Outside the “The Mill Lane Project," an 1830s cottage extended using the new flat-pack U-Build kit.

Adding to an existing structure can be a tricky undertaking, especially when there’s historic value attached to it. After all, it’s nearly impossible to find the exact same materials that were originally used, let alone materials that have aged and weathered in a similar way. Designers might find themselves attempting faux finishes in an effort to camouflage the addition, or having no choice but to accept imperfect matches.

Still, chances are they aren’t going to fool anyone. That’s why so many architects choose to design additions in contrasting styles, with no attempt to hide the transition between the old and new. But what happens in the future, when those additions look dated and are no longer desirable?

Inside the U-Build addition to “The Mill Lane Project" in rural England.

That’s where modular systems come in, like the flat pack U-build kit by Studio Bark. Designed to make the construction process “truly affordable and truly self-built,” the system consists of slatted wooden panels that are delivered to a client’s doorstep in flat-pack form. They come with easy-to-follow instructions, and they can be assembled with little more than a mallet and a drill. The wooden boxes bolt together to create a rigid frame. Crucially, it’s all easy to disassemble when its presence is no longer desirable.

In Essex, England, the first extension to be built using the U-Build system has just been completed. “The Mill Lane Project” is a first-floor extension of an 1830s Georgian cottage facing a garden. Once the prepwork was finished on the existing house by local building renovation specialists Francis Builders, the clients took on the delivery and assembly of the new components themselves.

Inside the U-Build addition to “The Mill Lane Project" in rural England.
Inside the U-Build addition to “The Mill Lane Project" in rural England.

Externally, the extension is clad in black-stained slatted wood. Internally, the elements of the U-Build system are left raw for a clean contemporary effect. It contains a new guest bedroom, bathroom, open plan kitchen, and dining space for guests of the retired owners.

“We think that buildings should be affordable and adaptable. Why pay to have a new wall built, then pay again to knock it down in the future when your needs change? U-Build allows you to take control of the whole build process: designing, creating and adapting your own spaces.”

Studio Bark, the creator of the U-build kit, explains: “U-Build takes a circular economy approach to building. The system uses a selection of durable non-toxic materials — choose cost-effective OSB, robust spruce, or refined birch. The walls are insulated with natural sheep’s wool insulation, and can be clad in a variety of materials.”

Outside the “The Mill Lane Project," an 1830s cottage extended using the new flat-pack U-Build kit.

The clients say they had a great experience working on the project, even though they had no prior building experience.

“Carrying out our recent build project with Studio Bark has been an amazing experience. We wanted to add a first-floor extension to our 1830s cottage to provide an upstairs yoga space and bedroom with an en-suite shower room and a landing space to accommodate all our books. Studio Bark came up with an innovative design with high ceilings vaulted in birch. It managed the difficult task of sitting well with the existing building while not attempting to copy it. They managed the planning application process, kep[t] us informed, and worked with us to ensure that we understood the proposals. To our delight, they told us that if we wished we could have some involvement in the build process, and we happily agreed.”

Outside the “The Mill Lane Project," an 1830s cottage extended using the new flat-pack U-Build kit.

If your interest is piqued but you don’t feel quite ready to take on a U-Build projectt of your own, you might be interested to hear that you can also use the system’s accompanying design software to help design your own space. Check it out here.