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A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

by tom mot last modified Nov 04, 2005 08:03 AM
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A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by tom mot at September 18. 2005

Can someone tell me what the benefit is to spending $250sf on one of these new Dwell by Empyrean prefabs over having a custom home designed and built to one's personal specifications and preferences for the same price or much less? For all the talk about making modern accessible with prefab homes like these, you'd think they'd price them to match the rhetoric.

Maybe I just don't get it. To me, making something accessible is allowing the average person to participate - and I dare say the average person or family does not wish to pay, or cannot pay, $250sf for a home, prefab or otherwise. This line of Dwell homes, and other prefab offerings here and there, seem designed for one market, the wealthy, which isn't exactly what I call accessible. In fact, it seems like they might even do more harm than good. They become yet another shining example of what the rich can have and the masses can forget about while we resign ourselves to the Pultes and Gemcrafts of the world (sorry honey, at least we've got stained concrete and a stainless GE fridge).

Of course, there are exceptions, but I think the point is clear. It's just frustrating to me seeing Dwell promote this as a way to make modern accessible. In all honesty, dollars to donuts these offerings are 100-some-odd-dollar-per-sf homes with a brand name tacked on and the price doubled. I'd love to see what the profit margins are.

Again, maybe I just don't get it, or perhaps I'm ignorant. But I do know one thing for damn sure, for that kind of scratch I'll take Mark Meyer's courtHOUSE, a Larvadera design, or hire someone to build my own Frankenhouse before I ever consider one of these overpriced Dwell homes. And when it's all said and done I'd have a much more interesting home and probably have enough left over to throw in a jacuzzi or a pool!

But you know what I'd really like to see? More promotion of the fact that the average joe can likely hire an architect and build a custom modern house for the same or less than prefabs. Show the masses that the architects are accessible and the homes will follow.

Or maybe it's just 3am and I'm talking out my rear.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by darrel at September 18. 2005

Dwell is more about modernism than affordable. They do showcase the odd 'affordable' option but, for the most part, they're not necessarily aiming at the average homeowner's price range AFAICT.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by uncleho at September 18. 2005

I beg to differ... DWELL has always infered the affordability aspects of some of the modern abodes it has showcased... especially the DWELL HOMES.

I'm with strain. I used to think that there had to be a reasonable excuse as to why their costs were so high... but there aren't. Those houses are advertised with estimated costs of $250PSF... WITHOUT stipulating WHERE that cost is estimated for. With that in mind, all one can assume is that whether you're in boony Kentucky with cheap-o labor or not... it will be $$$.

$250k is WELL into the range of the rich. I consider myself high middleclass and can afford McMansions, but would rather cut my hand off before I do that. How they take a prefab with really basic forms and turn it into a house with costs comparable to one designed by an architect and built by a big-league GC is... amazing.

THey would do themselves far better justice by explaining to the public, because otherwise means assumptions like this.

I guess not being experienced in construction makes my assumptions just that... but I cannot fathom $250kPSF. THat plain hurts just thinking about it. :(

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by richierod at September 18. 2005

I don't disagree with what is being said here, for the most part. But you are supposing that they (Empyrean) should want to make an affordable product. IMO, that is incorrect. They want to make a beautiful product that they can sell to a lot of folks who are looking for a clear program without fear of runaway costs. This is because the project is laid out for them from the beginning in a very specific (costs and otherwise)way. And, these homes will look great in the mag, which, in turn, will sell more homes! (Slight cynical tone creeping in here)I believe that they think that this is the best place to start to grow their companies. Time will tell. One would hope that in a year or two, we will see some affordable options with the same type of marketing campaign. (No, Marshall, I'm not forgetting about you!) In the meantime, I don't think we should look at this Mercedes and say it should be a Chevy. It's not. Do I wish that all this energy were supporting a more affordable option, like the one that Dwell has supposedly been championing for these past few years? Yep. But this is just the beginning...
Am I stating the obvious when I believe we really should be questioning Dwell's choice to put their name on this particular product, in the same way that some folks have questioned the true affordability of the Dwell House #1 ? Does Dwell seem slightly schizophrenic here?:zz:

