Boutique Modern is a Newhaven-based company that’s seeking to address the housing crisis by creating modular building focused on energy and resource efficiency. Ann Link asked founder Dick Shone how it all works – and what they’ve been building.

Boutique Modern is a company in Newhaven making modular buildings – flats and houses comprising factory-made insulated units that can be combined in different ways. They use a “Fabric First” approach, which means using materials and construction so that the need for external inputs is minimised and energy efficiency is designed in.

Founder Dick Shone says he started Boutique Modern 12 years ago on the principle that volume manufacturing might enable us to drive down the price of good-quality housing in the UK and at the same time reduce material waste, carbon, and energy use. I asked him these questions:

What are the energy-saving and energy-efficient features in your apartments?
The Fabric First design approach keeps the U-values of our buildings very low and reduces the need for conventional heating (a low U-value means that a material lets through very little heat). These values ensure that heat is retained, and therefore energy use is reduced. We look to introduce clean energy features too. Flats that we’ve recently built in Fort Road, Newhaven, are serviced by 27kWh of solar panels which charge a domestic battery in each apartment. This stores energy generated during the day for tenants to use at night.

Boutique ModernWhat steps are taken to reduce the carbon footprint of actually building the apartments?
​By building homes in our factory, we have managed to reduce material waste to around 5% currently (on-site construction generally produces 25-35% wastage). Bringing our workforce to one central facility reduces road miles travelled and our ability to stock materials and purchase in bulk reduces the number of deliveries taken to the factory.

What materials are used in construction?
Structural Insulated Panels give us air-tight walls, Hot rolled steel ring-beams give us strength and rigidity, engineered recycled timber components reduce our waste and off-cuts.

Where do materials come from? Are any local?
We use many local merchants to supply our factory with materials; our subcontractors – designers, engineers, plumbers, decorators, groundworkers, transport and crane contractors etc – are all local. We use local fabricators to supply staircases, steel components, kitchens and windows.

Boutique ModernWhat kind of savings can households expect to make compared to a traditional home?

By using a ‘Fabric First’ approach to home building we create high-performance building envelopes. All our homes include mechanical heat recovery ventilation which constantly recycles the air in the home with fresh air that has been pre-warmed by the extracted stale air removed. The combination of these two things typically result in a 40% saving in running costs – before any additional performance machinery is added.

How can our readers see what the homes are like inside?

This link will take you to the case study and a short film on our website about the flats that we built in Fort Road in Newhaven. There are more photos on our website gallery here.

You’ve said you want your whole business to be net zero carbon by 2025?  How do you intend to achieve that?
​Currently we are in the benchmarking stage of this process, analysing our embodied carbon within the buildings and emissions produced through carbon generative processes. We will then work to improve this through constant analysis, auditing, and improvement.

You plan to expand and provide 500 jobs – how are you growing the skills you need?
Five hundred employment opportunities include our supply chain, not all directly. We take local, unskilled labour and by working in small teams train our staff very quickly to perform skilled tasks in the build process. This method is easily scaled to meet demand.

Can we expect to see your homes in some of our infill sites in Lewes, or in a larger development? ​Yes, I hope so – we continue to work with Lewes District Council. Larger, greenfield development is not really Boutique Modern’s speciality – we prefer brown-field and urban infill sites. We have built many houses located as far apart as the Scottish Highlands and the south of France. We delivered six very nice, low energy retirement bungalows in Peacehaven in 2019.

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