Sweet Dreams

Unique Build are a creative shop-fitting and refurbishment specialist, and their latest project was to turn a run-down and neglected retail unit into a stylish and contemporary ice cream parlour. Sam Harrington-Lowe went along to find out more…

Unique Build are a construction success story, setting up in the storm of recession and making it work, despite the challenges faced by the building trade, proving that hard work and a sound business model can prevail despite the economic weather. Launching in 2006, the business and its list of happy clients has continued to grow, a fact of which they are of course very proud. But it’s their outlook that sets them aside.

Business head Rich Tai-Chidlow might be a familiar name to many in Brighton – with a background in design and business Rich spent his early career running Brighton’s famous ‘Zap’ club before a career change saw him become a qualified site carpenter. Rich’s managerial experience in hospitality has transferred well to the shop-fitting and building industry, meaning that his projects are always well managed. And it’s this service that really sets them aside.

“From kitchens to loft conversions, we always ensure we employ the same work ethic. Honest pricing, prompt communication and high quality work. On our website you can see and hear first-hand from our domestic and commercial clients and see examples of our work as well as read proper, genuine opinions and feedback. Choosing a building contractor is difficult, we try to make it a little easier. We know we are builders, but we don’t all have to fit the stereotype,” he explains.

The images you can see here are from a refurbishment in Brighton carried out for Gelato Gusto, which was “a run down and neglected retail unit in need of attention both cosmetically and structurally, plus extensive damp works,” according to Rich. The work was challenging.


“Refurbishing during a very cold winter, making plastering and decorating was very difficult and we were dealing with an ever-changing scope of works, which always comes with working on such an old building. Creating a high end and individual finish within a given budget…” all of these things made the job a challenge but Rich is keen to highlight the positives.

“We really enjoyed working with owner Jon Adams. Gelato Gusto was a small start-up at the time and we love to be involved at the early stages of new ventures like this, helping local entrepreneurs create the vision they have in their head and making it a reality. It was a pleasure to work closely with Jon on creating something so important to the overall success of his business. As well as the shop fit out, we carried out structural work to the fabric of the building, including extensive exterior refurbishments. The fit includes a commercial kitchen and serving counter, a stripped wooden floor and exposed flint walls inside.”

Shop-fits are handled differently from residential work, and Rich points out that the client’s approach is key to getting it right. “Research, research, research! Before you decide how you want your business to look and what you want it to say about you, go out and look at as many businesses as possible that inspire you. Don’t just stick to looking at businesses that are similar to yours either, some of the best ideas will come from totally unrelated business. For example, last year we refurbished a large independent hair salon in Hove and put a coffee bar in the middle of it! It doesn’t have to cost a fortune; good ideas and use of the right materials can result in very effective shop-fit that looks amazing and won’t bankrupt you.”

Finally, I ask Rich if he’s got advice for anyone considering some work on their building, or engaging the services of a builder. “Never rush any building work, get the planning right, and take time to choose the right builder (not just the one available at the time). Look at their previous work and speak to their other clients. Make sure you get itemised quotes and make sure they are comprehensive, including everything you want; never assume something is included as it may not be. People’s interpretation and expectations on building works are often what leads to confusion or disagreement during works. This can all be avoided with good planning and open communication between you and your builder.”