Cob Castle was built by Kevin and Rose McCabe and made famous by Kevin McCloud on Grand Designs. Image courtesy of Devon Live.
Grand Designs is one of the most iconic architecture and home improvement TV shows.
Having been aired since 1999, the show has featured some of the most extraordinary building projects in the UK, including the cob castle by Kevin McCabe. The Grand Designs cob house program was aired for the first time in 2013, featuring Kevin McCabe and his wife, Rose.
During the program’s first episode in 2013, viewers watched as McCabe and Rose set out on a journey to build a 10,000-square feet (929-square-meter) cob castle. However, it wasn’t an easy journey since it resulted in a divorce between McCabe and Rose. It also drove Kevin into bankruptcy and homelessness.
In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss the progress of this project and what Kevin and Rose are up to now. Let’s dive into the details.
Kevin McCabe, also known as ‘the king of cob,’ is an established sculptor and restorer specializing in sustainable construction using cob.
In 1994, Kevin built a two-story, four-bedroom cob house in England, the first of its kind in 70 years.
Kevin married Rose in 1995, and they had lived together all along.
In 2011, the couple began building a one-of-a-kind house — a 10,000 square feet (929 square meters) cob castle in East Devon, England. This would be the largest and most luxurious cob house on the planet.
McCabe dreamed of building a modern family home for himself, his wife, and their children.
The cob house plan incorporated two extensive curved roundhouses with a glazed walkway between them. He would then cover the entire house with a green roof of wildflowers.
As aired in 2013, the show left the audience mesmerized by the couple’s sheer determination, stunning design, and sustainable building technique.
Years after the project’s completion, you may be wondering what happened to the McCabes and their stunning cob castle.
Kevin kicked off the project in the summer of 2011. He had estimated to complete the project in two years with a budget of £350,000.
Luckily, there were enough volunteers willing to learn the art of building with cob from McCabe. This relieved Kevin because he needed over 2,000 tonnes of cob to create the castle’s 1-meter (39-inch) thick walls.
Unfortunately, this was the wettest British summer in recent history, leading to delays and dampening the cob. This marked the beginning of Kevin’s tribulations.
Due to delays, Kevin had to work up to 14 hours daily to catch up with the wasted time. This meant less time for his wife and family.
At this point, Rose had started looking distinctly unimpressed.
The main challenges that pop up frequently on the Grand Designs Cob House show are:
- Lack of money.
- Lack of family time.
- Excessive ambition.
- Excessive rains.
Despite the above, McCabe seemed determined. He was willing to pay any price to achieve his dreams.
In the 2013 episode, Kevin McCloud, the Grand Designs presenter, returned to catch up with the progress of the cob house.
The episode showed McCabe still determined to finish his project despite the setbacks. At this point, he had managed to build a curved cob wall mansion that was nowhere near completion.
Although the roof was beautifully covered in wildflowers, there was no usable room because most windows were missing.
McCloud also realized that the project had taken a toll on McCabe and Rose’s marriage – the two had eventually divorced.
As if that wasn’t enough, McCabe was also living in a caravan since he had to sell his home to finance the project. This move is considered a major contributing factor to the divorce.
The worst part is that he had sunk into bankruptcy to the extent he had to borrow money from friends to meet his financial obligations.
The loans and financial struggles were worthwhile for McCabe. He says he finished the annex’s first floor and moved into it shortly before the 2014 Christmas holiday.
Now that he had a roof over his head, McCabe had sufficient time to work on the cob house. He witnessed steady progress in that all the rooms were habitable by Christmas 2015.
In the last episode of the 2018 series, McCloud visited McCabe and found the castle cob house complete.
McCabe now lived in the castle with his new wife, Karen Davies, and two daughters, Livi, aged 11, and Madi, aged 15.
McCloud describes the finished castle as “a fantasy fusion of cob, grass, and stone.”
The Grand Designs cob house incorporates the following:
- Four bedrooms.
- Six bathrooms.
- Games room.
- Study room.
- A 650-square-meter (6,997-square-foot) main house.
- A kitchen and dining room.
- A 150-square-meter (1,615-square-foot) annex with bedrooms, bathrooms, living rooms, a sunspace, and a workshop.
Barry Honeysett, McCabe’s structural engineer, notes that the building process entailed testing soil samples for the right cob mix and determining its structural integrity.
The building’s turf roof and floors are supported by radiating glulam timber frame beams for strength.
The annex was fitted with energy-saving measures that rewarded Kevin for all the money, effort, and time expended on the project.
Built for environmental sustainability, the castle incorporates thick walls for thermal mass that help regulate heat. Kevin focused on having a house that conserves as much energy as possible.
The house also features triple-glazed huge window frames to help minimize heat loss.
The castle has solar panels for heating water, butts for harvesting water, and a borehole to supply the water system.
The pipework is also insulated to make the home energy efficient.
McCabe and Rose went their separate ways after the crumbling of their marriage.
Kevin later married Karen Davies, with whom they live happily in their new cob castle.
Since their separation, Rose’s whereabouts have remained a mystery.
The Grand Designs cob house was built solely with McCabe’s determination.
Kevin’s story is an inspiration to anyone who wishes to own a home but is apprehensive about doing so due to financial constraints.
Despite the struggles, Kevin persevered and created a beautiful castle that’s saving him money in monthly bills.
The Grand Designs cob house exemplifies how dreams are achieved if pursued with diligence and faith.