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PREFAB FRIDAY: Living Homes

by , 08/04/06

prefab friday, Living Homes, LA Times, Ray Kappe, upscale prefab housing, modernist prefab housing

One of the most beautiful, flexible, and complex prefab systems we’ve covered in the last year is the Ray Kappe designed Living Home. For better and worse, it was covered this week in the LA Times by writer Christopher Hawthorne in the article “Such a deal?” Although he addressed several shortcomings that bother us about the current prefab industry, we can’t help but feel he cast a harsh light on prefabs in general based upon this high end model.

“…the last thing the fledgling prefab movement needs at this point is aggressive marketing or more hype. What it needs is a reality check.” –Christopher Hawthorne, LA Times


Yes, there’s a lot of prefab hype. We admit it; a bit of a prefab bubble, yet to be filled. But we consider this an important weekly topic for two important reasons. First, a handful of designs in the not so distant future will emerge at the head of the pack and deliver quality sustainable design – and we want to be at the front of this curve. The second, and perhaps more important reason for the massive amount of publicity is to convince the general public (and the design community first) that prefab can be an affordable, livable, reliable, and environmentally conscious alternative to the entrenched system of building a home.

prefab friday, Living Homes, LA Times, Ray Kappe, upscale prefab housing, modernist prefab housing

Ask the average person on the street “what’s a prefab home?” and you’ll likely get a description of a mobile home. Then, ask them if they would be willing to pay a thirty year mortgage on something that just rolled out of a factory and was built in 15 days. Given its huge potential for reducing the environmental impact of construction- while providing housing for people at all economic levels, we feel the deluge of marketing is essential to help educate the public and create a dialogue between what home owners want and what the manufacturers can provide.

Yes, the Living Home is expensive. Look at it! I can’t believe it’s under $2 million; this is the Cadillac of current prefab designs. Don’t knock it on approachability and affordability, because that’s definitely not the target market which Kappe was designing for. This “product” offers a beautiful, spacious, and quick move-in design for those with sophisticated modern tastes- and relatively deep pockets. There are many other prefab models in production that do provide a more affordable housing option. Tiny ones like the Weehouse, several designs by Michelle Kaufman, and the sub-$100,000 option by Rocio Romero are all good examples.

So what about “Sloping lot affects cost?” Hawthorne is merely pointing out the obvious here. If you can figure out how to locate a structure on the side of Pike’s Peak for the same price as one on rolling prairie, you’ll become a billionaire over night. The issue of site is always an unknown – no prefab manufacturer would give you a quote for site work unseen, because every site is different. All construction requires custom site work, including footings or foundation preparation, drainage considerations, and utility requirements; this is not particular to prefab.

“Greenwashing,” admittedly, is becoming a commonplace problem. However, whether it’s a single solar panel, or a complete zero energy design- the green marketing comes in response to consumer outcry. Americans are finally getting sustainable alternatives, having voiced a willingness to pay a premium for products that are healthier for ourselves and the planet. And while many prefab projects tout their superior green features, by far, what makes the most difference is the reduction in waste and energy that is possible through mass production, delivery, and offsite construction.

Part of our frustration, as part of the home buying public, is that what we’re seeing now is the infancy of the prefab construction industry. Yes, we all know it ain’t perfect, but many talented minds are toiling away to produce the next best rendition, to deliver what the twenty-second century market wants, and what the planet needs. Of course, they wouldn’t mind becoming the Henry Ford of the prefab home, either.

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21 Comments

  1. cober February 23, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    The prefab future is bright.

  2. Contemporarycaprice Contemporarycaprice October 10, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    THIS is a gorgeous prefab! With a price like that it’s got to be! We have got to get reasonable about modern prefab prices.

  3. Elizabeth Buckley January 1, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Enough talk…although great comments and all. WHERE can one find a prefab passive solar, 1200-1400 sq. ft green home to buy NOW? lovetolivegreen@gmail.com

  4. chris didiot October 30, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    I could swear this is the house they use to film
    the EXTERIOR-STARK RESIDENCE
    for the CBS series, SHARK, starring James Woods.

