‘We have no interest in making houses for billionaires in Knightsbridge – anyone can do that,’ says Tom Bloxham.
‘What we’re interested in is good design and making it as affordable as possible.’
As the founders of avant-garde property company Urban Splash, he and partner Jonathan Falkingham are developers with a difference: they want to make high-quality contemporary homes available to everyone, not just those with the budget to commission their own architect.
They believe all new properties should share the qualities that people love about Victorian and Edwardian terraces – high ceilings, big windows and generous spaces – and they’re out to bust the myth that new-build houses equal poor quality. ‘We like to design spaces that we’d live in ourselves,’ explains Falkingham.
This approach is tied up in the history of Urban Splash. The company was formed in the 1990s, with Falkingham a newly qualified architect trying to make a difference in a post-industrial Liverpool, and Bloxham an entrepreneur who had accidentally found his way into property in Manchester. Together, they pioneered urban living in the North West, transforming derelict factories into creative hubs filled with bars, shops and studios, as well as homes.
Key to their success was ignoring the critics who said no one would want to live in converted warehouse lofts. ‘I think the property industry persuades itself that it’s doing what people want,’ says Falkingham, ‘but we’ve always felt it’s not doing that at all.’
Now, the pair are focusing their energies on suburbs rather than cities. With their latest venture, House by Urban Splash, they are working with government agency Homes England and Japanese house builder Sekisui House to reinvent the experience of buying anew-build property, using latest technologies such as virtual reality.
The company has introduced a new design tool that allows customers to create their future homes for themselves, without paying a premium. That doesn’t just mean picking floor finishes and kitchen cabinets – it’s possible to choose between different sizes and layouts, with either open-plan or sub-divided spaces.
An industry-first, it uses the latest gaming and cloud computing technologies, so that buyers can create an immersive, 3D model of their future home, helping them to visualise and specify the best layout to suit their way of life. ‘A house is the most expensive thing you buy in your life and you don’t generally get much say in it,’ says Falkingham.‘We want to give our customers that choice, just like you get when you’re buying a car or designing your own Nike footwear.’
For Bloxham and Falkingham, making places where people want to live also means creating neighbourhoods that are as well designed as the homes within them.
These principles have shaped the design of Inholm, a new quarter in Northstowe, Cambridgeshire, which takes its cues from celebrated housing schemes of the past, such as Bournville and Port Sunlight, rather than repeating the formula of today’s house builders.
Properties follow the pattern of streets, accompanied by shared gardens, children’s play spaces, cycle paths and walkways, and there isn’t a cul-de-sac in sight. As the UK recovers from the impact of the Covid pandemic, these community-centric spaces take on more significance than ever before.
‘We’re trying to follow our heritage,’ says Bloxham. ‘It’s not about using a computer programme to maximise the number of houses we can fit on a field. We want to squeeze every ounce of potential out of every space that we do. House by Urban Splash
This article appeared in ELLE Decoration September issue
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