The house that YouTube built! IT manager, 51, who used online DIY videos to build his dream home forced his family to live in a caravan in the garden for 10 YEARS while he finished it
- Graham Harley, 51, built a five-bed house using YouTube tutorials and £140,000
- He says it’s been a ‘labour of love’ as he waded through videos and DIY books
- The father-of-one started the project in Ringwood, Hampshire, in 2008
- He lived in a caravan with partner Mandie Wales, 48, and she had a baby in 2012
- Mr Harley is happy with the results but ‘couldn’t put his family through it’ again
There comes a time in the execution of every bold, ambitious plan when the doubts set in, the energy fades, self-confidence dips and the nightmares begin.
For IT worker Graham Harley, 51, it came about four years after he knocked down the three-bedroom bungalow he had shared with his partner Mandie Wales and, with no building experience whatsoever, decided to design, build, fit, plumb, wire, plaster, glaze and decorate a five- bedroom replacement — all on his own.
Relying on YouTube videos and a couple of DIY books, he laid the drains, installed the ground-source heat pump and cemented nearly 14,000 bricks into place.
IT manager Graham Harley, 51, spent 10 years building his dream home, having demolished the existing bungalow in Ringwood, Hampshire, and moving into a caravan with his partner Mandie Wales and their family during the marathon construction project
Graham paid £2,000 to a contractor to demolish the £240,000 bungalow in Ringwood, Hampshire in 2008 before beginning the rebuilding process himself
The existing property, pictured, was incredibly dated, according to Graham
Inside the property, the rooms appeared as though they had been kept in a time capsule
A builder friend convinced him that doing the job himself would be easy
When 33 vast rafters were delivered on a truck, he simply watched a few more videos and then single-handedly swung, levered and pulled them into place.
He then felted, battened, tiled and even mastered the roof’s complex ‘hips’.
But installing the lagging — layers upon layers of silvery Celotex beneath it — nearly broke him.
‘It took months and months and months and the neighbours kept asking, ‘Have you stopped work, what’s going on?’ and I was working and working. I wanted to shout out, ‘I’m doing my best, I really am. I can’t go any faster. I’m just one man,’ ‘ he says.
To be fair, by then, he had rather lost track of time. Because instead of his projected 18 months, Graham’s build dragged on for more than ten years — much of which he and Mandie, an NHS worker, spent living in an old holiday caravan in the garden with her two sons from a previous relationship and, from 2012, baby Eva, too.
Blimey. All those years in a caravan in the garden, with two teenage boys and a baby? I am astonished Mandie is still here, let alone beaming so proudly, telling me how great he is and how very proud of him she is.
‘It was surprisingly comfortable,’ says Graham. ‘We had heating and TV and an oven and everything.’
The saga started back in 2008 when, after snapping up a very dated bungalow in Ringwood, Hants, for about £240,000, a builder friend — ‘a lovely bloke, I trust him’ — persuaded Graham to knock it down and start again.
Now after spending a further £140,000, the house, pictured, is worth around £500,000
Graham studied DIY manuals and watched instructional videos on YouTube to complete the job
The job took a decade because Graham was completing the work on his own, while running his own IT business
‘He had a quick look round and said, ‘You can do this, mate. It’s not rocket science. Give it a go. If you get stuck, give me a shout.’ ‘
Luckily, Mandie trusted Graham implicitly. Not just with their life savings, but also their home and the next decade of her life.
Even so, the sight that confronted them the day after the bungalow was demolished (by local contractors for just £2,000) came as a bit of a shock. ‘Suddenly, it seemed like a very big plot with no house on it,’ he says. Mandie realised immediately that he would not keep to the timescale.
‘The first year was mostly spent digging up the garden — just getting the pipes down took months,’ she says. ‘But it didn’t feel helpful to say anything.’
Because while Graham worked whenever the light would allow, seven days a week (‘though very quietly, of course, at the weekends’), he was also trying to run his IT business. ‘So I’d get up in the morning, mix up a load of cement, get my bricks ready and start,’ he says. ‘But when I’d done ten or so bricks, my mobile would ring and I’d have to jump in the shower and go on an IT job.’
And so things progressed — stop start, stop start — at snail’s pace.
Of course, most people don’t literally build their own house. They bring in an architect, a project manager and a team of builders, electricians, plumbers and plasterers who work on it together.
Not Graham. They had no spare money, so he did everything — and not just the work, but the planning, the ordering, the measuring, the negotiating, the heavy lifting and the worrying in the dead of night. Which was exactly how he liked it. There was a brief spell when Mandie’s dad helped out — but not for long. ‘He got the cement ratio wrong once, so he was out,’ says Graham, firmly. Once, Gary from next door helped him swing the roof rafters in. Other neighbours lent him tools, advice and moral support. (‘Apart from one neighbour, they’ve all been brilliant,’ says Mandie.)
