Grand Designs Tunbridge Wells is the fastest ever grand designs build

A fast, affordable prefab build in Kent

This modern modular home was the quickest build ever seen on Grand Designs

By Victoria Purcell | 7 September 2022

Kate and Rob had lived in a post-war prefab cabin for eight years. Built by Rob’s grandfather in 1948, it was designed to be lived in for just 10 years. Finally in a position to embark on a self-build project of their own, the couple chose to replace it with another prefab home. But the Grand Designs Tunbridge Wells modular build would be a much more modern, high-performing version, built using volumetric modular construction.

Kate and Rob from Grand Designs Tunbridge Wells

Kate and Rob in their Grand Designs prefab in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Photo: Photo: Jefferson Smith

The term ‘prefab home’ may conjure up ideas of characterless, boxy homes, but Kate and Rob worked with designer Dick Shone of Boutique Modern to create something bespoke. He designed a contemporary, sculptural Corten steel and larch timber-clad home with a roof terrace and huge swathes of glazing.

In just six weeks, the couple’s home was manufactured on a production line in a factory in Newhaven, near Brighton. The six giant modules, pre-fitted with everything from insulation to kitchen cupboards, bathroom fittings and light switches, were to be joined together on site. But first, the huge cuboids had to be delivered, and site access was problematic.

Grand Designs Tunbridge Wells kitchen

The modern kitchen. Photo: Jefferson Smith

The couple had permission from a neighbouring farmer to crane the modules in from the land behind the building site, but he later withdrew that permission over concerns about damage to the land. Kate and Rob made the risky decision to plough on with the demolition of their old house – a slow process due to the presence of asbestos cladding – and hoped to figure out the access issue before delivery was due. Eventually, they managed to persuade the neighbour to let them go ahead.

The six giant modules – four on the ground floor and two on the first floor, cranked at an angle to make the most of solar gains and the views over the Kent countryside – were then transported to site and craned into position. The house was slotted together in little over 24 hours, and it took just two months to weatherproof it, connect the services, insulate, clad and decorate it.

The entire build process took just five months, making the two-storey, 114sqm modular home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms the quickest build ever seen on Grand Designs.

Grand Designs Tunbridge Wells master bedroom

The master bedroom. Photo: Jefferson Smith

Kate and Rob’s initial budget was £350,000, which included the purchase of the new prefab home, demolition of the old property and the groundworks. The couple already owned the plot, so there were no land costs. The build went over by around £20,000, owing to the installation of a fire safety misting system, copper front door, crane hire and the payment for site access via a neighbouring farm.

The fast, affordable build is not only a stylish addition to the Kent countryside, it’s also a great advertisement for volumetric modular construction.

‘This could make self-builders out of many more of us,’ said Kevin McCloud of the innovative prefab, which even has its own QR code so that the owners can look up any element of the building to order further modules, spare parts, or even follow instructions to deconstruct the house and move it at a later date. ‘It’s a tantalising glimpse into the future of precision building.’

Grand Designs Tunbridge Wells: Ron and Kate's prefab modular home clad in corten steel and larch

The Tunbridge Wells prefab is clad in Corten steel and timber. Photo: Jefferson Smith

‘I’ve always wanted to build Kate a house,’ said Rob at the end of the build. ‘It’s a new beginning. We pinch ourselves every day.’