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Michelle Kaufmann Designs Calls It Quits

by richierod last modified May 30, 2009 06:43 PM
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Michelle Kaufmann Designs Calls It Quits

Posted by richierod at May 27. 2009

Please see the article (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/05/green-prefab-firm-michelle-kaufmann-designs-is-closing.html) on the LA Times website for the sad news that MKD is closing it's doors after making a really good attempt at bringing modern prefab to the masses. Factors that contributed to the closing are banks not wanting to finance "different" houses, and factories closing that MKD relied upon for the manufacture of her houses. We here had a lot to say about MKD through the years, both good and bad. I myself came very close to building one of her houses for my family. So sorry, Michelle. You really did make a good go of it.

Where does this leave our modern prefab movement?

 

 

 -R.

Re: Michelle Kaufmann Designs Calls It Quits

Posted by LiveModern Webmaster at May 28. 2009

I talked to Michelle about this very unfortunate turn of events late last week. She had a great idea, was making great progress through her company, and just ran up against some forces that were way beyond their control. The good news is that she's as committed as ever to change the world. She will.

Marshall

P.S. Here's a good interview with Lloyd Alter:

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/05/michelle-kaufmann-packs-it-in.php

 
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Re: Michelle Kaufmann Designs Calls It Quits

Posted by LiveModern Webmaster at May 28. 2009

Previously richierod wrote:


Where does this leave our modern prefab movement?

 

 

Sorry to not have replied to your question. I'm also sorry to say that you don't hear too much about a "modern prefab movement" these days. Both MKD (and other companies, too many to list) and "prefab" have been casualties (not the cause, mind you) of the bursting of a bubble. The housing bubble offered many opportunities, but also masked the risks in "prefab" for a long time.

This website literally got started when MKD did, and has flourished in large part because of the association. Being an active participant until 30 months ago, when I stopped representing MKD, I can observe that the one thing that does not come out well enough in the articles covering MKD's closing is that most clients for a single family home wanted a custom product. I think this is true for almost anyone interested in a modern prefab. We love design, and so we have ideas about a design we'd want to live in. "I like your design, but can you do this or that?" Well, yes, but then you are not mass customizing anymore, because almost all of these design ideas are structural (like designing your own suspension system on a car, rather than picking between a city, racing or touring suspension). Some people could pay for that (most people who really loved MKD's original designs went another direction when they would not settle for them), but when MKD did customize it also limited what any design/build firm such as MKD could do to bring the actual standard designs (which were very good and very popular) to scale. It was a constant dilemma. And in the end, the factories, including her own, could not make custom single-family prefabs at such a small scale worth their while.

I do think that Michelle is still on the right track in pursuing her goals, focussing now on communities. That's where the scale can be created for modern and sustainable solutions that people can afford. And that's where the market is moving, whether as a single-family home owner you are in that market or not (most of us will not be going forward, even when the housing depression is over). And I suspect that "prefab" will not be part of the solution, not as we've come to know prefab over the past few years. Rather, it will be more advanced site-specific construction methods which long ago left the craft realm that single-family construction will continue to occupy for many years.

Marshall

 

Re: Michelle Kaufmann Designs Calls It Quits

Posted by Bil Wietzke at May 28. 2009

Very sad indeed.  Sad for Michelle, sad for her employees and sad for the "movement". 

It also very,very sad for the cutomers who were in the design/build cycle when it cratered.  Think about the many, many ten's of thousounds of dollars that were spend in design fees spent without yielding a house - nothing.  Pretty tough to swallow in this economy. 

Re: Michelle Kaufmann Designs Calls It Quits

Posted by LiveModern Webmaster at May 29. 2009

Previously Bil Wietzke wrote:


Very sad indeed.  Sad for Michelle, sad for her employees and sad for the "movement". 


It also very,very sad for the cutomers who were in the design/build cycle when it cratered.  Think about the many, many ten's of thousounds of dollars that were spend in design fees spent without yielding a house - nothing.  Pretty tough to swallow in this economy. 

Bill,

I don't have many specifics about how MKD was going to handle those clients, but I do know that Michelle was most concerned that they be able to progress with their plans with a minimum of disruption. I think there are ways that they can proceed, without MKD, so all is not lost.

Marshall

Re: Michelle Kaufmann Designs Calls It Quits

Posted by Bil Wietzke at May 29. 2009

Sorry for the double post.

 

Only time will tell - at this point the only thing I have to show for our efforts is a 10MB file with plans.  They cost more than my first home.

Re: Michelle Kaufmann Designs Calls It Quits

Posted by Bil Wietzke at May 29. 2009

or should say "almost" as much as my first house.

Re: Michelle Kaufmann Designs Calls It Quits

Posted by richierod at May 29. 2009

And now I wonder if our brave pioneers of the modern prefab movement discovered the same issues when they folded decades ago. Perhaps we should leave a note in the modern prefab time capsule that states specifically what went wrong so that future generations who come up with a plan to design and market their prefab structures that are out of the mainstream are forewarned. Not to discourage them from their attempt, but to educate them about the limitations. Could it be that this single family residence model simply won't work? What was it about this time that was different from previous attempts? Did MKD, Empyrean and the rest think that their approach was so entirely different that there could be no comparison to previous entries? Has this failure brought us to the only true way modern prefab can work - in a multi-family setting where you view 5 different models and choose between them?  I look forward to seeing what shakes out of this transitionary time. And I hope the heartache involved this time ( for the designers and the pending clients and those of us that would like to see this happen) won't be repeated next time.

 

 

 -R.

 

Re: Michelle Kaufmann Designs Calls It Quits

Posted by LiveModern Webmaster at May 29. 2009

R.,

I'm not sure you can generalize from the experiences of prefabbers that tired but failed in the past few years, except to say that they entered and exited the market at a time that at first looked pretty good (the bubble) and then turned pretty bad (the burst). Even some of them with deep pockets are no longer in the prefab market. 

There were lots of questionable business decisions made by many of them, and it might be interesting to do some case studies to point out the potential pitfalls along the lines of inquiry you suggest, but even the best managed firms found it hard to swim against the recent tides.

Marshall

Re: Michelle Kaufmann Designs Calls It Quits

Posted by Matthew O. Daby at May 30. 2009

I wouldn't count out prefab so quickly.  Although I've been skeptical of the players of recent years, I think there is still opportunities for it to work.  I think those that have watched it with a critical eye noticed a few common errors in design and business model.  Stay tuned......

Re: Michelle Kaufmann Designs Calls It Quits

Posted by Pat Lukes at May 30. 2009

I'm shocked.  While I think Prefab is the way to go, the cost and lack of flexibility of the homeowner to put their own stamp on the project is what kept me away.

Best of luck to Michelle and hopefully here ideas will still be around in some form.

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