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by richierod at September 20. 2005

I'll quickly add that on the recent DIY Network show Assembly Required, they profiled prefab homes. Among them was Lazor's Flatpak, which, according to the show, cost him $340,000 for 2600 sq ft. That's $131/sq ft! Well, shoot, I'd love to have that house for $131/ sq ft! Why do I have to pay $250/sq ft now? Aren't the results of a prototype supoosed to cost LESS than the prototype itself? Hmmmm. :zz:

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by jakob clark at September 20. 2005

sorry honey, at least we've got stained concrete and a stainless GE fridge

Strain - that pretty much sums up my situation.

Well, in my humble opinion, I do think all of this prefab hype Dwell has stirred up has been good for modernism as far as spreading the gospel. And I still look forward to receiving my issue every time ... it is like waiting for Christmas morning.

The sad part is that it could negatively affect some new comers and even some people who are already interested. People already have the mindset that modernism is expensive ... and although my love for it doesn't waver, I think they are right. Either way, I think all in all Dwell has been a great influence in bringing modernism back to pop culture.

The simple fact is that I cannot afford a modern house and I live in the poorest state in the nation, making prefab not an option for now. Given that I am of the 'creative class' and my work is in the arts, I may never be able to afford one. I can't belly ache I know ... after all I can afford food and shelter.

I do hope that someone will be the hero and make it possible for hard working people to live in a situation that reflects their hard work regardless of the compensation their work provides. A little too ideal for sure ...

I'm with you man. But no hard feelings here toward Dwell. Fact is I don't have a lot of money and that is no one's fault but my own. You can only look after yourself ... no one is going to make your world for you. I, eventually, will have to decide whether or not to make it happen for myself.

... So I'll sit here with a couple of eames chairs and design books dreaming until one day the answer hits me.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Jeff Jasper at September 21. 2005

I have never really seen much affordable modernism in Dwell, it is all upper class to extreme upper class. Can't fault it too much though because it is inspiring to look through, although I think some of these people's house are just as stupid large as any McMansion.

I will disagree that modernism is expensive. Unfortunately many companies in the US or importers for European companies jack up their prices to ridiculous levels. Part of it is that modernism still is not as popular here as elsewhere, the other part is they know people will pay that much.

If you travel outside the US, you will find that modernism dominates over traditional in many places and low cost alternatives as easy to be had. It also pissed me off to see US products cheaper overseas than here in the US. I have gotten so fed up with our lack of options in the US for low cost modernism that I am starting to import for myself from overseas.

One thing that I do find disturbing though in general is the push for new construction of so many homes, when it is really more economical and environmentally friendly to invest in already existing dwellings and give them new life.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by C J at September 21. 2005

Jjasper brings up a great point. Having traveled through Germany and France recently I realized that modern design is part of most Europeans everyday life. New homes tend to be conservatively modern. I stayed with family on a USAF base and they lived in base housing, which was actually pretty mod and base housing is made with the intent of being cheap. Their apartment had modern light fixtures, windows, wood floors, etc. If it can be done affordably in Europe it can be done that way here too. But maybe that is a matter of changing public mindset.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by jakob clark at September 21. 2005

[quote:jjasper format=text/plain]One thing that I do find disturbing though in general is the push for new construction of so many homes, when it is really more economical and environmentally friendly to invest in already existing dwellings and give them new life. [/quote]

I have thought about this a good bit, actually.

I even think of rennovating houses that are not modern in a modern way. Maybe the relationship between the old and new construction would be interesting ....

However, every time I pick up a book with some Neutra, Koenig, or other case study king in it I want to build ...... selfish, I guess.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Darren Bradley at September 22. 2005

Joe and I are having a parallel conversation to this over on the LottaLivin' board. Seems to me that the price per square foot will ultimately doom these prefabs to obscurity unless their promoters work with merchant builders and developers to build tracts of them in the same way that more conventional homes are built today. This is the business model that worked for Cliff May back in the 1950s, as Joe pointed out. Why dwell hasn't discussed this is a bit beyond me.