  5. miglio dominique June 9, 2007 at 3:46 am

    bonjour,

    je serai tres interesser a faire construire une maison par vos soins,avez vous un cattalogue et la liste de prix pour la suisse.

    meilleures salutations

    d.miglio

    dominique miglio
    po box 266
    1211 geneve 19

    switzerland

  6. Inhabitat » AIA/C... May 1, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    [...] of sustainable building attention, Ray Kappe and LivingHomes‘ green prefab royalty, the Z6 House. I never actually knew it was officially called “Z6″ — we always refer to it [...]

  7. atlheff April 20, 2007 at 10:35 am

    The only reason I can see this failing is because of the price.. $175-$250 per sq/ft is obscene for a fledgling industry to expect. You can custom build in most parts of the country for less than that. The designs are refreshing and I am desperate to break away from the cookie cutter traditional waste of space and inefficient homes that are constructed en’mass but there seriously needs to be more “walmart” theorized pricing for these units. I don’t care what anyone says, there is no way that a prefab can stand up to a quality on site constructed custom home…I just want to find a builder with design ideas like these.

  8. John Rogers November 23, 2006 at 7:03 pm

    The visual design, form and functionality of todays prefabs is with out a doubt the most creative housing designs and concepts at this point in time. The problem I have with all of the designs and built homes today is that they are designed for the 20th percentile, that is the top 20% can afford to buy a prefab. Even the “100,000.00″ house is so far out of reach for the average or even middle income families there is no way that any of the designs anr “affordable” housing. The victoms of Katrina are still in “FEMA trailers”, every thing is photo ops (this article) and sound bites, no body is trying to solve the problem. Designers today all have one thing in common, self serving and feed the EGO. I know, because I was one of them until I burned out.

  9. Elena Castro September 25, 2006 at 7:42 pm

    I love this Prefab Friday, is beautiful. How can I get an estimate on this particular home and do you delivered to North Carolina? Thank you

  10. Marion T. cochrane September 6, 2006 at 1:27 am

    I just read the article on Mr. Kappe’s LivingHomes in the September issue of Forbes Life. The concept, design possibilities and promise of an environmentally friendly habitat is just too wonderful for words.
    .

    Sincerely,
    Marion T. Cochrane

  11. Inhabitat » Blog ... August 25, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    [...] The reality of prefab versus its promise has been a hot topic as of late. Last year, we wrote about the high-tech, interactive iT House when it was just a bit more than a glimmer in Taalman Koch Architecture’s eye. To refresh your memory, the TKiT House is an ambitiously “smart” prefab house that comes with a whole host of high-tech amenities such as radiant heat flooring, photovoltaic roof, and custom-designed vinyl screen panels for your glass walls. In short – a high-tech prefab dream. Today, not one, but two of their sleek glass houses are set to shine on actual sites. In anticipation of their talk at this year’s Dwell on Design Conference, we thought we would catch up with them and find out how their best laid plans were coming to fruition. [...]

  12. Inhabitat » Blog ... August 25, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    [...] The reality of prefab versus its promise has been a hot topic as of late. Last year, we wrote about the high-tech, interactive iT House when it was just a bit more than a glimmer in Taalman Koch Architecture’s eye. Today, not one, but two of their sleek glass dreams are set to shine on actual sites. In anticipation of their talk at this year’s Dwell on Design Conference, we thought we would catch up with them and find out how their best laid plans were coming to fruition. [...]

  13. Inhabitat » Blog ... August 18, 2006 at 5:38 am

    [...] We go on and on about how sick and tired we are of seeing prefab in renderings and models and never the real thing. Of late, of course, we’ve had a few, such as Living Homes and a small army of sheds. But when we feasted our eyes on the most recent images of Sustain Mini Home’s first house, it was like getting a piece of 3-layer cake after 3 courses of brussels sprouts. We could stare at these all day. [...]

