Even as an architecture and building industry writer, I don't usually make a beeline for the annual Portland Home & Garden Show, which started Wednesday and continues through Sunday. But a new prefab home on display there, designed and manufactured by an Oregon company, may be worth a close look.
After all, how often is it you see a nice, simple, modern single family house with two bedrooms for as little as $80,000? As a renter who has never felt even close to being able to buy without some crazy mortgage, or a location much further out on the outskirts of town than I'd be willing to accept, it's great to see.
The two year old company is called Ideabox and is based in Salem. They have two houses so far, a 400-square-foot one-bedroom space that retails for about $70,000, and the aforementioned larger unit for ten grand more. (Naturally this doesn't figure in land or other extra costs.) Also, they both are designed and built with sustainable techniques and materials.
They're open inside like a loft, feature lots of windows (including some upper clerestories that I love), and are clad in corrugated metal. These aren't Taj Mahals by any means, but I'd certainly take the architecture of these houses to the style of those built from the ground up in most outer subdivisions. That'd be true if the cost were equal, but actually the Ideabox houses would of course be much cheaper.
When I was growing up in McMinnville, adjacent to our neighborhood of cul de sacs and ranch houses was a development of about 50 to 100 manufactured homes. These were not pretty houses, most looking to be in various states of rusty disrepair and featuring that boxy, ugly mobile-home look that's given the form a bad reputation. Even so, manufacturing homes in a factory from prefab parts remains a very valid idea. We just need better design, which now exists.
There'll never be a vacant lot close enough to the central city for me to order up one of these Ideabox houses. But if the house next door suddenly burned down and the owners offered me the lot, I would be strongly inclined to give the Ideabox - or another prefab - a try.
Speaking of which, one of the country's biggest stars in prefab design and construction, Michelle Kaufmann (formerly of Frank Gehry's office) will be speaking at the Portland Home & Garden Show as well on both Saturday and Sunday. "I’ll be talking about how it’s no longer a question of 'if' people want sustainable, healthy living environments," Kaufmann says on her blog, " but rather, 'how' or 'what' are the best ways to create one.