Postmodern homes, fresh from the factory

The prefab movement takes off with low-cost, high-design homes

Not long ago, the building term “prefab” was synonymous with the cookie-cutter landscapes of mobile-home parks and tract homes. There was only one reason to buy prefab: You couldn’t afford custom-built.

Today, prefab appeals to design aficionados who like how it echoes the clean lines of mid-century Case Study Homes. Environmentalists appreciate green materials and alternative energy systems. Developers like building from pre-existing components and assembling on-site: high design, democratic price point.

Modernist prefab housing has been around since Le Corbusier in 1914; it reached a wide audience with the Case Study houses of the 1950s. However, the movement gained traction two years ago when shelter mag Dwell invited architects to submit designs for a prefab house to be built in Pittsboro, N.C.

“Since the launch of the Dwell Home Design Invitational, I’ve probably received close to 10,000 queries,” says Dwell editor Alison Arieff. “People who want to buy homes or to develop, invest and design them.”

Now Dwell has partnered with Empyrean to build its own line of prefab homes, but they won’t be the first in Los Angeles. This month, Santa Monica entrepreneur Steve Glenn’s LivingHomes broke ground for a model home designed by architect Ray Kappe; next, Glenn plans a LivingHomes community near Joshua Tree National Park.

While LivingHomes emphasizes environmentalism, Venice architect Jennifer Siegal caters to prefab enthusiasts who don’t want to sacrifice sybaritic pleasures. The principal of Venice-based Office of Mobile Design, Siegal is developing a trio of luxurious prefab homes on land she owns in Desert Hot Springs. In October, she’ll begin construction on a model prefab home on a lot on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, owned by Venice real estate broker Jack Hoffman. He’ll sell it after six months of using the unit as a showcase.

“I get developers calling me all the time,” says Siegel, whose own Venice home is composed of prefab elements like shipping containers and grain trailers grafted onto a 1920s Spanish bungalow along with luxurious touches like a Jacuzzi and a custom-made outdoor shower. “I thought, ‘Why not do it for myself?’ ”

LivingHomes Model Home Take Home Development
The Dwell Homes by Empyrean
LivingHomes Model Home
Santa Monica
Take Home Development
Desert Hot Springs
The Dwell Homes by Empyrean
Available across the country
On a Santa Monica lot, developer Steve Glenn is building a Ray Kappe-designed prefab house for himself that will be the prototype for a line of green-design, prefab homes. Glenn is also developing the first LivingHomes Community on a site in Joshua Tree. Presales are slated to begin later this fall, with occupancy expected next spring. Siegal is building three custom-built,1,500-square foot prefab structures on a 10,000-square foot lot. The design includes courtyards, Boffi Italian kitchens, high-end finishes and wiring for an I-Port sound system. In presales now, the homes are expected to be completed by January. Dwell magazine has partnered with Empyrean, an architecture firm that draws from prefab pioneers Deck House and Acorn Structures, to offer three prefab designs. This prefab house, above, was the winner of Dwell’s Home Design Invitational in 2003.
Price: $350,000-$700,000 Price: From $800,000 Price: From $175-$250 per square foot
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