If your idea of prefab housing is an eerily vacant aluminum-sided ranch house hurtling down the freeway on the ass end of a semi, you’re missing out on one of the foremost progressions in habitation since artists began to move into abandoned factories and popularized the industrial loft as a liberated alternative to apartments and houses. In recent years factory-built housing has seen a renaissance thanks to innovations in manufacturing technology, shipping and materials and the cost efficiencies that result from more precise budgets and shorter construction times—a livable structure can be erected in mere hours. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the diminutive domiciles known as microdwellings. These sleek green getaways are at the forefront of prefab: As size decreases, cost savings and environmental benefits increase because of reduced materials, shipping and labor requirements. Which leaves more time to concentrate on design—and where to put the damn things for the most jaw-dropping views, whether of island waterfalls or Burning Man bikinis. Now take a look at these Lilliputian lairs.
Previously known for restoring modernist homes, Los Angeles–based architecture firm Marmol Radziner designed the seminal Desert House in 2005, launching not only the firm’s prefab-construction unit but also an entire movement. Its Hidden Valley vacation home in Utah’s Moab Desert emphasizes indoor-outdoor living and comprises five interior modules and seven deck modules of recycled steel. The home was shipped to the site in two days on 12 flatbed trucks and came complete with preinstalled windows, doors, cabinets, solar panels and appliances. A front-entry deck offers a broad view across the geothermally heated pool, while the home’s primary axis runs along a rock ledge, creating dramatic views of red-rock boulder formations and snowcapped mountains through three full sides of floor-to-ceiling windows.
Architecture firm LOT-EK’s c-Homes series repurposes Cor-Ten steel shipping containers. Light-filled thanks to embedded glass walls, these open-plan dwellings start at 300 square feet and can be placed anywhere. Site preparation and off-site fabrication occur simultaneously, making the structures efficient and affordable. Combine multiple units—horizontally or vertically—for homes of up to 1,300 square feet.
The man cave. While the term almost induces shudders, the idea itself is beyond reproach. And no one does man caves better than Modern-Shed. At 420 square feet and compatible with water, sewer and electrical systems, the Seattle-based company’s highly customizable signature product offers options including a full wet bar, beer fridge, sectional sofa, deck, bike rack, guitar hooks and—perish the thought—gym or home-office equipment. The base price of a fiber-cement-sided model is about $10,000. Upgrades take the form of vertical tight-knot cedar or horizontal clear-cedar siding. There are three types of ceiling liners—sanded plywood, pine and cedar—as well as several window and door-framing options. All the sheds come with preassembled clerestory windows around the top to provide natural light and reduce daytime lighting requirements.
A manufacturing team test-fits the units at a company facility in Sedro-Woolley, Washington and then delivers the components to clients, who can either build the sheds themselves or work with an installation team the company contracts at additional cost. After installation the structures can be disassembled for transport to a beach house or country home.
Norway-based Canadian architect Todd Saunders’s Salt Spring Island House proves you don’t have to go all-in on modular—a home can be as prefab as you want. The only prefabricated elements in these two 650-square-foot blackened-steel-sided units—a landscape architect’s home and studio in British Columbia—are the rustproof aluminum bridges that connect them. And they’re locally made, by the same people who construct the island’s boat docks and bridges.
These particular bridges allow the structures, which straddle a 20-foot waterfall, to be elevated to avoid destroying the surrounding fir forest while also providing expansive views of Vancouver Island, Washington State, the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Mountains.
Edgar Blazona, an Oakland-based former Pottery Barn designer, is heavily influenced by pioneering modernists such as Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra and Donald Judd. Those inspirational sources are evident in his 42-square-foot modular dwelling. This highly mobile unit was built to withstand the extreme climate of the annual Burning Man festival, whose 50,000 scantily clad and excessively painted—and intoxicated—revelers descend on Nevada’s Black Rock Desert over Labor Day weekend to ritually desecrate the timbered flesh of a Brobdingnagian effigy in the name of…well, who knows anymore?
To offset the anarchy, Blazona tricked out the shelter with midcentury-modern amenities. The six-by-seven-foot stronghold (the company’s design options reach 280 square feet and are available with furnishings from sister company TrueModern) was assembled from $1,000 of steel, glass and wood siding. “It was designed to be a sliver of clean, minimal modernism in this dusty, chaotic environment,” says Blazona. Now it just has to survive the intergenerational dustups at your next family barbecue.
CRICKET TO RIDE
The Cricket trailer was invented by Yale-educated architect Garrett Finney, who worked at NASA designing the International Space Station’s habitation module—the place where astronauts eat, sleep, bathe and relax—before turning his celestial sights to Houston and trailer design. The lightweight, aluminum-composite Cricket features a single-touch roof latch that opens in seconds. The stylishly colorful 62-square-foot trailer, which comes complete with a toilet and hot-water sink and shower, can comfortably sleep two adults and two kids. A base price of $16,700 gets you Baltic birch plywood cabinetry, flame-retardant Taslan tent fabric, nickel-pattern rubber flooring and 15-inch aluminum rims.