Grand Designs: Amateur builder whose wife has cancer spends £275,000 transforming ugly shed

An amateur builder whose wife is battling skin cancer spent £275,000 transforming an ugly abandoned shed at the bottom of her parents’ garden into a stunning contemporary home in just 18 months on Grand Designs.  

Greg, from Kent, had recovered from a brain tumour when he met Georgie, who has had a brain tumour, thyroid cancer and skin cancer, through a charity, before marrying and moving into her parents’ home.

Appearing on the programme, they said they wanted to begin an exciting new chapter by turning a cavernous rundown barn in the garden into an Insta-worthy home. 

Pub landlord Greg took on almost every part of the build himself in order to keep costs down, transforming the barn with just £275,000 in 18 months.

Greg called the barn ‘extraordinary’ and ‘unbelievable’, while Georgie added: ‘This is my first home, to be able to have built it and to have done it with my wonderful husband…We have both been given a second chance in life.’

Greg, from Kent, who had a brain tumour, and who wife Georgie, who has had a brain tumour, thyroid cancer and skin cancer, spent £275,000 transforming an ugly abandoned shed at the bottom of her parents' garden into a stunning contemporary home in just 18 months on Grand Designs. Pictured from the outside once the work was finished

Greg, from Kent, who had a brain tumour, and who wife Georgie, who has had a brain tumour, thyroid cancer and skin cancer, spent £275,000 transforming an ugly abandoned shed at the bottom of her parents’ garden into a stunning contemporary home in just 18 months on Grand Designs. Pictured from the outside once the work was finished

By the New Year, Greg and Georgie scraped and sanded, stained and oiled pieces of timber for the outside of the building (pictured with some of the windows fitted)

By the New Year, Greg and Georgie scraped and sanded, stained and oiled pieces of timber for the outside of the building (pictured with some of the windows fitted) 

The open plan kitchen and living room feature high ceilings and tasteful furnishings all made by the couple themselves

The open plan kitchen and living room feature high ceilings and tasteful furnishings all made by the couple themselves 

They confessed it had been the hardest challenge they had yet to face with Georgie saying: 'I have had a few times when my body just gives in and I've had a few collapses and things. Maybe the most intense time I've had.' Pictured is the finished kitchen

They confessed it had been the hardest challenge they had yet to face with Georgie saying: ‘I have had a few times when my body just gives in and I’ve had a few collapses and things. Maybe the most intense time I’ve had.’ Pictured is the finished kitchen

Nine years ago, Greg had a brain tumour, from which he recovered. But it was through his illness that he met his partner Georgie on a charity sailing trip, before marrying.

For the past year, they have been living with Georgie’s parents, with Georgie explaining: ‘When Greg and I got married, he moved into this annex with me, which is attached to my parents house. 

‘It has been nice to be near to my parents and to have support when I haven’t been well enough, which has been amazing.’ 

Georgie, an artist, has been in treatment for most of her life, having been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour when she was 10, and finding she had thyroid cancer at the age of 20. 

Four months in, and Greg began work on the steel two storey cube for the middle of the barn, enlisting the help of Sam's cousin and dad Cullen to help erect the columns in the centre (pictured inside the barn)

Four months in, and Greg began work on the steel two storey cube for the middle of the barn, enlisting the help of Sam’s cousin and dad Cullen to help erect the columns in the centre (pictured inside the barn)

An amateur builder whose wife is battling skin cancer spent £275,000 transforming an ugly abandoned shed at the bottom of her parents' garden into a stunning contemporary home in just 18 months on Grand Designs. Greg and Georgie are pictured together

An amateur builder whose wife is battling skin cancer spent £275,000 transforming an ugly abandoned shed at the bottom of her parents’ garden into a stunning contemporary home in just 18 months on Grand Designs. Greg and Georgie are pictured together

Appearing on the programme, they said they wanted to begin an exciting new chapter by turning a cavernous rundown barn in the garden into an Insta-worthy home. The barn is pictured from the outside before the renovations

Appearing on the programme, they said they wanted to begin an exciting new chapter by turning a cavernous rundown barn in the garden into an Insta-worthy home. The barn is pictured from the outside before the renovations

Since then she said she had had ‘about 90’ skin cancers, which are ongoing.

She explained: ‘It’s quite a long road, about 23 years really. Meeting Greg was amazing because we had a lovely connection and we have an understanding of what its like to be really unwell.’ 

