UK couple through the home building process. In recent years I’ve grown keenly interested in architecture and design, but I enjoy the show for more subtle reasons too.

For example, I really like the way Kevin does what the vast majority of us find so difficult. He routinely befriends the builders while honestly and directly confronting them about their missteps. In other words, he masterfully leverages his rapport with the builders to speak truthfully about their projects.

Other take-aways from a selective sample of middle class to well-to-do Brit builders:

  1. People always underestimate how long a build is going to take. Usually by about 50%. Why is that common knowledge? When will more (or some) homebuilders begin extending their initial estimated timelines?
  2. People always underestimate how much a build is going to cost. Usually by 20%+. The standard “contingency” line in a budget is 10%.
  3. People almost always take on more debt than intended (see number 2).

What’s most intriguing about the show is the inspiring nature of the partnerships, whether straight or gay, married or not. Every relationship is tested by a home build, it’s something different every day often for a year plus. The participants on Grand Designs have common values and visions and just keep getting on despite the unforeseen problems, the endless delays, the mounting debt. The way their friendships carry the day is life affirming.

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