It’s been great reading about hoUSe in the national press recently. Our modular, family housing concept was covered in depth by The Telegraph and The Sunday Times recently, with the former calling it ‘a pioneering housing concept’.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times, who referred to Urban Splash as ‘the developer that rescued decaying mills and warehouses’, visited the first hoUSe site in New Islington, interviewing a purchaser and concluding that hoUSe aims to ‘turn buyers from passive consumers into architects of their own dream homes.’
Read the full Sunday Times article below…
Bespoke new builds on a budget
Urban Splash is the developer that rescued decaying mills and warehouses, pioneered “loft living” in Britain and transformed industrial wastelands into inner-city property hotspots. Now the Manchester-based firm has a revolutionary plan for the traditional family home — reinventing the Victorian terrace, building it in a factory and allowing buyers to play an active role in the design process.
Described as “the Grand Designs experience on a budget”, Urban Splash’s latest venture — “hoUSe” — aims to turn buyers from passive consumers into the architects of their own dream homes. Whereas owners of period terraces tend to move in and start knocking down walls to suit their needs, hoUSe will allow buyers to configure their home around their lifestyle while it’s still on the drawing board.
Each one will be built and assembled in a factory near Nottingham by Insulshell, a company that specialises in timber panel construction, then assembled on site. The whole process takes about four months — compared to six for conventional bricks and mortar.
“Loads of things we buy now are bespoke — everything from cars to trainers,” says Jonathan Falkingham, co-founder and creative director of Urban Splash. “I compare hoUSe with buying a BMW. You specify what you want, then, a couple of months later, it comes off the production line.”
HoUSe buyers can opt for two or three storeys, and can choose to have a garden home (with the living spaces on the ground floor) or a loft (with a living space on the top floor, under an exposed pitched roof). They can decide to go fully open-plan or have more traditional segregated rooms, including up to five bedrooms.
There are various configurations of kitchens, bathrooms, storage, floor coverings and furnishings. And, because the walls are made from wooden panels (covered in a range of protective materials, including magnesia board, sealant and insulation), and those dividing rooms are not supporting walls, owners can easily add rooms as their family expands, or remove them when their offspring move out. In collaboration with architects at Shedkm, Urban Splash has taken pains to keep ceilings lofty and windows large, with pop-out windows — a modern, square version of a bay — on the top floor. The company also offers 1,000 sq ft of living space (or 1,500 sq ft for a three-storey home), compared with the typical 800 sq ft for new-builds.
“We think builders are way behind the curve, because nothing has really changed for 50 years,” Falkingham says. The architect founded Urban Splash with Tom Bloxham, an entrepreneur, in 1993, winning a string of Riba awards before almost going out of business when the housing market collapsed in 2008.
“The recession gave us pause for reflection,” he says. “What we saw was that if you’ve got a lot of money and you want a lovely house, you haven’t got a problem. It’s at the other end of the market where there isn’t much choice. There’s no flexibility, poor specification and a fixation on rooms, not space.”
Prices, inevitably, will depend on location, but the first hoUSe scheme is being built in New Islington, an area just north of Manchester’s city centre that has seen intense regeneration in the past decade. Prices start at £200,000 for a two-storey home, including a garden and parking, and about £300,000 for a three-storey house. So far, 14 of the latter have been completed — and all 43 properties in the development have been sold.
Planning permission has just been granted for a further 34 units at Smith’s Dock, in North Shields, on Tyneside, as well as 72 homes at Irwell Riverside, in Salford. Prices for those developments will be released later this year.
Andy Smith, 29, is just the sort of savvy buyer Urban Splash had in mind when it began working on hoUSe. The fresh-faced entrepreneur moved into his property in New Islington at the beginning of the year and has been busy adapting it to his needs, adding an ensuite wet room alongside his bedroom/office on the third storey.
“I like the size and the fact that you can do what you want with it,” says Smith, founder of From the Fields, the events company behind music festivals such as Kendal Calling and Forgotten Fields. “I looked at older properties, but I couldn’t find anything in my budget — or, if I did, there was a problem with subsidence or something. And there wasn’t the space.”
Smith agrees that there is a gap in the market for people like him, who would like their own home, but aren’t ready to sacrifice their lively urban lifestyle for a conventional suburban new-build. With the assistance of the government’s Help to Buy scheme for first-time purchasers, he could afford the £305,000 asking price. He even had the odd experience of watching his hoUSe being delivered.
“It was amazing,” he recalls. “I happened to be walking past, and I saw the bottom storey being put in position. I popped to a coffee shop, then, on the way back, the whole thing was there.”
It’s tempting to make disparaging comparisons with Ikea flatpacks, but Urban Splash insists that this is to misunderstand the process. “People already make houses like this, but on site,” Falkingham says. “We’re not doing anything radical in that sense — it’s established technology. We’re just building it in a factory. And the production standards are much, much higher than on a site.”
Rather than the Swedish purveyor of flatpack furniture, Urban Splash prefers comparisons with Vitra, a Swiss firm that manufactures works by many internationally renowned furniture designers. It’s all part of a long-term vision to become “a sort of designer brand of housebuilding”. For its next “product”, called Mansion House, the company plans to take the Georgian terrace and adapt it for modern living.
“We started out with this really simple proposition — to make well-designed, affordable housing,” Falkingham says. “I don’t think we’re trying to upset the apple cart. We just want to offer something different, because we think there is a demand for it.”