How much?!!……


I’ve just found out our house build is going to cost nearly as much as Blenheim Palace. And I’m having a wee sit down.

I’m in the middle of Bill Bryson’s book ‘At Home’ which tells the the fascinating history of our domesticity. I have enjoyed chapters on the evolution of lighting and how the some of the earliest preserved homes in the world are at Scara Brae on Orkney. However, I am finding the current chapter on the building of the world’s most extravagant homes in history rather more uncomfortable.

It recounts the obsession of the über-rich in building the world’s most lavish edifices; Blenheim Palace, Castle Howard, Fonthill Abbey, and also the cult of the first celebrity architects.
These great houses had hundreds of rooms and covered acres of land. They also went vastly over budget. Blenheim was budgeted to cost £40,000 and ended up costing around £300,000, which is presumably why I am finding the chapter rather painful reading.

Yesterday I received the latest cost plan from the Quantity Surveyor (a couple of weeks too late to be really useful for the latest part of our decision-making) and it appears that, despite cutting the floor plan size and reducing the spec, we have actually miraculously increased the projected costs of the build by over £15,000.

We are not budgeting for 300 rooms, nor to cover an area of seven acres; we don’t plan to cover every inch in intricate stone carvings and turrets and fripperies; however it appears that our modest construction is going to cost nearly as much as Blenheim Palace.

This is obviously not good news. However perhaps here is where the celebrity architects of the day can help. The inheritors of the great mantle of Robert Adam, the Scottish architect of Culzean Castle, the Trades Hall Glasgow and almost every other grand building of note are now helping us make better use of corrugated iron, take out redundant walls and forage for wall-coverings in local skips.

Welcome to Piers, the demonstratively arm-waving and plummy architect and Kieran the designer with the outré spectacles from the BBC show ‘the House that 100K Built’.

I admit to absolutely loving their show (despite the awkward name). It must be the combination of the impossibility of the ambitions of the couple of the week, Piers’ pleas to use chipboard, and bits from decommissioned industrial units to cut costs, and the inevitable triumph against all the odds.

I am certainly going to be heading off to my local architectural salvage yard (and in fact have been resisting the almost irresistible urge to stock pile things from skips and gumtree in the spare room) but it seems to me that the thing that folks do when they run out of money is they start doing the building themselves. Presumably this is because it is where the biggest savings are to be made. It is also probably why it makes such great telly.


This is where the discomfort comes in. I am supremely hopeless in the practical skills department, and so, too, is my best belovéd. In my nightmares, Piers pops up waving his arms at a truck-load of chipboard and effuses about how lovely it is to live in a packing-case.

‘It’s time to think radical’, as Kieran would say (while taking a trip to a house made of fencing offcuts and reclaimed traffic cones). I am wondering whether reintroducing barter as a currency could be the radical solution. A few of my friends have more aptitude in the skills useful for fitting out a house than me, and perhaps they would gladly give their labours in exchange for ad libitum holiday opportunities in such a lovely place as Cuil Bay…..

At least I suppose it’s worth asking, because I don’t think I am quite ready to embrace packing-case chic. Yet.

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