Tom Dowse from Dry Cleaning Top Ten – Reckless Records London

Tom Dowse from Dry Cleaning Top Ten

Our newest Top Ten is from the absolutely lovely Tom Dowse from Dry Cleaning.

Top 10 Grand Designs

Grand Designs isn’t my favourite show. It’s not even close but I have watched a lot of it. Covid has ruined more of our plans over the last 2 years than I care to mention, the upshot of which is, I’ve watched tonnes of Grand Designs. It’s always on, its dead easy to watch and you can ignore 90% of an episode and still enjoy the pay off at the end. There are literally millions of episodes so this list can only scratch the surface. These are mainly the ones I’ve enjoyed most over the last few months that I can remember for being either emotionally sustaining or sadistically cathartic. I had a colleague once who’d worked in an architecture firm who enlightened me to the fact that all builds encounter similar, if not worse, disasters than those sensationalised by the producers of the show. But still, it’s fulfilling to watch people build homes for themselves, especially when they’ve got more money than sense and they make an absolute horror show of it.

  1. Les Gets. An exorbitantly wealthy couple from South London decide they want to brutally modernise a rustic chalet in Les Gets, a commune located in a remote but popular skiing region of France. James, is a largely uninterested absence whose dauntless wife Nicky, intends to project manage the whole thing from home whilst continuing her Interior Design business and looking after their 2 young children, such is the confidence she has in her command of the French language and the surety of her creative vision. It’s pleasing then that within the first 10 minutes the builders, who are brought together from, and experts in, the kind of chalet construction typical to the region for generations, have made a bonfire to keep their hands warm from the very irreplaceable rustic timbers they’ve been expressly ordered to restore. This episode is so richly layered it’s hard to believe it’s not made up. The head carpenter, for example, is a man named Monsieur B’astard, who spends the entire episode being condescended to down the phone and doing the exact opposite of what he’s told, either by genuine miscommunication or his own indignation, it’s difficult to know which. It perfectly illuminates the clash of 2 worlds, both unable to understand each other and how the arrogance of those with the most money means they always end up getting what they want regardless.

  2. West Sussex. Ben Law is a woodsman and has spent the majority of his adult life doing it. He’s lived mostly in an open sided shack on very slim means but has recently found love and a desire to provide more stable and comfortable lodgings for his partner and their future. He does this by using timbers culled from the forest itself and the skills of his friends to build what ends up looking like something from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale-in a good way. As the episode progresses, you can’t help but feel genuine warmth for Ben and his endeavour, not least when his partner reveals she is pregnant. The complete opposite of the previous entry in every single aspect, this is people coming together out of community and shared values and restores your faith in humanity.

  3. Brighton. The hedgehog homes co-op episode is like an expanded version of the Ben Laws build. A group of 30-something grebos decide to outwit the entire crushing weight of the industrio-property meat grinder by getting together to buy some land and build their own utopia on it. Fundamental to their shared goal is that no one can move in until every house is finished so they all help build each other’s. There are complications along the way, not least for the single parents among the co-op but they make it in the end. The revisit episode shows all the original families still in place with now grown up kids talking admiringly about their dreadlocked parents (I’m not sure if any of them had dreadlocks) and the humbly beautiful community they’ve built in what amounts to a giant ‘fuck you’ to estate agents everywhere.

  4. West Sussex again. Olaf and Fritha (I know) have cobbled together just enough money to buy an oddly shaped wedge of land sandwiched between a train line, a busy A road and, as they find out after the purchase, a main sewer pipe. The plucky couple confront this challenge with ingenuity, mainly in the form of Olaf who is a joiner and can pretty much do everything himself, and their love for each other which has seen them overcome a recent miscarriage. If you aren’t welling up by now and firmly on their side then you don’t have a heart. Even the relentlessly cynical McCleod is seduced by this couple and can’t contain himself when he first casts his eyes on the completed build and the beautiful interior Olaf has made by hand. To top it all off Fritha gives birth to a daughter by the end.