Economies of scale are the only thing that will save these homes from being more than footnotes. In the meantime, those that can afford it will work with architects to have their homes custom-built (for less than the price of an Empryean home), and those that cannot will buy conventially-built tract homes.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by jakob clark at September 22. 2005

It seems one of the complaints of prefab and design-build projects with some is the fact it isn't custom and built just for them. Now I know some prefabs, like Kaufmann's and Res4Architecture's have so many options it is much like building custom.

If we are to compete with traditional building i think Chimay is right about building them like tracts. So what if it isn't built to your specific program. Sure that would be nice in a perfect world, but it isn't perfect and beggars can't be choosers. Face it, most of us buy already built homes anyway that are nowhere near our specific desires. If the house is modern and has the basic space requirements that is good enough for me.

Think Cliff May and Eichler. Why can't there be small (or even large) developments of standard 3 bedroom 2 bath homes like traditional homes offer? Selling them already built and land inclusive at a reasonable price would attract a lot of attention. I mean if it is affordable and modern what modern nerd with an American dream is going to turn it down just because the master bath doesn't have a walk in closet or because they prefer hardwood floors to concrete .... most of us are pretty ready to be in a home we can call modern, period.

Many folks I talk to want a modern home and would buy one, but it takes a real trekkie to be willing to go through the guessing games and hassles that building modern homes can cause. Of course I salute those who do!

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at September 22. 2005

I'm not so sure that this is the answer - at least not in the short term. We are going to do a group of 6040/6030 houses for a developer who may indeed be able to finish out the houses for $150/sqft. But I'm quite sure he will turn them around for something closer to $250/sqft.

Its still a rare commodity. When they are more widely available the prices will be more in line with other housing. At that point will Empyrean fade into obscurity? I think they will continue to build houses at at least the same rate they have in the past, probably better, and I'd guess they would be quite happy to do so. We are just spinning our wheels guessing - lets just see what happens. The important thing is modern houses are being offered, people are taking notice, developers may be getting the idea that they can sell these for more, people may be waking up to the thought that they like this kind of house. Its a good thing.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Marshall Mayer at September 22. 2005
There are going to be lots of diffeerent approaches. There simly is not one best solution to get things going. The industry is too young.

It's interesting that of the 300 or so serious clients that I've tracked this summer (serious in that they want to build in the next year and have the budget to do so, these are in addition to the clients that I've already passed along to MKD top get started on her process), almost 1/4 of them are developers.

Developers are a totally different kind of client in that most of them simply will not spend money up front (they want someone else to take the rist/pick up the tab). Fair enough, but other develpers will pass them by. We're currently working (i.e, they are in contract to design and build MKD developments) with 4 developers on a total of about 125 units. I'm sure once these are done (they will take a while -- and don't ask me when they will be done or where they are if you are in the market for a home, you'll know as soon as they are market ready) we'll see a lot more developers jumping in.

Marshall

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Jeff Jasper at September 23. 2005

I would love to see someone tackle well the problem of remodeling existing homes and converting them to modern dwellings using ideas from prefab, and such.

In LA there really isn't much good land for new development but remodeling is booming. In my neighborhood alone you can hardly turn a street without seeing large scale remodeling projects.

As it is we are building traditional for our house, but because of our neighborhood it will be mostly modern inside, but boring 1940's ranch outside. Our city requires the use of expensive wood windows, we have a choice of wood shake or lightweight concrete shake shingles for the roof, and we can't change the street facing style at all. We need some innovative thinkers to tackle these types of issues. Our remodel on our stupidly priced LA home will cost twice as much as my last house in Cincinnati, so there is definitely money to be had.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Daniel Burns at September 24. 2005

Modernism is definitely riding a wave right now. And as one would expect, those that can are catching that wave.

I remember reading in a newspaper article the Bob Lazor felt he could get the cost of a Flatpak house to UNDER $100 a sq. ft. I was under the impression from the article that he would achieve this by finding the same materials cheaper and that more in production would mean less cost.

I think that once he realized how popular his designs were, his quest to lower the cost per sq. ft. stalled.

