Instantly recognisable, unapologetically minimalist with acres of glass, timber and open space, Huf Haus German prefabricated houses are fast becoming architectural icons. So, if you're considering self building, go no further until you've investigated just what it is about Huf houses that make them so popular both abroad and in the UK.
By Caroline Bloor
Huf houses first appeared on the landscape in 1972 as a result of collaboration between builder George Huf and architect Manfred Adams. But the style really began to grab the public imagination in the UK after it was championed by our own Kevin McCloud on Grand Designs in January 2004 as part of a growing interest in self building.
Initially sceptical about the aesthetic appeal of the house, by the end of the build Kevin admitted to being impressed. 'This German spaceship is one big black and white statement that makes no concessions to where it is,' he said. 'But for a timber house, it is beautifully engineered.'
'Since then, we've been unbelievably busy with sales,' says Afra Bindwald, Huf Haus' business development manager. 'Clients come to us because we have a brand name associated with open-plan architecture. Although it's a very classical architecture, the way we translate the post-and-beam design makes it a very light and airy build, all this combines with alternative technology and energy efficiency.' Huf Haus call their properties 'pre-manufactured bespoke' houses. 'They are not off the shelf, each is an individual project.'
The post-and-beam design is Huf's signature feature. It means there are no load-bearing (thus dividing) walls, which allows for enormous flexibility in how you arrange the internal space. Coupled with a modern Bauhaus aesthetic focusing on the essential, the end product is a light, airy open-plan bespoke timber-and-glass house. The fact it is made in the factory to the client's exact specifications (right down the light switches) and can be assembled in a matter of days by its own specialist workforce to a fixed budget only adds to its attraction.
One of Huf's main philosophies, and a large part of its appeal, is that the house should be in harmony with its natural surroundings. Everything about the property is designed to be energy-saving and ergonomically-optimised, from its Argon-filled glazing and climate-controlled atmosphere to its superior insulation and sustainably-sourced materials.
The first UK Huf house was built in 1997 - an 11,000 sq foot property in Leamington Spa. Now there are around 150 Huf homes here, mainly in London, the southeast and the West Country, with 15 in Scotland. It's easy to see the attraction of Huf for self builders, but now the concept is starting to catch on with developers offering Huf packages, complete with planning in place. 'More and more developers have cottoned on to the fact that the build is a fixed price and a reduced time frame,' says Afra Bindewald. Amongst the latest to be built are a group of five properties just outside the National Trust village of Lacock in Wiltshire and a complete development in West Linton, Scotland.
First source your plot of land. Clients then discuss their ideas and specifications with Huf, visiting their Surrey show house initially. Once planning permission has been obtained, they go to the showrooms in western Germany for three days of fitting out - choosing every interior detail from the kitchen design to the sound system. (Solar heating, geo-thermal heat pumps and the Huf treatment for the garden are available on request, too.)
Naturally, none of this comes cheap. With a build cost from £130 per square foot, a 18,000 sq foot, three bedroom house works out at around £360,000 to £380,000 (excluding the cost of the land). But when (or if) you eventually decide to sell, you'll find buyers may be prepared to pay a premium of 25 to 30 per cent on the resale price, too.
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