  5. Henley-on-Thames. I’ve always assumed that Henley-on-Thames was populated by retired but still raving mad old Tory/UKIP MPs who are ignorant enough of climate change to buy a mansion next to a river. This episode perfectly illustrates that not only am I right but also that these people have absolutely no class whatsoever. This couple decide to squeeze a new, sleek, thoroughly modern build between two timber framed houses, both of which are reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel in the Shining but with less charm. Their commitment to modern techniques and ideas sees them end up with a house that looks like a branch of Sainsbury’s Local, completely alienating them from all their neighbours in the process. One deeply aggrieved old sod solemnly declares that the building has ruined the entire community and it’s not hard to agree. The interior is as bereft of humanity as everything else; theres precious little furniture, everything is white and all the lighting is provided by LEDs. Theres even a tiny patch of fake grass on the veranda. The proud couple continually declare they are pushing new frontiers in what the concept of ‘home’ can mean with dead eyed conviction and a complete disdain for those around them. It’s deeply pleasing to witness trouble in paradise.

  6. Islington. It’s 2002 and Tony and Sharon are lucky enough to get a massive Georgian house, rent free from Islington Council. The catch is that it’s basically fucked and they have to restore it to exact Georgian specifications or they’re out! Luckily Tony is a carpenter who plunges head first into the task researching all manner of socio-cultural avenues that are genuinely interesting. The cost though falls on Sharon’s shoulders who is forced to work increasingly more and more hours while Tony flicks through velvet flock swatches and hob nobs with masonry experts. The whole thing ends well of course and the couple are even able to purchase the house outright from the council and though pleased for them, you can’t help feeling vomit rise in your throat with the knowledge of what was about to happen to that area of London and the unimaginable fortune they must now be sitting on.

  7. East Sussex. What is it with Sussex? Adrian used to BMX and formed a deep connection with concrete as a result. This wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact he now works as deep sea diver maintaining oil fields and can afford to build a house completely out of the stuff. He is a total maniac and his poor wife, Megan, isn’t given a seconds thought except for when he runs out of money and crawls back to the bottom of the North Sea leaving her in charge of what can only be described as the construction of a level from Doom. The concrete in question is a pioneering new form that doesn’t require rebar, is impossible to pour and when hardened, looks like grey eczema. Every single mistake costs thousands and the couple are stretched to breaking point. When complete, they are left to attempt to furnish a space that falls somewhere between an NCP multi-storey car park and Hitler’s bunker something they curiously decide to do by installing a neon noose ‘artwork’ next to the kitchen (seriously). You are aghast at the horror of their new home which they are condemned to bring up their three young children in and live for the rest of their days. Megan puts a brave face on things and even arch-provocateur McCleod is merciful in his damnation of what is surely the most inhumane building ever constructed.

  8. County Derry. In opposition to entry 7, Patrick Bradley shows you can repurpose industrial materials to make a home from. Unlike Adrian though, Patrick doesn‘t simply throw money into a black hole, instead, uses his vision (via an acrhitect) and resourcefulness to construct a house from 2 shipping containers purchased for 10 grand. He also manages to plonk them on a beautiful plot of land and make them blend in and when it’s finished you literally can’t believe how good it looks. McCleod, as ever, is prodding and haranguing his poor subject throughout and it’s just great to see Patrick finally make him eat his words in what is widely regarded as the best build in the show.

  9. Cornwall. Tom is a master craftsman having perfected the art of steaming wood and bending it into shapes. It certainly is impressive and he pushes it to the absolute extremes of belief when he decides to make a whole house out of it, well, an extension to a listed cottage anyway. He does a pretty good job actually and when applied in more humble ways, it’s a very unique way to form a home. But Tom can’t help himself. He’s a slave to his muse. So that means every single piece of wood is twisted and curlicued to the max. There’s a brilliant piece of editing where Tom is bragging about the bench he’s ingeniously suspended from steamed timbers that flow and dive bomb from above, only for the cameras to reveal steel brackets holding it up underneath.

  10. Hertfordshire. Celia and Diana decide they want a modern, innovative new home with environmental concern as the core philosophy. They engage the creativity of a loose band of Royal College graduates to construct the venture, despite none of them having done anything of the kind before and few of the group actually having studied architecture. It’s an interesting looking building and various issues arise, not least because they use a new technique where all the materials are cut and shaped by computer. This means things don’t fit once in the real world and slowly, the twisted genius of the designers starts to overshadow poor Celia and Diana to the point where they aren’t even consulted about the sudden appearance of a weird spiral staircase right in the middle of the place. What’s really good about this episode though is how the couple react, similar in a way to benefactors or patrons and they don’t swerve from their principals for a second. They are encouraging to the fledgling group, more than anything, and never lose their rag with them even when they are literally taking the piss, piling thousands onto the budget to suit their own creative urges. But it all works out in the end and it’s heartening to see reasonable people invest their money in an exciting way and for the outcome to benefit everyone involved.