Henry Ford supposedly said his customers could have their cars painted any color they wanted as long as it was black.

How things have changed.

Freedom of choice and consumer demand have always driven the U.S. economy, but perhaps nowhere as dramatically as in the car-buying industry. Though the choices may be limited to either leather or stain-resistant fabric, car buyers want to choose their own options.

Now, one architect thinks the real estate market might benefit from a similar solution. Konyk Architecture has created what it calls the Up! House, an all-steel, prefabricated home that borrows its inspiration from the automotive industry.

The idea for this kind of a modern, modular, prefabricated home was the brainchild of the firm’s founder, Craig Konyk. The Up! House is a two-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot tubular-shaped structure constructed of metal panels over a steel unibody chassis. A cantilevered design allows it to rest like a seesaw on two reinforced concrete walls, freeing up yard space and saving on foundation labor costs. The exterior has a lifetime-guaranteed finish. The interior is painted a high-gloss white enamel. Insulated windows are tinted gray.

The home can be customized to include more rooms, an optional master bedroom suite or a home theatre. As a bonus: it’s 100 percent recyclable.

Perhaps as interesting as the building is the way Konyk is advertising the project. The Up! House Web site mimics an online car dealership, where potential buyers can look at floor plans, take 360-degree tours of the interior spaces, fill out an order form with favorite features, and even try on different finishes by clicking on a palette of colors and watching the house change hues.

“We wanted to move away from the ‘McMansion’ model of home building” where a majority of homes begin to take on a similar veneer, he said. “We began to look at how more people view their cars more like a home, with televisions being installed inside.

“We also saw that people have come to expect a high level of expertise when they buy their cars, demanding a certain kind of finish and features, and we wanted to apply that to a home.”

Up! House owners avoid the sometimes-unfamiliar world of contracting and building codes, Konyk said. The home is delivered in pieces to the site, then assembled.

“We are a design-oriented firm that always looks at how we can distinguish a project with a unique design aspect, whether it’s an interior for an exhibition or a new store,” he said, adding that Konyk Architecture takes on unique architectural challenges with relish.

Take the firm’s Smart Surface home, a prototype housing project. In addition to environmental controls, this prototype home would be constructed with translucent latex rubber stretched over a robotic subsurface, responding to the DNA of the homeowner by transforming the environment as soon as the owner walked in the door.

When it came to the Up! House, however, Konyk stuck with the ideas that have made car buying a simpler process.

This very American idea seems to be working. The company has had hundreds of inquiries and the first Up! House will be built in Florida in the spring of 2004, Konyk said. But the house itself? It’s likely to be made in China.


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