At the start of the build in March 2019, they were determined to start an exciting new chapter by giving a cavernous rundown barn in Georgie’s parents garden a new lease of life. 

Greg said: ‘Now I feel, I’ve beaten cancer, I can do anything. I can build a house, easy, that’s fine. And be a little bit further away from the in-laws possibly.’ 

Pub landlord Greg took on almost every part of the build himself in order to keep costs down, transforming the barn with just £275,000 in 18 months. The exterior of the barn is pictured before the renovations

Pub landlord Greg took on almost every part of the build himself in order to keep costs down, transforming the barn with just £275,000 in 18 months. The exterior of the barn is pictured before the renovations

At the start of the build in March 2019, they were determined to start an exciting new chapter by giving a cavernous rundown barn in Georgie's parents garden a new lease of life. Pictured is the interior of the barn before the transformation

At the start of the build in March 2019, they were determined to start an exciting new chapter by giving a cavernous rundown barn in Georgie’s parents garden a new lease of life. Pictured is the interior of the barn before the transformation 

The painstaking conservation of the timber frame began with the removal of 1500 pieces of timber cladding (pictured on the outside of the barn) which Greg removed, numbered up, stored on site, before reapplying to the building later on

The painstaking conservation of the timber frame began with the removal of 1500 pieces of timber cladding (pictured on the outside of the barn) which Greg removed, numbered up, stored on site, before reapplying to the building later on

Unless there's at least 2 metres clearance from the edge of the structure to the ridge of the roof, building control won't sign off the upstairs level as a habitable space. Pictured putting the steel frame up

Unless there’s at least 2 metres clearance from the edge of the structure to the ridge of the roof, building control won’t sign off the upstairs level as a habitable space. Pictured putting the steel frame up

Starting the build, Greg revealed he had little project management experience, other than managing the renovation of his local pub five years ago, but said he was keen to get the project finished in just 12 months.

He explained: ‘We’re hoping to do it in a year. If we can it in a year. My pub, we’re doing quite a lot of work there and I cope with that. That’s the first stepping stone. This is our forever home.’

Georgie said: ‘It’s a very special building actually. There were times I was so ill the goal of the day would be to walk down here, and sit outside the barn and that’s the only energy I had really.

‘It has a lovely atmosphere in it, it’s lovely being able to look over the field.’

Greg added: ‘I’m very lucky to be invited into it.’

A local architect drew up a plan for the barn and, despite being only 35 years old, planning restricted them from replacing it because it was in a conservation area so it has to be conserved as if it were ancient.

Complicating the project from the outset, the timber frame has to remain standing throughout the construction.

Greg said the budget was £250,000, and revealed they’d be financing the project with savings and a family loan.

Meanwhile Georgie revealed the barn had been a ‘wedding present’ from her parents,  

The budget was £250,000, with Greg financing it with savings and a family loan and Georgie confessing they had no back up plan.

She said: ‘There isn’t actually a Plan B yet.’

The painstaking conservation of the timber frame began with the removal of 1500 pieces of timber cladding which Greg removed, numbered up, stored on site, before reapplying to the building later on.

He said: ‘It would be nice to leave it as it is, we’ve got to take it all off because we have to insulate.’ 

Their next task was removing the concrete floor (pictured), but Sam confessed: 'It's a very big job for just the two of us. But we work well together, that makes it easier as well'

Their next task was removing the concrete floor (pictured), but Sam confessed: ‘It’s a very big job for just the two of us. But we work well together, that makes it easier as well’

Instead of taking down the entire roof, Greg decided to simply rip down and rebuild the parts of the roof necessary to add in the windows (pictured are the windows being fitted)

Instead of taking down the entire roof, Greg decided to simply rip down and rebuild the parts of the roof necessary to add in the windows (pictured are the windows being fitted)

Thankfully there was enough in the budget to pay his friend Sam, who helped Greg out with the project on-site.

Georgie said: ‘ It’s really helpful having Sam to help, we do need all hands on deck to have this work and I’ve been helping where I can. Wish I could do a bit more, but energy wise I have to be a bit careful.

‘I’m getting very excited now.’ 

Sam said: ‘It’s nice to be involved with it, from start to finish. I know I’m going to learn a lot as well.’ 

Their next task was removing the concrete floor, but Sam confessed: ‘It’s a very big job for just the two of us. But we work well together, that makes it easier as well.’

