We visited Grand Designs Live at the NEC in Birmingham back in October, 2016. Here’s a brief summary of the Pros and Cons of the show, in our experience

What’s good about Grand Designs Live?

  • People are drawn to the show because of the success and popularity of Channel 4’s TV show Grand Designs. In turn, big brands in the construction world – especially windows – were well represented and this gave us an opportunity to try out a much wider range of sliding doors and composite windows that we would have been able to sample otherwise.
  • There are four clear zones: Build, Cook, Garden and Interior which meant navigating the show was no problem and we felt we had been able to find everything we had been looking for
  • There’s lot of demonstrations going on and different things to try out (we loved the Scandinavian Lodge complete with reindeer skins, open fire and benches!) so it would be an interesting day out for anyone, not just self-builders.
  • There’s a surprising amount on sale to takeaway on the day – from kitchen knives to compact barbecues
  • There is a large area for Expert Advice: free sessions can be booked with a wide range of qualified people, from architects to Energy Efficiency Experts, which could prove very useful in a project you are undertaking.

What didn’t we like?

Channel 4’s Grand Designs show is bursting with forward-thinking, sometimes questionable, style and creativity and we were looking forward to having our horizons broadened and our ideas challenged. We were expecting there to be innovative design ideas, or at least some food-for-thought in the Interiors section. Unfortunately, despite all the positives listed above (the main one being the priceless benefit of being able to compare our potential windows side by side) we felt that the displays were pretty bland. The interiors section, with the exception of a few industrial lighting stands, was largely dated and consisted of boring sofas, beds and hot tubs. For saying Grand Designs is synonymous with style and cutting-edge trends, we were disappointed to be looking at furniture that hasn’t changed in the last 10 years. We haven’t visited the Ideal Home Show but I wonder if that would have the same ‘safe’ feel.


Then on Saturday 25th March I arranged for a child-free day out to go with Danny and the teenager to go to the HBR show at the nec: sorted childcare, packed the bags, got up early….to find that the middle one was sick. So after all my organisation I was stranded on the sofa all day watching Thomas the Tank, with the smallest under the watchful eye of the teenager while Danny took his mate to the nec. Boo!

What’s good about the Homebuilding and Renovating Show?

  • A more concise, compact collection of exhibitors – overall the show hall was smaller than Grand Designs but equally, if not more, useful for our needs. It’s clearly geared towards people like us who are planning or in the middle of actual projects as opposed to the Grand Designs Live which had plenty to cater for people on a day out too. This meant much less of the interiors and shopping items, which suited us as we’re not at that stage yet.
  • As with Grand Designs Live, this is an excellent opportunity to compare products side-by-side which otherwise would be impossible and would require hundreds of miles of road trips to sample in situ! We made yet more window contacts (just to muddy the water even further!) and had some great discussions about potential renewable options for our barn.
  • There were different ‘arenas’ with talks on all day aimed at different stages and processes in the building game. There was a Masterclass on how to skim plaster and plenty of support on planning permission hurdles etc. Danny didn’t go to any of these, as time was short, but felt that the topics of these were much more useful than the areas covered in the Grand Designs theatres.
  • It’s very easy to get free tickets! We were offered free tickets by 4 different exhibitors in the run-up to the show, so if you have already started planning your build and have made contact with some exhibitors already, why not see if they could send you some?

What didn’t we like?

Actually, nothing. We felt that this show was absolutely perfect for what we needed and was a really useful day out. Some nicer grub would have been appreciated, but of the two shows, this is the one we would recommend to self builders like us.


Grand Designs Live will be on from 29th April until the 7th May 2017 so get yourselves down there for a great day out! Click here to find out more

The next Homebuilding and Renovation show will be in Glasgow from 20th-21st May – click here for more information