As GearCrave continues to explore the best in modern prefab, it is inevitable that we share the works of architect Michelle Kaufman. Her designs are well known in the prefab industry, namely her GlideHouse and BreezeHouse projects. To discuss the former of the two, the GlideHouse, we sat down with Michelle Kaufman for an interview. Continue reading, GearCravers, to learn more about the modern prefab movement, Kaufman’s GlideHouse prefab and how you can get involved with your next home.
What attracted you to the prefab movement, and brought you to make this industry your focus?
When my husband Kevin and I first moved to California, it was impossible for us to find a home that we liked and could actually afford, so we decided to design and build our own house from the ground up. As we began constructing our home, the response from our friends and colleagues was overwhelmingly positive, which lead me to realize that there was a market need for this sort of clean and green home. Thatâ€™s when I started to research modular building methods. Soon after, in 2002, I founded Michelle Kaufmann Designs (MKD).
In 2006, we purchased a factory in Seattle, mkConstructs, to produce prefabricated homes using modular technology to reduce waste and resource consumption, which makes our building process both sustainable and more affordable than a site built home of the same scope. MKD now offers six prefab home configurations: the Glidehouseâ„¢, mkLotusâ„¢, mkSolaireâ„¢, mkLoftâ„¢, the Sunset Breezehouseâ„¢, and the Sidebreeze. In addition, we also do custom and multifamily, community projects.? In fact, we have two such projects under development in the Bay Area and Denver (link).
Which architects or movements inspired your work?
Charles and Ray Eames are some of my favorite designers of all time. They mixed play with genius, and the result was inspirational in its impact. I often wonder what the Eames would be doing today if they were still alive. I think they would be doing this.
Who is the typical MKD client?
I donâ€™t believe there is a â€œtypicalâ€ modern prefab buyer. When we started this work, I thought that our client base would mainly be the younger, hipper group, but what we have found is that our clients vary dramatically in age, interests, business focus, etc. What all our clients do share is a commitment to the environment and a desire for a healthy, well-designed home.
What involvement does your firm have with the interior design of your homes?
Most of our clients choose their own furnishings. However, we do have a few interior designers that we like to work with (and our clients do too). Soon we will be bringing interiors in-house.
From first contact with your client to their move in date, how long is the development and building process for your prefab???? Also, where do your prices start for a completed prefab home, including construction?
We typically deliver your home 10-14 months after your initial design meeting. And when it arrives itâ€™s 90% complete, including installed cabinetry, fixtures, appliancesâ€”the towel bars are even installed already!
The cost of an MKD home varies depending on model (pre-configured or custom), location, site configuration, and finish options. Many factors contribute to the cost of a specific home, but the average price of our homes breaks down as follows. These prices do not include land costs.
Multifamily home: starting at $150-$160/square foot
Preconfigured home: starting at $250/square foot
Custom: starting at $400/square foot
The site costs vary on slope, the extent of landscaping, etc. There are also upgrade options available that would cost more, such as an energy monitoring system or a green roof.
How important is green building technology in your prefab architecture?
Technology is extremely important to us at MKD and we incorporate many innovative technologies into our design work and production processes. Some of the technologies we employ – such as energy monitoring systems, solar panels, high velocity mini duct heating systems and radiant heating – allow us to use energy very efficiently. Technology is also very important in developing eco-friendly materials such as low-VOC paints and spray-in foam insulation that help to create a healthy living environment. Others make use of recycled and re-purposed materials like the recycled paper thatâ€™s used in Richlite and Paperstone countertops. Weâ€™ve also designed our own products that incorporate recycled elements, including the mkIslandâ„¢, a dual purpose kitchen island/dining table, made with concrete and either rice hulls or recycled porcelain.
Do you feel that “prefab” is an accurate term to describe the genre of architecture you work in?
For us, prefab is simply a means to an end. We didnâ€™t set out to do prefab. Instead, we set out to make thoughtful, sustainable deign accessible to more people, and hopefully soon, accessible to all. Modular technology is a way for us to maximize the predictability of time and cost, as well as the pre-packaged the green solutions.
What are some of the problems facing prefab homes today?
The challenge with the work is not the design, it isnâ€™t the selling, it isnâ€™t the websites, or the renderings. Those are all the easy parts. The real challenge, and the critical area for a successful project is the implementation and the production. This is what we have been building for the past four years and what has been our biggest obstacle to date. I am proud to say that, over time, we have developed solutions to the problem and have now overcome it. However, for companies just starting in the prefab realm, I would guess that this is still their biggest obstacle.
Have you found that a “mobile home” stigma has affected your business as a prefab home maker?
Itâ€™s interesting because in this country there has been a stigma around â€œprefabâ€ and I think thatâ€™s because we have trailer homes. In other countries thereâ€™s no such stigma. In Japan and Australia, all the top of the line designs are factory-built. Thatâ€™s what people demand. They understand the benefits of a factoryâ€™s controlled environment and that it allows for the use of precision cutting technology, all of which only results in a better, stronger product.
I am so excited that those misconceptions are beginning to disappear as people have more opportunities to experience our prefabricated homes thanks to events like the Smart Home: Green + Wired exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, which featured the mkSolaireâ„¢. The exhibit gave people the opportunity to experience the comfort and beauty of this school of building and living. We also hope to demonstrate how informed design choices can make a positive change in a personâ€™s environmental impact.
What do you think it will take for prefab homes to reach a wider appeal?
There is an organic evolution of people becoming increasingly interested in green living solutions that has already taken root. As more people become cognizant of the environmental crises of today, they are going to begin seeking out more ways to combat these issues in their own lives. I do not see an end to this trend, only growth and development. Itâ€™s all about education: educating people about the environmental issues we face in todayâ€™s world and the solutions available for remedying them. Most importantly, we need to educate children about these problems and their solutions because tour children will be the ones carrying these learnings into the future to save our world and make it a better place.
In terms of adoption, how far away do you see the peak of prefab homes in the US? In other words, are we in the early days of the prefab, or is this a rennaissance?
People have asked, â€œis prefab a fad?â€ Based on what I have seen, and what we and others are doing, I know it is not a fad, but rather a shift. A shift in the way we think about designing and building.
I think we are at the beginning of a green building revolution and this is a movement that will manifest itself in many different ways: from LEED accreditation to prefabricated building techniques to incorporating recycled and renewable materials into homes to the introduction of innovative technologies and systems.
Home buyers are becoming increasingly interested in knowing how their homes are made and how sustainable and energy efficient they are. Everyone desires lower energy costs and healthy homes. The more home buyers demand these things, the more builders will provide them.
It is my hope that in the future we will not have to use the word â€œgreenâ€; sustainable, responsible, and eco-friendly will just be the standard.
Do you have any news about the Glidehouseâ„¢ that we should keep our eyes on?
The latest MKD design, the mkSolaire, was unveiled this Spring at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago as part of their Smart Home: Green + Wired exhibit.
The mkSolaire was designed specifically for healthy living within an urban environment. We designed this home, as well as all of our others, according to our 5 EcoPrinciples. The result is a smartly designed space that maximizes light and ventilation at the same time that it minimizes heating and cooling costs, greatly reducing the resource consumption typical of a traditional city dwelling. The warm, lofty, light-filled interior spaces of the new mkSolaire exemplify our commitment to â€œdesigning bigâ€ vs. â€œbuilding bigâ€.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Michelle. We’ll keep a close eye on your developments with your firm– and continue to lust after your designs… If you’d like to learn more about Michelle Kaufman Designs and their prefab homes, you can do so at her firm’s website, MKD-ARC.com. Enjoy, GearCravers…