By the late summer, the couple had finished off the incredible modern barn with Kevin praising them for the 'extraordinary finese' on the build. Pictured from the outside after the renovations

By the late summer, the couple had finished off the incredible modern barn with Kevin praising them for the ‘extraordinary finese’ on the build. Pictured from the outside after the renovations

Georgie confessed: 'Every piece of timber has been hand sanded down and I've been round four times oiling. feeling utterly exhausted. We really have come round the other side.' Pictured from the outside after work was complete

Georgie confessed: ‘Every piece of timber has been hand sanded down and I’ve been round four times oiling. feeling utterly exhausted. We really have come round the other side.’ Pictured from the outside after work was complete

Once the concrete has cleared, they handed over to a specialist ground worker, Paul, but were left struck by the £80,000 cost. 

Greg admitted: ‘It’s a lot of money and it’s a big hit really.’

The foundations could end up costing even more, depending on the depth of the concrete pads supporting each timber column.

Greg said: ‘The worst case scenario is that we have to underpin pillars, which is where we have to dig under the existing pads which aren’t big enough and put steel and concrete in which is a very slow process.’

However they quickly discovered that they would need to underpin each pillar, with professionals suggesting it could cost them £20,000.    

After six weeks, Greg made the decision to part ways with the professional groundworkers and do the job himself with Sam and Georgie. 

He said: ‘We’re a couple of weeks behind. I haven’t done this kind of work before. It’s a lot of pressure on my shoulders. I don’t think anybody prepares you for how dreadful it can be.

‘It has been frustrating and it feels like it’s dragging a bit now.’ 

But he confessed his motivation for the renovation remained his battle with cancer, saying: ‘Having a brain tumour was one of the best kick up the a**** I’ve ever had. 

The glazed front door leads into the spacious double height living room (pictured), while around the steel cube in the centre is Georgie and Greg's bedroom and still to finish, three more bedrooms and a utility room

The glazed front door leads into the spacious double height living room (pictured), while around the steel cube in the centre is Georgie and Greg’s bedroom and still to finish, three more bedrooms and a utility room

‘I just remember in that hospital bed, I was weighing up all the things I haven’t done in life and how I wanted to cross them all off. And one of them was to build a dream home.

‘There’s no way I’d be here doing what I’m doing now if I hadn’t got ill and met George. I just want to show people that I’m well again and I’m able to do this.’

Thanks to Greg’s drive and energy, two months into the project, the trenches were ready to be filled with concrete.

Having done so much of the groundwork themselves, they hadn’t spend more than the £80,000 they had budgeted.

But Greg was quick to move onto the next challenge, getting a rotten oak tree next to the house felled to create  furniture.

Georgie’s father Tom said the young couple’s brush with death had left the whole family worried about the build, saying: ‘We’re in a slightly different position here because of the health background of both of them. When you’ve had cancer, it never entirely goes away. 

‘We’re not expecting anything to happen, but at the back of your mind….the fact that we’re on hand if ever, god forbid, there was a pick up on the health front, we can rally around.’

Julie added: ‘Of course, anything could happen to either of them. We’ve had months and years of terrible times and anxiety for Georgie in particular and it will always be like that.’

Tom added: ‘Greg can be quite gungho but that’s one of the things about where he is coming from.’

Meanwhile back on site, Greg confessed he had been learning a lot of watching YouTube videos and tutorials online.    

But the couple are left devastated when  Georgie revealed she had ‘found skin cancers’, saying: ‘I think there’s seven or eight at the minute. You think you’re in a good phase, when everything is okay, and then  you get another hit.

‘It’s quite tiring, you have to dig deep. One day at a time. 

‘I’m so thankful for everyday and my time with Greg and that keeps me going, and having a really supportive family does help.’

Georgie needs to have more treatment, which only added to Greg’s determination to complete the project.

He said: ‘The sooner we complete the project, the sooner we can enjoy the precious time we have together.’

Four months in, and Greg began work on the steel two storey cube for the middle of the barn, enlisting the help of Sam’s cousin and dad Cullen to help erect the columns in the centre.

Unless there’s at least 2 metres clearance from the edge of the structure to the ridge of the roof, building control won’t sign off the upstairs level as a habitable space.

The front doors were covered by the original wooden doors from the old barn structure (pictured being opened during the big reveal)

The front doors were covered by the original wooden doors from the old barn structure (pictured being opened during the big reveal) 

But Greg was left gutted to learn the steel beams were 50 mm out, saying: ‘What a b****. Such a small error but we won’t hit regulation head height on the top.’

To meet building regulations, he decides to remake the foundations for the steel frame, saying: ‘Still we’re not professionals, we don’t do this.’