Let's hope he does care about making his prefab homes affordable and a sub $100 per sq. ft. Flatpak home is on the way.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Mark Beuger at September 24. 2005

Let's face it, modernism never went out of style in the rest of the world. Having traveled all over Europe this past Summer this is pretty evident in new construction, renovation projects and the offerings at home improvement stores. There is nothing upper class about it. Sadly, European industrial standards are different and that makes simply bringing things over a little more complicated. I can't help but think that maintaining a non-metric system here in the US is an indirect way of avoiding competition.
Back to the thread, I would like to see more custom projects, new and renovation. I wonder how many architects are capable of designing modern/modernist homes on a more mainstream budget? Finding the materials and contractors to match also still seems to require a lot of home work. It does all seem to boil down to good old supply and demand.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at September 24. 2005

><br>

[quote:MemeSlider format=text/plain]I remember reading in a newspaper article the Bob Lazor felt he could get the cost of a Flatpak house to UNDER $100 a sq. ft. I was under the impression from the article that he would achieve this by finding the same materials cheaper and that more in production would mean less cost.

I think that once he realized how popular his designs were, his quest to lower the cost per sq. ft. stalled.

Let's hope he does care about making his prefab homes affordable and a sub $100 per sq. ft. Flatpak home is on the way.[/quote]


I think he - Charlie, isn't it - does care. To characterize it as he found he could get a lot more for the houses so he gave up on affordability is not fair. I don't know the specifics of his deal with empyrean, but I would guess that he will make less per house via empyrean than what he was proposing when offering them himself. I doubt he is going to be the end beneficiary of the higher cost per sqft. Its going to help him market and promote his product, and hopefully some of that will be turned back into refining and improving the affordability of his system. But I think we can be sure that the flatpak product from empyrean will not be the same flatpak product as Charlie Lazor's house. Go back to the Dwell issue and look a the pictures. I would guess that the empyrean version will not have exposed piping in the bathroom, the wood members for the framing is going to be top notch, the roof will probably not be made of metal sandwich panels, etc.


><br>

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by k kuo at September 24. 2005

[quote:richierod format=text/plain]I'll quickly add that on the recent DIY Network show Assembly Required, they profiled prefab homes. Among them was Lazor's Flatpak, which, according to the show, cost him $340,000 for 2600 sq ft. That's $131/sq ft! Well, shoot, I'd love to have that house for $131/ sq ft! Why do I have to pay $250/sq ft now? Aren't the results of a prototype supoosed to cost LESS than the prototype itself? Hmmmm. :zz:[/quote]

WHOA! $131
where do i sign?? i am in NYC, so should i dream on??

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by uncleho at September 24. 2005

America is very conservative... in general. Learning, trying, tasting new things is just not in our culture. Sure there are pockets of resistance, but those are few.

I've thought the same as the other posters... AFFORDABLE MODERN will NOT happen until big time builders take hold of it and force it upon the public.

Conservativeness means FOLLOWERS. There are those that would not mind Modern, but they either lack the courage or knowledge to seek it out. They prefer the SAFE route - Pulte. Then by adding modern styled furnishings and fixtures to a house that is 90% nouveau-antique-Americana styled... they now believe they have modern.

People just hate to rock the boat. Steady state = good in most of America. Unfortunately it is a Catch22, because the Buyers will buy whatever the builder/developer dishes out, but the builder/developer is too worried to take a microscopic risk... so they keep building the generic stuff we see all over today. And why not? Damn near everything residential construction-related is ONE style... and that style is NOT modern... or even halfway clean and simple. Everything from fixtures to doors to trim to flooring to roofing is barely suitable to building something halfway clean and simple. That and most builders worry about the bottom line - margin... and why not? It's just a job. They aren't on this world to be a legend in Modern developments.

If I could just find a small-medium sized developer who was already successful and wanted to play and take a risk... I'd love to sell him the notion. As FEW modern lovers as there are, I truly believe there ARE enough that a development could be built and sold PRONTO. Where I live MOST developments seem to be McMansions, which go from $300k-$600k. Non sense! 1800-2500SF and ranging between $200k-$300k... I KNOW we could sell them out in no time.

