I am starting a side project – one I don’t have time for but it has been nagging at me for a long time. I am going to take on a challenge to design a low-cost modern home. This is going to be a single family detached home with all the program requirements you would assume to accompany a new home. What this project will not be:
- a dressed up mobile home
- a prefab box
- it will not be made of shipping containers or reclaimed wooden pallets
- made of cardboard
- a do-it-yourself assembly project
This is to be a real world project and if I can pull it off on paper and I can find a piece of land that supports the model, I will escalate it and get the funding to build it.
The main reasons I want to do this is I am starting to wonder if the low-cost modern house is Santa Claus – something you believe in until you get older and learn enough to know better. I get asked all the time how much does a house cost – the question takes time to answer and I can almost see it the the question-asker’s eyes after I have been answering the question for 10 minutes, they wished they hadn’t asked. Think of it this way – you go to the movies and want to get some popcorn so you go up to the counter manned by the disinterested ADHD teen (played by me because I used to do this to people when I worked at the movie theatre):You: “I’d like some popcorn please, what size popcorn do you have?” Teen Bob: “All our popcorn is the same size” (holding thumb and index finger about an inch apart from one another) You: “No, what sizes of containers can I get the popcorn in?” Teen Bob: (looking at the 3 different size containers sitting…right…there…in…front…of…you…) “Regular, small and extra small” (otherwise known in the thinking person’s world as regular, medium and large) You: “Well, I don’t want an extra small and since I’m…..well, okay, I’ll get the regular.” Teen Bob: “That will be $9.50 please.”
Do you see how stupid your popcorn questions were? Back to architecture now – when people ask how much does a house cost, can you see now that the question isn’t a very good one? How big, where is it located, what style, what amenities, landscaping, is there a pool, would you like butter on that…? Get it? I think the question people seem to want to ask is how cheap can a modern home be and not look cheap. That is a good question and I am glad people don’t ask it very often because I can’t answer it yet.
Modern design used to be about the mechanization of the process thereby making a thing affordable to all – that isn’t true anymore. In my office, we can’t do a good modern house for less than $200 a square foot, and that’s only if the clients don’t want a bunch of name brand stainless steel appliances that rhyme with “Viking”. You other designers that read this blog – have you done a kitchen lately for less than $20k? Don’t lie to me…. 25 linear feet of cherry upper and lower cabinets by themselves will cost you $15k to $17k installed. Now add appliances…..things get out of hand really quick don’t they? Plug in $12k for appliances and another $6k for stone counter tops. Don’t forget $1k for sink and faucet. A $35,000 kitchen won’t work in this challenge but I don’t think it has to (thankfully).
So, the next few steps should be interesting because I need to flesh out the programming, square footage, amenities, etc. and see what I come up with. I also need to determine what is low cost – and that is a value question. Just like the expression “you get what you pay for” the same can be said “you don’t get what you don’t pay for” and I am interested in the latter. To me, the first phrase is about getting more for less and that means sacrificing value, or at the very least quality and I am not interested in a no quality or no value low cost modern home challenge. The latter is about getting what you pay for but you are setting the expectation level appropriately – that’s a far better and worthwhile challenge.
This low cost modern home will need to have all the low-hanging fruit that you would expect:
- Living Area
- Bedroom (2) minimum
- Bathroom (2) minimum
- Kitchen/ Dining
- Bonus room (office, library, etc. – a multi-purpose space)
- Outdoor storage
- Place to park your vehicles
There should also be a consideration for ecological minded, earth-friendly and sustainable design as part of this challenge. I am sure that I will receive a lot of advice and direction in this area (feel free tree huggers) but I honestly do not expect this house to have exotic sustainable features like; wind turbine, geo-thermal, or a giant solar array. I expect to have some solar, good insulation, efficient footprint and floor plan, passive thermal and the like – but feel free to offer up an opinion – I want it.
I also think there is going to have to be some study on the square footage and a balance between any exterior built-out space. My initial thoughts are that a 2 bedroom unit will have approx. 1,400sf while a 3 bedroom unit would be over 2,000sf, maybe as much as 2,200 square feet total.
I think this challenge is going to be a lot of fun and I hope you regulars will chime in with an opinion, in fact, I am counting on it.