  14. Antti August 9, 2006 at 7:19 pm

    Well, I must agree to LA times in that prefab, if the conception can ever be used to refer to any factory build house, is wery popular here in Scandinavia and has been used to produce “low-cost” housing for the private sector over 15 years now. This said it is necessary to specify that just any factory built house is not a prefab and will not automaticly cost less than site built. This is because people usually will not be satisfied with the concept their neighbor has chosen and want more, or different, and they just must have alterations made to the basic design. This in turn produces huge amount of “factory modules”, of which most are not allways or seldom used or desired, but will never the less make up additional costs for the manufacturer as he must be able to design and deliver them if he wants to make business with every one.

    In Finland allmost every private house is partly factory built, but it doesn’t mean that the house was cheaper than site built, just easier. That is what the market value of so called prefab in Finland is, IT’ EASY. This easy -value is as eluding as the “cheaper” illusion is. If you want easy it’s going to cost. If you want cheap, it’s going to be alot of work. YES, material costs vary between mass and single unit production, but because the basic elements (two by fours etc.) are produced anyway, what accounts in the initial price is the labor, and that cannot be discounted even in a factory.

    A cheap (cost effective) prefab house is therefor: a simple concept of boxy or pointy looking thing that can not be achieved if the modules are not limited in size and shape and interchangable with each other, even between first and second floor. Result will be one-off design product and 2 such buildings placed next to each other will look basically the same. This is the only way one can achieve the economy of volume. Henry Ford knew this, but after the first “I WANT ONE, BECAUSE IT’S CHEAP AND BLACK” -exitement, he lost the battle because people also desired red cars.

    Green living (I’m for it) or not, but one must accept that different people have different needs and no one-off design will satisfy every man. It may satisfy the majority, but even among majority the basic drive of man is to be better, especially, better than the next man. One must accept that limited amount of purpose-different “A”-looking modules will never satisfy the “B” or the “C” -people. This is why all in one: a cheap, all suiting, good looking and cheap prefab can NEVER exist, and a “good looking = popular = cheap” -prefab in general can only exist in EXTREMELY large market area -> international -> difficult.

    So in conclusion: Do not expect everyone to love the prefab (with the benefits and the actual and true definition of the term) just because we (minority in the WORLD) love it. Not every one wants the all same looking black car with the same contents.

  15. BEE JAY August 9, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    Interested in pre-fab home Aug 4 listing pic above. Ray Kappe. Price and do you deliver in the south?

  16. Sue August 6, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    If this was a prefab designed for people in the 35,000-75,000 household income bracket, I would actually be interested. As it is, it is just another example of how the upper 10% of the population consume 80% of the resources of this country.

  17. PrairieMod August 5, 2006 at 8:49 pm

    This is a wonderful response to the LA Times article. Kudos!

  18. Julie Niemeyer August 5, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    I live in an area where retirees are downsizing to brand new 10,000 square foot homes. The resources the earth has had to cough up to build and maintain these monoliths frightens even my sometimes oblivious teenagers. Prototypes are always initially expensive. I am so glad to see that there is a movement to address the many issues facing sustainable living on earth. These prefab homes, while perhaps are not to every-one’s taste, can be adapted to so many situations if one expands their minds to the task.

  19. Mark August 4, 2006 at 7:06 pm

    I don’t understand, ck. You wrote:

    > if prefab homes looked like this, I’d sell my flat to buy one.

    Well, um, this *is* a prefab house! So I guess you’re putting out a for-sale sign?

  20. Chip August 4, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    A beautiful home. It’s too bad they couldn’t get a shot in the daytime when the garage wasn’t full of junk.

  21. ck August 4, 2006 at 9:57 am

    if prefab homes looked like this, I’d sell my flat to buy one. Stunning space and light. Add a rooftop garden and sling it into a treehouse and I’d be a very happy man!

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