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Grand Designs

Years ago when our children were really small we lived in a house that my wife and I both hated. It wasn’t just the rats that periodically crashed through the kitchen cupboards at night, or the slugs that would come through the holes in the floor whenever it rained. And it wasn’t only the original and barely functioning kitchen, unchanged since about 1900. Or even the floor in what passed for a dining room that sloped at an alarming angle because of sunken foundations.

Even more dispiriting than those things were the lack of light and the pokey completely separated rooms that stubbornly prevented any sense of a shared, welcoming space. Consequently, if the sun was out we were either in the backyard, or at someone else’s place! 

There’s no doubt that the Australian interest in real estate and renovating is an unhealthy obsession at times. But having lived in, for us, the ironically named Sunshine St, it’s clear to me that when it comes to our homes, factors like natural light, connection to the natural environment and spaces with the potential for enhancing relationships really matter. When these things are given consideration we can be tapping into something life giving and beautiful.

Kevin McCloud, host of Grand Designs, the long-running and immensely popular TV program that tracks the progress of owner-builders creating their dream homes, recently spoke to Good Weekend magazine about how the design process is the natural pursuit of an ideal. “It cuts to the primal instinct to create, make, improve,” he said. While McCloud acknowledges that “some people invest too much reliance on a building to solve a problem in their lives,” he also believes that a building project can truly be transformative. “It’s about the establishment of order over chaos,” he said. 

When he talks like that McCloud sounds like a theologian reminding us of the first chapter of the book of Genesis and the description of the Spirit of God hovering over the “formless and empty darkness” and calling forth the most creative and lavish of all building projects. And if the biblical claim that all of us are made in God’s image is true, it’s no surprise that the human creative impulse has been capable of so much that is remarkable, including the spaces we choose to live in.

When our family finally swapped our soon-to-be-demolished residence for another, it wasn’t one that was ever in danger of being featured on Grand Designs. But it was light-filled, with a natural flow from a communal outdoor area to a communal indoor area attached to a kitchen that worked. We felt grateful to those who had paid attention to the design details that made this house feel welcoming and warm—like a home. It was a simple reminder that aesthetics matter, that space matters, and that buildings can be their own form of inspired grace.

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