Pre-fabs sprout:C4's Flat Pack Mansions reveals the hi-tech homes being built in days, not months

Once the preserve of low-cost housing, flat-pack homes can be as luxurious as any traditional property... with not a single piece of Ikea furniture in sight

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When buying anything, we want it now and we want it perfect and technology now allows us to do just that even when we have the chance to build our dream home.

Instead of waiting months or even years for builders of traditional brick houses to do their jobs, often held up by bad weather, home owners are increasingly turning to the joys of flat-pack.

Once a necessity in post-war Britain where bombing and a rapidly expanding population required new houses fast, pre-fab houses are becoming the go-to of choice for those who want luxurious and bespoke properties.

Presenter Charlie Luxton explores the phenomenon in Channel 4's Flat Pack Mansions programme, starting with Richard and Nikki Cooper.

The couple went the flat-pack route because they not only have two young children, but are also busy running a chain of restaurants in the South-West.

Although Britain leads the world with Sweden and Germany in flat-pack home construction, the couple opted to choose a German company to build their dream.

Nikki says: "With a German company, you know you're going to get the highest standard. We had rebuilt our previous house and it had taken a lot longer and gone massively over budget, so we thought that going with a pre-fabricated house that as well as getting all the eco credentials, it would very much be a fixed price and a fixed time frame."

The so-called closed panel system of construction meant that almost everything was constructed and installed in the Bavarian factory, including doors, windows, flooring and even the external walls were rendered and clad before everything was shipped by lorry to their 52-acre plot near Lyme Regis in Dorset.

Richard says: "The great thing about building your own home is that you sit down with a piece of paper and put down what you want."

They designed a 5,000sq ft, six-bedroom house, complete with gym, sauna, cinema room and - their pride and joy - a £17,000 glass staircase that runs through all the three storeys.

After five days, the factory had made their home of 128 panels, each costing around £10,000 each, wrapped everything up and loaded it on to a lorry.

After it arrived on site, it took just four days to construct the vast jigsaw puzzle of a home that ended up costing £1.2million - somewhat more than their £750,000 original budget.

Richard says "Choosing flat-pack is not necessarily the cheapest way to go", but adds that the joy of moving into a home you've designed yourself is "you've got to learn how to live with the house - the fun bit is working that out".

Wedding day deadline

In Bursledon, Hampshire, David and Leslie Lennox decided to set themselves a deadline of hosting their daughter's wedding at their new home - within just six months.

They had found their dream plot, but "it had a terrible house on it", so decided to go flat-pack.

Designing their dream home themselves was important to David: "It's a combination of our previous houses, our previous experiences and our future aspirations."

The couple spent two years planning and designing a 3,300sq ft, five-bedroom, four-bathroom house with a vaulted ceiling hall and, most importantly, a vast entertaining area nearly 50ft long.

Leslie says: "We do like to have the odd party, and would like to have a large social area to do that."

35,000 pieces of wood - and Storm Imogen - later, the £400,000 house is built in just two and a half weeks, although the interior took a little longer, but with plenty of time to make it perfect for the wedding.

Living on the edge

Over in Jersey, Paul Cook had an even more ambitious dream - an upside-down house three feet from the edge of a cliff on the site of a former tearooms.

The sheer weight of a traditional house would have made it almost physically impossible to prevent it from sliding down into the sea.

A flat-pack, timber-framed home meant the foundations only had to be sunk six inches into the rock instead of the eight metres a far heavier house would have demanded.

Because the site faces north, Paul decided to install a glazed double-height corridor that would bring light flooding into the house, whatever the weather and the time of year.

The open-plan living, dining and kitchen area is bounded by a 20-metre wall of glass: "We wanted the best views allocated to the living rooms, that's why we've gone for the upside-down house."

After spending 18 months deciding exactly what to have built, the 50 panels - each costing £4,000 each - arrive from Devon and it takes just 15 minutes per panel for three men and a crane to install.  

Although Paul went with flat-pack it took a good few months before the interiors were finished because of his perfectionism.

"The details make the building, we want it to be the best it can be," he says as he strokes a curved kitchen cabinet that was such a complex undertaking that the veneer had to be applied in situ, proving that while flat-pack homes can provide somewhere spectacular to live in within just a few days, it can still take years before you realise your interior design dreams.

Flat Pack Mansions is available to view on demand on the Channel 4 website


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