The ONE thing so many builder/developers JUST DO NOT GET today is that Americans LIKE to be different... even though so many keep buying McMansions. They only do that because there are NO choices for them! They just think that is the ONLY available style due to codes or architects or covenents or whatever. How do they get around trying to be different from the Jones??? Appiances! TVs! Stereos! Decks! CARS! SUVs!!! Clothes!!! The first developer to cater to this market will KILL!!! I bet we see that day soon, but it will be relegated to McModernMansions unfortunately. The MONEY and stability is not McMansion costs, but the MIDDLECLASS ranges of cost. Man, I need to make a business case.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at September 25. 2005

That is why it is so important that people who do want modern strike out and build. Every modern home pushes open the door a little further for more down the road. We are not looking to supplant the traditional american home, just make it realistic for somebody who prefers modern to be able to buy/build/find one without the herculean effort it takes now.

Its all about forging a future where modern is a choice instead of a struggle.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Brittany at October 04. 2005

A note relating to the thoughts about how Americans would buy it if it was offered, and only go for McMansions because they don't know HOW to differentiate - my partner's parents are slowly remodeling their home into a pretty modern affair - not pushing the envelope by anybody on this board's opinion I wouldn't think in terms of design aesthetic - and they have been met with nothing but resistance from their neighborhood (thankfully no HOA ;) ) - complaints about proposed color (light mint green), landscaping (erm, colorful flowers and trees?), etc - we're not even really talking *modern* in a minimal, futuristic sense - just not a McMansion, and the neighborhood is fighting it tooth and nail. Perhaps because it is raising their property values (and thusly, taxes), but I haven't ever heard of long-term property owners really complaining too much about their home appreciating in value.

And on the note of affordability in general - I've been searching and searching for products that showcase great design, are affordable and *accessible* to the masses to mention on my blog - and I'll tell you it's a challenge. It's totally analogous to prefab homes, at least how I thought I first read about them - as a more affordable way to introduce great design to the masses! Maybe it's just the connotation that 'prefab' still has - those price tags will shake that off quick though! Seems just like the look newbies to DWR give me when they see the prices - who's reach are they talking about!

Sorry for the quick rant - I've been out of the loop for a while (moving cross country to Portland, OR) and have some pent up frustration! :grin:

Brittany

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Bryan MacDonald at November 02. 2005

I was also highly disgusted with the Empyrean partnership. Why did every one of those solutions nearly double in price with the partnership!? I always loved the RE4A designs, and had always wished they could come out with the more economical downgrades that would put it more in the $100-125/sqft range.

Greg's new venture with ecocontempo.com look much more promising, but is still a little out of my range. I've found what looks to be the most promising way to get moderately affordable housing is through a an architect willing to work with you on a style budget. Look at the Sara Sage house (although it hasn't been updated recently). Those types of discussions are becoming much more promising for me than most modular home research.

The fact of the matter is, if you don't want to pay through the nose for modern, you're going to have to spend a lot of time working out details on your own (find architect builder who will build a middle-class modern home, work with him to find lower-cost materials that still meet style requirements, probably put in a fair amount of sweat equity, etc.). Less than 5% of the content in Dwell magazines is even semi-useful for someone on a budget--other than just giving general style ideas that you can spend your own effort transforming into something affordable.

For me, nothing has shown Dwells lack of effort (or maybe its just ability) to prove modernism can be affordable than this latest move with Empyrean with the $250/sqft homes. At this price, accessibility isnt even an issue... you can certainly find an architect to build you a custom modern home at that price---anywhere in the country.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Modren Man at November 03. 2005

