MENLO PARK, Calif.–Steven Quinones wanted an environmentally friendly, modern house that he could afford. He talked with architects about designing one and was startled to learn it would cost about $300 per square foot.

Instead, he opted for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom Glidehouse for a fraction of the cost. He’ll place the modern prefabricated house on land in Crockett, Calif.

View Glidehouse slideshow.

“This is a little overwhelming, this is excellent,” said Quinones, as he toured a Glidehouse on display at Sunset magazine’s Celebration Weekend. “It is just what I was hoping for.”

The Glidehouse is being marketed as a way to expand home ownership possibilities, especially for first-time home buyers and those who seek a “green” house. Glidehouse owners must still pay for land and foundation work, but the base cost for the house begins at $110 per square foot.

Designed by architect Michelle Kaufmann, the Glidehouse was born of Kaufmann’s own “painful search for housing” in the Bay Area. She and her husband couldn’t find a house they liked and could afford, so she decided to design one herself and build it on land they bought. She incorporated such green housing concepts as narrow buildings with clerestory windows and sliding glass doors to allow natural ventilation and natural lighting.

Friends and colleagues were so interested in the design that Kaufmann started wondering whether she could replicate it for others, but on a prefabricated basis.

She hadn’t designed her house with prefabricated housing in mind, but it happened to translate perfectly into those dimensions, primarily because she’d designed the rooms to be fairly narrow to allow for cross ventilation.

The house on display here last week totaled about 1,350 square feet, with two bedrooms and two full bathrooms. A third bedroom, which will be set up when the house travels to its permanent home in Washington State, was not on display.

The rest of the house was displayed just as it will be when it’s settled into its site. The hardwood floors, made of bamboo, gleamed in the sunlight coming through an entire wall of sliding glass doors. The main room, measuring about 14 feet by 48 feet, houses the living room, dining room and kitchen in an open floor plan. The ceiling gently slopes from 9 feet to about 11 feet, 6 inches.

Cabinets with sliding wooden doors line one wall, providing built-in storage for such items as a TV and bookshelves. The stylish kitchen countertops are made of compressed recycled paper, granite dust and a byproduct of coal used in manufacturing.

A walkway in the kitchen connects the main room to the bathrooms and two bedrooms. Both bathrooms have skylights, plenty of hidden storage and indirect lighting.

The master bedroom, with 10-foot ceilings, has closet and storage areas surrounding the bed area. Clerestory windows and sliding glass doors offer natural breezes and lighting.

On the outside, the roof is designed to accommodate solar panels, though they don’t come standard. The house’s exterior is made primarily of steel and can be customized. Sliding wood paneled doors can be used in front of the glass doors, blocking out light, but still allowing breezes to come through.

The Glidehouse comes in four sizes ranging from 672 square feet to 2,016 square feet. It can be configured in different ways depending on the owner’s preference and the type of lot, from rural to urban.

Still, an even more urban two-story Glidehouse is in the works, and Kaufmann envisions a three-story one at some point, with the bottom level reserved for commercial use.

Kaufmann recognizes the negative reputation prefabricated housing has had, but is quick to point out that modular housing, such as the Glidehouse, is different from manufactured housing, she said. It’s built in the same way as site-built homes, just in a factory. It is built to meet all local and state building codes of its permanent location.

The house, unlike other prefabricated houses in its modern and minimalist design, appears to overcome that prefab stigma. Already, six houses have been sold and dozens more people are on a waiting list. Various businesses have also joined the “Glidehouse team,” including Countrywide Home Loans for financing.

Kaufmann expects the target market to include younger home buyers, older people who are downsizing and entrepreneurs who think in non-traditional ways. Overall, it’s likely to attract those who are intrigued by the combination of its cool factor and environmentally sound design and those who otherwise might not be able to afford such a house.

“They can demand it and should demand it,” Kaufmann said. “They can live in a well-designed house, a green house, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.”

The Glidehouse arrives by flatbed truck, about 90 percent complete and about six months after being ordered. That means buyers don’t have to wait the typical length of time it takes to build a house on site.

Kaufmann knows that all too well. Her house–the one she designed that inspired the Glidehouse–is still under construction. She’ll be moving into it this summer, after new Glidehouse owners have already moved into their residence.


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