At first glance the concept of a luxury prefab home might seem like an oxymoron. How in the world can we associate luxury with prefabricated structures built with processes that would seem to value economy and simplicity over custom originality?
But let’s take a closer look. Ultimately isn’t luxury, whether we are referring to luxury prefabricated homes or a classic woman’s white blouse, synonymous with a language of elegance that often has less to do with the cost of base materials, individual components or assemblies than with the overall impact of the design? This is not to say that basic materials are irrelevant, just that creativity, regardless of that with which it is given to work, can rival effects achieved by the use of high-end materials.
Here is a case in point. We have all seen the glossy travel magazines featuring gorgeous villas in Bali or Phuket or other exotic locations in Southeast Asia. Very often the design of these houses employs a so-called open floor plan, which means fewer walls, as well as high ceilings supported by columns or minimal framing. The end result is a wonderful airy feel to these homes, where the line between inside and outside is blurred a little and one can feel close to the lush equatorial greenery which is such a big part of life in these latitudes. You can imagine walking across immaculate marble flooring while soft rain falls feet away from you, over early morning coffee.
Do you consider as you observed this luxuriant scene that the marble in the floor of the Bali villa was very likely sourced from a quarry on a nearby island for 1/20 the cost that one would pay for the same stone in New York City? Or that the thatched, conical roof was done by a local specialist for a price that would make you blush?
Villas such as this may or may not employ prefabricated construction techniques, but it might help us rethink what a luxury home is, prefab or not. The point is that in this case elegance was achieved not by sheer cost of materials, rather it was a functional simplicity that fit the landscape. Similarly, it’s easy to imagine homes that make use of prefabricated construction techniques which leave us as impressed by their overall design impact as do structures that employ materials and techniques that simply cost more. Certainly mobile homes or modular homes are not as irrevocably low-end as they used to be; it’s quite easy today to find builders of luxury prefab houses that are absolutely worthy of the term.
I would contend that, as people who have means are often very environmentally conscious, we can expect to find prefab techniques that use less in the way of volume of raw materials and also energy, to become more desirable over time. Architects should relish the chance to do much more with less, or at least less waste, extending especially to luxury prefab homes.