What would your new home look like if you could design it yourself from scratch, to dovetail with your new Covid-influenced lifestyle?
Certainly, it would include high-quality outside space - whether that’s a balcony, roof terrace or garden - and probably a home office or study served by superfast fibre broadband.
Parents might want a dedicated zone for homeschooling, while multigenerational families would relish a self-contained annexe where grandparents could be safely cared for should lockdown return. And a home gym or hobby area might be a requirement for some.
Covid is shaping the design of a new generation of family homes, marking a shift away from the traditional idea of the house as a box with rigidly defined rooms for sleeping, eating and relaxing. To achieve this, architects and developers are embracing "modular", or factory, construction, allowing homes to be customised to buyers’ needs, or at the very least designed from scratch with modern lifestyles in mind.
Beechwood Village in Basildon, Essex, is a new community of 965 homes where developer Nu Living is selling "customisable" houses with flexible floorplans, from £395,000.
Buyers select one of five house types, then use an online "configurator" to choose a room layout, external materials and internal finishes. Up to 316,000 permutations are available, from a rear extension or additional bedroom to roof tiles, brick cladding and garden fencing; from kitchen worktops and bathroom tiles to extra-fluffy carpets. For example, The Avenue house type can be a two-storey semi with three bedrooms, or extended upwards with a thirdstorey home office or playroom.
With the Terrace type, you can choose a kitchen at the front or rear, opening to the garden, while the Park type occupies a corner of linked greens and an extra bedroom adds £25,000 to the base cost. An Oriel window is an extra £8,500.
Once the design is confirmed, the order is placed and the home built in a factory before being assembled on site. The whole process, start to finish, typically takes six months.
One obvious question is whether "catalogue" homes will ultimately dumb down design, but architects and developers point to Scandinavia, Australia and Japan, where modular is deep-rooted and the aesthetic qualities are in no doubt.
Factory-engineered timber-andglass homes by Huf Haus prove fabulous bespoke houses can be modular in design, though these tend to be expensive one-off properties. View a spectacular show home - flatpacked in Germany - and the design possibilities at Huf Haus HQ in Weybridge. Call 01932 586550.
Developer Urban Splash has embraced modular. First up was Town House, a 1,500sq ft, three-storey terrace house. Buyers can choose their preferred floors for bedrooms, kitchen and living areas, select design finishes, colours for "spine" walls and fitted furniture. Partition walls are non-structural, so the floor plan can be altered to suit changing needs. The new Row House, a reinvention of the traditional mews house, can also be reconfigured, with three size options on the same footprint. The company says it is "a radical move away from the cookie-cutter approach of traditional builders, and addresses personal preferences of occupiers".
Davenport Villas by developer Hill, on the fringe of Oxford, are handsome five-bedroom homes with versatile, light-filled interiors. A ground-floor kitchen and family hub links with the garden; a utility/boot room has separate side access and there’s an integrated garage and first-floor terrace.
The first floor has dual-aspect bedrooms, a games room and a generous-size lounge, while the top floor has a sumptuous main bedroom and TV room.
Prices from £1,325,000. Call 01865 950199.
‘Our perfect family home in Kent’
City finance professionals Tania Bhakta and Pantelis Mikellides made a quantum leap from a one-bedroom rental in Limehouse to buy a house near the spa town of Tunbridge Wells.
Overlooking Kent’s High Weald and edged by farmland, Hollyfields (below), is a development of large family houses set around play areas, ponds and an ecology zone.
"The biggest difference I’ve noticed since moving here is the fresh air, and I can’t emphasise how life-changing that is for me as an asthmatic," says 30-year-old Tania.
A new primary school is coming to the site, another draw for the couple as they plan to start a family soon.
And despite the country setting, it’s only a short hop on the courtesy shuttle bus to Tunbridge Wells town centre and direct trains to Cannon Street, close to their London office.
Prices start at £834,000. Call 01892 887240.
‘We traded up from our London flat to a south coast semi in a lockdown move’
KEEPERS GREEN, CHICHESTER
Proving a hit with relocating Londoners is Keepers Green (right), a development by Hill in Chichester.
The Campbell family decided to leave the capital during the first lockdown. Slava works in finance while Evelina is a child psychologist. The couple have two children, Astrid and Esther, and wanted a bigger home with a garden, green surroundings and convenient outdoor pursuits such as sailing.
"We rented a car and drove out of London to view various properties in locations along the south coast," says Slava. "Chichester came out tops. The sea is nearby and we’re close to the South Downs, yet London is still easily accessible. I’ve been working from home since February and expect to make occasional commutes as we return to normal."
They were able to trade up from a flat to a three-bedroom semi at a new development with a communal cricket ground and pavilion.
Prices from £409,950. Call 01243 957646.
Zero-carbon homes promise to slash your energy bills by £1,000 a year
BLACKHEATH QUARTER, SE3
Planning to move from the housing association sector into the private market, ilke Homes has unveiled a modular zero-carbon home claimed to cut £1,000 a year off energy bills. Those in Robert Street in Greenwich cost less than £1 a day to heat.
As with car manufacturers who use the same chassis for different types of vehicle, ilke says modular homes can similarly be specified for a range of houses, from affordable to luxury.
Its Urban Houses at Blackheath Quarter in south-east London prove factory-built homes can look good as well as being functional and fantastic to live in. These terrace homes range up to 1,450sq ft inside and have a top-floor, shadow-free, 360-degree view roof terrace instead of a garden. Some homes also have a second terrace linked by a spiral staircase.
The fourth bedroom can be used as a study and the ground floor converted into a separate studio flat. The design took 10 years to evolve, and the houses have a handsome mellow brick façade and an open-plan ground-floor kitchen and living area. Prices from £945,000. Call 020 8108 1091.
Berkeley Homes, the developer, says one design challenge was restricting the width of the house to four metres so it could be transported safely by truck from the factory in the Midlands.
The structural frame, walls and parts are factory made and assembled then transported as "pods". Yet the homes look conventional. They can have a brick skin or other cladding plus cosmetic architectural details added on-site. The process is quicker, cheaper and less prone to weather delays and skill shortages than a traditional build.