The Bowness eco dome home featured on Grand Designs
PUBLISHED: 16:04 06 January 2012 | UPDATED: 23:40 23 October 2015
When Robert and Milla Gaukroger's house appeared on Channel 4's Grand Designs it changed their fortunes dramatically. Amanda Griffiths reports Photography by John Cocks
Hidden from view in the busy little town of Bowness is an architectural gem. The house, clad in locally-sourced larch and featuring a domed roof covered in grass to blend in with the landscape, certainly got people talking.
It’s very different to what we’re used to seeing in Lakeland. It’s also become something of a celebrity after two appearances on Channel 4’s architecture programme, Grand Designs.
But it could all have been so different. Robert and Milla Gaukroger started the project – incorporating a traditional but well-built but dull property into something modern and eye-catching - with only a fraction of the cash they needed.
They were relying on some other business deals to finance it but, as the economic climate worsened and the deals fell through, the couple were left with a half finished house.
‘I took the chance of starting with only £100,000 of a £400,000 budget,’ says Robert, who studied architecture at university. ‘If I hadn’t started then we probably wouldn’t have done it at all. Once we began, we had to carry on.’
However, things went from bad to worse. Further financial calamities meant they couldn’t afford to pay their creditors, mortgage payments were missed and there was a repossession order on the house.
‘Out of the blue, just when it looked like we were going to lose the house, a lady from Lancashire who had seen Grand Designs contacted us and offered to lend us the money,’ says Robert.
‘It became very clear she was genuine, she wasn’t looking to give us the money but loaning it at a very reasonable rate. She said she was fortunate enough to be in the position to be able to lend us the money. She’d seen the programme and said it was clear this was my dream and
wanted to help.’
This new injection of funds allowed Robert to finish his dream home with one key alteration. The new extension already included a grand entrance hall, a swimming pool at the rear and a large studio with ceiling-to-floor windows maximising the view over Lake Windermere.
Beneath the studio, a series of three guest suites were originally designed to provide accommodation for Milla’s family when they visited, but the couple now decided to turn these into B&B guest suites, all self-contained with bath and kitchen facilities. One even has a funky wooden bath.
‘We developed the idea of the boutique B&B (www.domehouselakedistrict.co.uk) because if we were going to borrow that kind of money we had to be able to pay it back in our lifetime without selling the property,’ explains Robert.
The couple’s main living space is an open-plan kitchen, dining room and living room on the first floor in the original part of the house. A tiny courtyard provides some outdoor space in the middle of the building and lets a generous amount of light into the kitchen. Behind this wall of glass is Robert and Milla’s bedroom, family bathroom and Joe and Maya’s bedrooms both featuring mezzanine levels that the children adore.
And while some spaces still need the finishing touches, the elements that made the project stand out as a ‘grand design’ are all present and correct.
There’s the 23-foot spine wall constructed from stone dug from the ground on site. Not only does that provide the link between the house, which is basically four sections joined together by the stone wall, it also hides a myriad of pipes, designed to maximise 129heat storage so the couple don’t have to rely on gas and electric to stay warm.
The courtyard provides light and an ‘outside-inside’ feel and the much heralded grass roof not only helps the building blend into its surroundings but also provides great insulation.
Robert’s geodesic roof design is one that Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud made much of – an engineering masterpiece, the beams
and joints of which can be seen stretched over the studio and the
day-to-day living space. You can’t help but marvel at it.
The last main design feature was to clad the building in larch sourced from the Holker estate, while all the wooden floors are recycled. One has flooring from an old tobacco factory in Lancashire.
Much of the work was done by Milla and Robert – and Milla spent hours sanding floorboards.
‘When we bought the house it was quite an ugly looking building but it was well constructed which is why we decided to incorporate into in a new property,’ says Robert.
The Grand Designs team contacted him thanks to the marketing lady at the local prep school where Robert had already installed innovative wooden classroom pods.
‘She’d called them but, of course, they don’t do schools,’ says Robert. ‘But the topic of the house came up in conversation and they called me.
‘I was flattered and taken aback. Kevin comes when there are milestones in the project but he’s fully conversant in what is happening, he’s very much a hands-on part of the show. People often think Grand Designs is about the house, but I think it’s the story of the people. Without the programme I wouldn’t have been offered the money to finish it.
‘Now, not only do I have a home but what looks like is going to be a flourishing business – after the Grand Designs Revisited programme was shown we had 100 bookings in one week!’
So would he do it all again?
‘Not something this size,’ Robert laughs. ‘I don’t think it’s healthy, but I would build my own house again – a smaller one on a flat site!
Do you have a stunning home which deserves to be the county’s premiere magazine? You can email me at email@example.com
The print version of this article appeared in the January 2012 issue of Lancashire Life
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