Cullen said: ‘Sometimes I think Greg is a little bit out of his depth. but he is the customer. You can advise can’t you.’

By September, Greg and his gang of amateur builders decided to tackle the roof, with his friend Olly  saying: ‘When I first saw the project, I did think he was biting a bit more than he could chew.’

Three weeks later, with autumn setting in, the roof wasn’t steep enough to accommodate the sky lights.

Greg said: ‘We’ve had a real crisis with the roof. The windows…you need a 15 degree pitch to be installed. It turns out we’ve only got 11. It’s been the most stressful part of the project, thinking we’ll have to take apart the roof really.’

It could take months and take £20,000, with Greg confessing: ‘I’d like to just hand this roof over to a professional roofer but I look at the budget and I can’t. I can’t contemplate £10,000 or £20,000 for someone else.’

His determination was matched only by Georgie’s dignity. For her, delays on site were just part of a bigger picture.

The living room area features a stylish fireplace (pictured). Meanwhile the couple made the kitchen table, sideboard and the staircase from the felled oak outside

The living room area features a stylish fireplace (pictured). Meanwhile the couple made the kitchen table, sideboard and the staircase from the felled oak outside

The bedroom is pictured at the finished property. It was painted bright white to show off the natural light flooding into the room

The bedroom is pictured at the finished property. It was painted bright white to show off the natural light flooding into the room

The 'cube' part in the middle of the house was created to be Greg's 'den' and has a pool table in it (pictured)

The ‘cube’ part in the middle of the house was created to be Greg’s ‘den’ and has a pool table in it (pictured)

She said: ‘At first we hoped we’d be in by March, but it will probably be summer time now. We both have to  look after our health. Some of the treatment I’m having, it’s quite painful as well. 

‘There are some days when it’s quite a struggle, with all the health things we’re both dealing with. Greg is working very hard and I’m very proud of him.’

Instead of taking down the entire roof, Greg decided to simply rip down and rebuild the parts of the roof necessary to add in the windows. 

By the New Year, Greg and Georgie scraped and sanded, stained and oiled pieces of timber for the outside of the building.

Greg said: ‘I never in my wildest dreams believed the timber would be as nice as it is.’ 

Remarkably, they still had £80,000 to transform the basic shell in their new home when they discover the company delivering their eco-heating system has gone bust.

Greg explained:  ‘I got a phone call saying our renewable energy company is actually gone under. And it’s very alarming because we’ve got huge deposits with them, just over £5,000 we’ve lost.’

Georgie added: ‘We’re going to have to claw back a bit. It’s a lot of money with our small budget.’

Georgie, an artist, has been in treatment for most of her life, having been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour when she was 10, and finding she had thyroid cancer at the age of 20. The couple are pictured on their wedding day

Georgie, an artist, has been in treatment for most of her life, having been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour when she was 10, and finding she had thyroid cancer at the age of 20. The couple are pictured on their wedding day

But just as Greg started carving out the timber to set out the floor plan, the Covid-19 crisis hit.

The amateur builder admitted he was petrified of what might happen to their health in the pandemic, saying: ‘I’m really, really worried for our safety but mainly Georgie’s due to the fact of her past medical history. With the weak immune system and respiratory problems she has had. I’m really terrified.’

As Georgie went into full isolation, Greg arranged for the by-fold doors to be fitted and stockpiled materials for the long months ahead. 

By the late summer, the couple had finished off the incredible modern barn with Kevin praising them for the ‘extraordinary finese’ on the build. 

Greg said: ‘There’s a lot of elbow grease  that’s gone into salvaging this and cleaning it up.’

Georgie confessed: ‘Every piece of timber has been hand sanded down and I’ve been round four times oiling. feeling utterly exhausted. We really have come round the other side.’

Meanwhile Greg went on: ‘It’s been unbelievable. For Georgie this is her first time moving out of the family home.’ 

The glazed front door leads into the spacious double height living room, while around the steel cube in the centre is Georgie and Greg’s bedroom and still to finish, three more bedrooms and a utility room.

Meanwhile the couple made the kitchen table, sideboard and the staircase from the felled oak outside.  

They confessed it had been the hardest challenge they had yet to face with Georgie saying: ‘I have had a few times when my body just gives in and I’ve had a few collapses and things. Maybe the most intense time I’ve had.’

Greg added: ‘Never felt this exhausted in my entire life and I’ve opened a pub and battled cancer.’