I've come to the same conclusion that strain has on this subject. Right now current modern home design is for the rich, or well heeled, or those willing to take on extraordinary debt. I hate to say it because I like the designs featured in Dwell, but Dwell does seem to hype the affordability/accessibility aspect, when in fact most of the featured/promoted designs are 2-3 times (or more) than good standard McMansion pricing. For myself, I use the designs in Dwell and coffee table books as inspiration. I look at the homes (or features therein) and think how can this same effect be achieved affordably? That's the challenge that needs to be answered. And for those who state that it was never supposed to be about affordability, it's about making modernism more widely available (for those with $$$), or it's about developing the technology that will eventually make affordable modern homes more available....well, maybe so, but there's still PLENTY of room for immediate improvement as far as pricing and efficiency is concerned. There IS a market for reasonably priced, intelligently designed and modernistically styled homes. And I'm no home contracting expert, but I know that a home of reasonable quality and aesthetic can be done at or about $100 sq/ft (in today's dollars).

The strategy I've decided to go with is to have a large steel building built with a flat or sloped shed roof. It will have a typical simple rectangular shape ala Eames style (or like Lazor's Flatpak etc) on a concrete slab with minimal windows to start. Then I'm going to slowly modify the house using recycled/used windows I hope to acquire from demolished industrial/corporate structures (at a much reduced price) and then resheath some of it with concrete and/or brick along with other external mods (porches, patios, lighting etc). On the interior, again I'm going to make heavy use of recycled/used materials, including lots of cool stainless kitchen fixtures that I plan on buying from restaurant supply auctions. I'll end up with a stylish, extremely functional and very high end kitchen at a fraction of the price of new. Also, I plan on displaying the exposed steel beams and accentuating them with cleanly sawed/milled/sanded wood timbers taken from my wooded lot and sawed at a local mill, again at a fraction of storebought prices. Much of the remaining carpentry will be finished with wood harvested from the site, ala Wright style.

The whole process will be organic and completed over time. The house will be bare bones in the beginning, and although I'll have to do the work myself, I'm confident it'll be a positive experience overall. Plus, I'm a firm believer that there's a strong benefit in living in a minimally finished house for a while and feeling out the external and internal vibe of the home before finishing it. In my view it's impossible to really *know* what the natural and complete flow/orientation of a home will turn out to be (that best suits the owner, instead of a professional (or not so professional) designer's choice/preference) just by looking on a drawing or computer model beforehand...or even visiting the same type of home (at another site) for a brief period of time. Things like what rooms will be utilized the most (and which ones wont), or how the sun shines in through certain windows or how some sections are darker than anticipated or exactly where the patio door should be in relation to the living room, etc etc etc, are all important considerations that most ordinary people won't know about until they actually reside in the home for awhile and experience it directly.

This strategy certainly isn't for everyone, and it is a lot of work and time. But for me it will be a fun, educational and positive experience...plus I'll end up with a modern home built just the way I like it and at a price I can afford. And in the meantime I definitely think that the steel building industry could be tapped to produce simple, elegant and truly affordable modern style homes as opposed to the uber yuppie $$$ versions of what I often see in Dwell and elsewhere.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at November 03. 2005

I could make a career out of reassuring people but there is no sense. You all have to follow the path that works for you. I'll say that with the 6040/ecocontempo we are eager to do a smaller more affordable house but we need the customer. Eventually I will design something that we can offer but right now we are busy with the projects underway and I don't have time to put towards speculative design. Moernman - your plan to work with a pre-engineered building is great. This is the EcoSteel system in a nutshell. If you have the confidence to tackle it then more power to you.

The Sages are making progress with their house and Sarah has sent me updated photos. I have not posted them because I don't want to scoop her but they are busy with the work and she has not had a chance to post. I think they have ended up hiring more labor and perhaps are losing some of the edge on their sweat equity. I'd guess they are still heading for 110$/sqft.


I also want to remind you that my stock plans are another way to access design at bargain prices. The Plat House in Arkansas is being built for between 100-110$/sqft. You won't get that cost everywhere in the country but outside of metropolitan areas it can be done.