Finally though, after some prodding, he admits that he’d love to do another renovation, if the opportunity arose
Graham has always been good with his hands and was never one to shy away from a challenge. Aged 13, when his parents refused to give him pocket money, he got a job in a local car body shop.
When he was 18, he set up his own company, which he ran until he was 30. But he wanted more from life, so he taught himself about computers at home and duly set up an IT company. (It was while fixing the computer of a friend of Mandie’s that the pair met.)
‘I am very logical, I like following instructions,’ he admits. So, he says, in an odd way building a house from YouTube videos and DIY books suited him perfectly.
But even he couldn’t have predicted the toll the build would take on his body — his bones, his joints, his brain, everything. ‘When I started, I was in great shape but, somehow, the harder I worked, the more weight I put on. I never had time to go to the gym any more.’
Naturally, there were moments when it was all too much.
When, for instance, Graham became tearful and overwhelmed. And when, before meeting his mates for a pint, he’d ask them not to mention the house or to take the mick. (This had the effect of making them do it more.)
The real pressure, he says, came from wanting to provide for Mandie. ‘She was incredibly supportive, but I knew what I was putting her through, and I couldn’t go any faster.’ It didn’t help when, all around them, neighbours’ extensions rocketed up. ‘They’d say, ‘I hope it won’t inconvenience you’ and the whole thing would be done in three months and we’d go over and admire them and I’d be like, ‘Oh Mandie, I’m so sorry.’ ‘
She, meanwhile, had her own challenges — managing with two teenage boys in a small caravan, producing Christmas dinners from the tiny oven, dashing out in the rain to get peas from the freezer in the garage.
‘I am very organised,’ she says stoically. She’d have to be. Two years into the build, Eva was born and, suddenly, there were four of them in the caravan.
‘In many ways she made things better,’ says Mandie.
Then, in 2015, when Eva was three and the stairs were about to go in, Mandie was in hospital with back surgery — having two vertebrae fused — and came home to a building site to recuperate.
So did she ever really blow — ever shout and scream and hurl pots and pans about?
‘There were days,’ she says. ‘There definitely were days . . .’
When she wished it had never started, when she ‘vented’ to friends over a glass of wine about how long it was taking, about what a perfectionist he was.
‘But I always knew that he had to finish it, otherwise he’d just feel like he’d completely failed. What was the point in getting halfway?’ So to Graham, she’d simply say: ‘You’re amazing, just keep going.’
He did his best, but there were endless delays — from rain, flu, long, cold winters and him wanting to get it right.
Then, in 2015, he was offered a job he couldn’t say no to as head of procurement for a care-home company and stopped work on the house for two years. A lesser woman would have walked out but, somehow, Mandie held it together — finding the silver lining at every setback and delay.
Her faith was finally rewarded last April when they got sign-off on their five-bedroom home, complete with three bathrooms, a gym and a TV room in the garden, as well as a utility room-cum-garage.
It might not be to everyone’s taste, but Graham’s attention to detail means the finish is exceptional — so good that officials asked him to enter it into the local authority building competition. ‘That felt pretty good,’ he beams.
It has clean, perfect lines, empty surfaces, a mint-green bedroom suite and a gorgeous, girly bedroom for Eva, now eight. There is also a floating kitchen counter, slate-grey kitchen units, a computerised sound system and a vast downstairs wet room. Amazingly, Graham has no regrets. Not even the time it took. ‘I can honestly say, there is nothing I would have done differently,’ he says.
The build cost about £140,000 and has produced a house worth nearly half a million, though they are reluctant to talk figures. They both insist it is their home for life.
But I am not so sure about that. Because while Graham always vowed he would never do another build and deliberately sold or gave away all his building machinery to remove the temptation, he is already twitching.
‘I love sitting on the sofa and looking up at my crisp lines,’ he says. ‘But I miss having something to do. It’s like being on a treadmill, you can’t just stop suddenly.’
So he has taken the engines out of both of their cars and replaced them.
He’s about to strip down an old bike and add new parts, and tells me how, every now and then, he gets on his hands and knees to buff his already immaculate grouting with a toothbrush.
Finally though, after some prodding, he admits that he’d love to do another renovation, if the opportunity arose.
And somehow, after years of camping out in a caravan with three children in the garden, Mandie does not go bananas. She smiles proudly, and quickly clarifies: ‘But not while we’re living in it, next time . . . please.’
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