Prefab: Sustainable and Stylish. Seriously.


The word sounds so, shall we say, cheap and chintzy? It doesn’t roll off your tongue and linger on your lips like Chateau Marmont or Fontainbleau. In fact, when I first heard the word prefab back in 2000, trailer park and double-wide sprang to mind.

But then I laid my eyes on the Eames House (image above), and it was love at first sight.

Although the Eames House isn’t pure prefab (many of its parts are), it was born of the Case Study Program (1945-1962) that challenged architects of the day to design efficient, low-cost housing. In fact, the program announcement reads like a modern prefab proposal might:

…each house must be capable of duplication and in no sense be an individual ‘performance’… It is important that the best material available be used in the best possible way in order to arrive at a “˜good’ solution of each problem, which in the overall program will be general enough to be of practical assistance to the average American in search of a home in which he can afford to live.


Prefab is far from a 20th century concept though, in fact prefabricated construction dates back to the 17th century. (To learn more about the history of prefabricated home building, read ‘Prefab’ by Allison Arieff & Bryan Burkhart. Great book!). And it’s true that these buildings haven’t always been becoming, not by a long shot. Trailer park, track homes, cookie cutter, the list goes on.

But I’m here to steer you straight. And since I’ve recently written about the death of the ugly, ostentatious and utterly offensive McMansion, I decided to focus on this pleasing alternative. Something smaller, sensible, adaptable yet fully capable of being stylish. (Just like the itHouse that Leigha wrote about.)


No, prefab is not for everyone. But no matter your personal design preference, prefab has so many merits and environmental and social checks in the positive column, it’s past the time to start paying attention.

So even if you think modern and minimal, grim, boring and cold, the following options should sway your style-buds toward prefab. I promise.


LivingHomes – RK1

The first LivingHomes prefab, RK1 (image above), was designed by architect Ray Kappe and was the first home in the U.S. to achieve the LEED® Platinum rating in August 2006. Since then, they’ve added additional models and of course custom options galore. I had the opportunity to tour the RK1 back in 2006 and would have moved in, right then and there.

(If you live in the Newport Beach area, go see the newest LivingHome, the KTLH 1.5 designed by KieranTimberlake, on October 9 and 10. Find more information here.)


Office of Mobile Design – Santa Monica Prefab1

Jennifer Siegal is the design principal of Office of Mobile Design (OMD). Her Santa Monica Prefab1 (image above) is a 2,330 square foot, two-story, “16 ft. wide, four-module house…carefully fitted into its 25 ft. by 100 ft. narrow lot.” But it’s anything but boring or cramped. Check out her other homes, as well as her latest venture, the Desert Hot Springs Development Take Homeâ„¢.


Rocio Romero LV Home

Available in a number of sizes and styles, the LV Series launched with the LV Home (image above), the simplest and smallest version at 1,150 sq ft and starting at $36,870. All of the modules are the same width (25′-1″) but vary in length so they fit together in any number of configurations. Rocio Romero makes it easy for the inexperienced, by offering a Getting Started tool that maps out the modular building process step by step.


Marmol Radziner Prefab – The Desert House

The Desert House (image above) was created for principal Leo Marmol, and his wife Alisa Becket. Completed in Spring 2005, it’s the prototype for Marmol Radziner Prefab. I wish I could post all the pictures here, but you’ll just have to peruse on your own. Then tell me, what’s not to love?


Marmol Radziner Prefab also offers a series of pre-configured productsSkyline, Rincon and Locomo (image above) – that range in price from $200-400 per square foot. The custom option, for those with specific architectural plans and a bigger budget, starts at $400 per sq ft and increases from there.


mkDesigns – Glidehouseâ„¢

The first of Michelle Kaufmann’s prefab designs was born in 2002 out of her and her husband’s frustration at the lack of sustainable housing options in the San Francisco Bay area. Glidehouseâ„¢ (image above) is named for the sliding glass and wooden doors throughout that create an open, indoor-outdoor living environment. The house’s list of sustainable features is impressive but not surprising considering all mkDesign homes are built based on five eco principles.


Alchemy Architects – weeHouse

The weeHouse (image above) is yet another factory-built dwelling that arrives on location ready to live in. It’s available in four sizes (Studio, Pair, Tall, Four Square) and a plethora of available materials, options, accessories and finishes. Not my favorite of the group, but definitely worth its weight in “better, cheaper, faster, easier, smarter, greener, cooler, customizable.”

I hope you’re as inspired as I am by these architects who push the envelope and strive for evolution and advancements in the art of sustainable living.

But tell me this, how does one choose which prefab to purchase when the options are so endless?

(Images and resources: prefabcosm, NYTimes, Dwell on Design, Arts & Architecture, fabprefab.)