Let the big spenders spend - keep your vision of what you want and need and follow it.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Tom Emerson at November 03. 2005

Steel, because it is not normally used in the residential market anywhere in the US will continue to be more expensive than wood. The cheapest way to build (other than doing it yourself or with economics of scale) is designing so that it can be built by two guys and a van.
I just completed designing and have had priced my first completely modern house from them ground up. I specified off the shelf materials (Home Depot Modern as the owner calls it) and standard construction - with the exception of the corrugated plastic siding and corrugated galvanized roof. The materials are the same grade as any starter home you'd normally see anywhere. No designer anything, standard fixtures, plastic laminate, minimal trim, wall-to wall and VCT. In an area where basic residential construction is about$150/sf, we are in at $102/sf without sweat equity or ecomomies of scale.
However, if you look at the added cost of land, fees, etc. the total package comes in over what the bigger builders are asking for in a similarly sized, traditional starter home. Modern is not inherantly more or less expensive than traditional. When there were whole subdivisions of modern houses being built in the fifties, they were market rate. When the developers get on the bandwagon, you'll see availability and affordability again. They only respond to market demand. That will hopefully happen when the children of the baby boomlet decide they don't want their daddy's mcmansion, just like daddy didn't want his grandpa's Eichler!

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Bryan MacDonald at November 03. 2005

Modern is more expensive right now---it may come down when its more available--but it is more expensive right now. I've got 2 friends developing neighborhoods (different sizes... 20 to 200 houses), and I've worked on trying to get them to do modern. One of them is very interested, but has contacted vendors and done some leg work and just runs into too many cost problems. You'd think with 200 houses, you could get some competitive (with market rate for traditional homes) pricing. What they both found out that you can do it for a very upscale neighborhood, but not for a middle or somewhat upper-middle neighborhood.

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Adam Burke at November 03. 2005

I think Bearch is making a very good point: Use existing, off-the-shelf materials amd do a modern design. The problem is, everyone reads Dwell or other modernist publications and sees a lot of high end furniture and materials and they want it in their modern home. This is misleading. Similarly appointed traditional homes cost a lot too. What about Ikea cabinets, VCT floors MDF trim and laminate counters? I'm totally interested in your project, Bearch. There's DEFINITELY a market for modest homes with modest materials in the modern vernacular. First time home buyers in their 20s and 30s would eat it up. Just like they eat up Ikea. People need to stop expecting to get more for less with modern. Unfortunately modernism has had this promise of affordability through inivation since it's inception. Believe me, the building industry has squeezed out every nickel they can to make traditional homes affordable from the builder end. Why not use what they've learned?

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at November 04. 2005

Amen Brother!

Re: A lil' late-night rant about the new Dwell homes...

Posted by JB at November 04. 2005

It's all about expectations- As Greg is helping show- if you are modest in your expectations you can get beautiful modern design without throwing the budget out the window. Where a lot of people go off the deep end is they start out with the idea of trying to build something inexpensive- and next thing you know they're looking at bulthaup and poggenpohl, gaggenau and liebherr, bisazza and ann sacks, axor and dornbracht.
In Europe if you look at the great affordable modernist stuff the materials are all very humble(think white cermaic tile).
If you're smart and creative it's very realistic to attain the TYPE of design you see in Dwell. Comparitavely can you imagine someone wining that they can't make their house look like the one they saw in Architactural Digest for $100/sqft?
I would argue that it's much more realistic to get a nice modern affordable house than it is to get a well crafted traditional home. Has anyone here looked closely at the poo poo builder spec houses and the grade of finish used that people here are using as the standard they want to achieve in affordable construction? They are real garbage- Vinyl siding, hollow door, cheap door hardware. I have friends who build (read: select their granite from two choices and decide what upgrades to get) their own spec houses and the rows upon rows of crap homes make me sick to my stomache, my pulse race, and by brow sweat- that's the kind of typical builder house you get for $150/sqft. Several blogs on this form are illustrating how nicely you can build modern if you don't go nuts for expensive options.
The Dwell homes might have missed their mark but they are a start- It is an easy way to get from A (empty lot) to B(fantastic modern home). That's the beauty of capitalism. When the price and quality find their mark the market will follow. Early adopters and innovators help us get there. All of the people who sit there and say why doesn't anybody offer an easy affordable modern homeare staring their own challenge in the face.
If you want it and it's not there- do what nike says...

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