It’s been two years since Grand Design’s put ‘the house that Tom built’ on the map, and what a two years it’s been. We’ve caught up with Tom and Danielle to reflect on the build and see what’s changed inside their steam bent home.
A large-scale architectural project. A feat of steam bending craftsmanship. A test of endurance and skill. Tom and Danielle’s wooden Grand Designs home has become a distinctive feature of their ancient Cornish valley and a self-build project that's instantly recognised by many...
Let’s go right back to the start. Can you tell us about the original cottage?
D: We bought the long-forgotten 19th century Grade II-listed Gamekeeper's Lodge and woodland back in December 2011. Tom, our son Beau and I moved in as soon as the sale went through despite having no running hot water, no heating, no bathroom or kitchen and a mud floor. The cottage wasn’t very practical at that stage in time, but it had a whole lot of charm and a woodland we’d dreamed of living in.
Did you always intend on extending and building the wooden house?
D: Not instantly, but eventually it became an obvious decision due to the fact we owned the land. We knew we would need to extend (we wanted to have an inside toilet and more bedrooms etc) but we didn’t set a firm renovation budget for the cottage alone because we were using a lot of our own skills and materials from the woodland…we were experienced makers but not experienced builders.
“It was an exploration into the unknown, pushing our team’s craftsmanship to its peak. So many man hours went in to every stage, if you’ve done any serious renovation work then you’ll know how it is. Everything takes so much longer than you first anticipate”.
– Tom Raffield.
Why did you decide to build your own home?
T: We’ve always wanted to push the boundaries of process, technique and material to show what steam bent wood can do, and it’s safe to say that designing and building our home was one of our biggest projects and challenges to date!
After buying the cottage in Cornwall, Danie and I set about reinventing the space, shaping an environment to reflect and nurture our creativity. The idea was to create a space that seamlessly blends into its surroundings - blurring the boundaries between nature and inside - using the materials and resources offered up by our surroundings; utilising timber from our own woodland, rocks from the original excavation site, and steam bending talents from our team. Really it’s designed to be an innovative and architectural take on our steam bent furniture and lighting.
How would you describe your home in one word and why?
D: Hmm that’s a hard one… probably cosy or welcoming? Despite the Scandinavian design influence and the minimalist, rustic interior, having a warm home is one of the nicest things about the space. We value it even more having lived in the cottage over the winters and using the outside loo in the snow!
Do you have any regrets or any changes you’d make to the house on reflection?
T: I think it’s no surprise to anyone if I say that the tyre wall was a little ambitious… we spent so many evenings lugging tyres back and forth, stacking them and filling them with wheel barrows of soil! It was pretty full on and time-consuming. In the end we couldn’t have done it without our workshop team who lent us a hand, we repaid them in pizza and beers – I'm so thankful we did that part of the build during the summer months.
The visible parts of the retaining wall are now faced with gabion baskets filled with granite chippings and stones so we don’t see the tyres all that much.
“The response we’ve received from the house appearing on Grand Designs has been overwhelming, it’s been amazing to connect with other people who are renovating or have renovated, and also love working with wood. We feel so lucky."
– Danielle Raffield
Has the interior layout stayed the same?
D: We’ve changed the layout downstairs a little. We still have the open plan kitchen, living space, snug and the lounge the same, but we’ve made changes to the original cottage.
When the programme aired we were using the old cottage as a cosy living space – the wood burning stove in there is just brilliant. As the business has grown and space in the workshops and studio has become more precious, we’ve changed the cottage to be our showroom and meeting space. It's still pretty homely though, considering it's used for work purposes!
Visit our showroom - by appointment only, book a slot here if you are interested in viewing the steam bent furniture and lighting collections.
What impact has Grand Designs had on the business?
T: It definitely gave the google search term ‘steam bent’ some love! The business grew a lot whilst we were filming for Grand Designs, we had a lot of mad weeks that blurred building the house, making products and attending meetings in London. Post Grand Designs, the brand has become more well-known and people recognise the house which is an amazing, albeit surreal, thing!
Is the house completely finished? What are your plans for the future?
T: We’ve got some bedroom shuffling planned soon… the kids are growing up and will soon need their own rooms, so we’ve got to think that one through! We also like playing with the décor. When we launch new product ranges we always try them out in the house and showroom first to get an idea of how they look in situ. We’ve recently added some of the Green Range Planters and the Modum Lighting. It’s nice to switch things up and I guess we have the perfect excuse. A wooden house and wooden products...they just look good together!