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Prefab Modular Housing Could Be Answer for Multigenerational Families

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One firm is leading the charge in Spain

Buying a home is riddled with decisions that make you ponder a future imperfect. Why invest in a three-bedroom home when your current needs call for just one? And should you reserve space for a maiden aunt or aging grandparent? Two young Spanish interior architects have hit on a formula that may help answer those questions, one that has as many variations as there are types of modern families.

Elina Vilà and Agnès Blanch make up VilaBlanch, a leading Barcelona-based interiors studio that specializes in chic and eclectic modernizations of historic buildings. (Currently on the docket is the conversion of a landmark art nouveau mansion—Casa Burés—into luxury apartments.)

Recently, though, the pair have put their expertise into fully-functional new-builds and has focused on making modern homes flexible. Their work builds on an idea put forth and explored by their acknowledged mentor, early 20th-century Rationalist architect José Antonio Coderch (1913-1984).

The first homes, which are being underwritten by a local bank, are situated in Sant Andreu de Llavaneres, a small coastal village on Barcelona’s commuter belt. The 10 identical row houses comprise two concrete modules, each measuring 138 square meters (about 1485.5 square feet) and assembled in stacks off-site.

Using these shells as a starting point, a prospective buyer is presented with a 'menu' of twelve layout options; the 'basic' model has one kitchen, one bathroom, one en-suite bedroom, two open-plan living areas (upstairs and down) with a basement that includes garage and laundry.

But what about when baby arrives? No problemo: The architects provide plans to include up to four more bedrooms and an extra bathroom. Is the mother-in-law threatening to move in? She can kick up her heels in the granny flat and terrace you can create for her by adding an extra, smaller module onto the rooftop.

The really clever thing is that adding/knocking down partition walls won’t involve re-installing electric cables, sockets, and water and heating pipes—which is generally the most complicated and costly bit of a home renovation. Instead, these have been installed in 'hubs' around the concrete shells, and strategically placed to accommodate all possible layout combinations.

The project’s show home, which has been sold, brims with a smooth-as-silk aesthetic that contrasts beautifully with the concrete floors and ceiling rafters of the industrially-made shells: A straight-flight staircase of metal and wood connects the three floors, which feature brightly colored rugs, side tables and accessories from the Danish brand Hay, a steel-grey Living Divani sofa, white Silestone worktops in the kitchen, and thick, gauzy curtains covering large windows.

Each home has its own small private garden at the rear, along with a communal vegetable patch (a newly popular feature in Spanish residential clusters) and swimming pool. "Even though the buyer is generally unknown in these types of new builds, most [developments] are very rigid in the size and number of bedrooms and bathrooms they offer," says Vilà from her impeccable Coderch-designed studio. "But who knows how many kids you are going to have? And changing homes is so expensive these days. This time we were allowed to create something totally adaptable and rational. Coderch would have done the same."

Projects [VilaBlanch]

How One Barcelona Firm is Taking the City's Historic Housing to Stylish New Heights [Curbed]