A cantilevered HOMB upstairs bedroom (photo by Brian Libby)
BY BRIAN LIBBY
Over the past decade, numerous architecture firms around the country have introduced prefabricated home designs intended to streamline the high cost of building without sacrificing quality. Publications like Dwell magazine regularly tout such designs, but most of the time these projects are one-offs or only produce a handful additional constructions. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of manufactured and modular homes continue to look bland and cheap. Why isn’t there more of a happy medium?
Delivered in three pieces trucked from Seattle, the newly installed Portland HOMB is an exercise in geometry and volume. It may be prefabricated, but each HOMB can be customized. The design breaks each HOMB down to 100 square foot modules in triangular shapes that can be laid out and configured in different ways. “We’re creating a system rather than a single piece that’s designed,” Skylab’s Jeff Kovel told me in a 2010 interview, when the HOMB concept was introduced.
The just completed HOMB prototype I visited in Northeast Portland was on the large size, or at least it felt that way inside. It had a four bedroom and 3.5-bathrooms, but what stood out was the double-height great room, with sunlight pouring in through floor-to-ceiling glass.
The fact that rooms are not rectangular may give some residence a challenge when it comes to how to arrange furniture. But in the great room, the problem is partially solved with a built-in modular sofa.
The winding steel staircase, painted white, was another standout. It too was trucked down from Washington as a single piece, and it felt at once cozy like a stairway on a ship yet large and transparent enough to act as a kind of sculptural element. Skylab’s design encases the steel staircase in glass, and when you’re inside it’s an almost cinematic experience going up or down, with light coming in from windows adjacent to the stairs and then bouncing off the glass enclosure.
The house is also energy efficient with its heat recovery system and radiant heating, and includes alternative power by means of a rooftop solar array.
The triangular pieces from which the HOMB design template is comprised allow for the upper portions of the building to cantilever over the entry and back yard areas. My favorite view was in back, where one of the bedrooms extended out over the grass and decking, the latter of which is made from recycled plastic.
Speaking of materials, the exterior façade is a blackened cedar, and HOMBs are also available with the same cedar naturally stained or painted white. The use of a simple wood cladding also helps create a tie-in with the traditional single-family homes nearby.
Inside the HOMN in Northeast, the kitchen cabinets were also made from cedar (I love it when the same material is used in different applications in one project such as this), but painted white in a thin application that allowed the grains of the wood to still show through. There is also engineered bamboo flooring and black Ceasarstone quartz countertops in the kitchen.