How Design Is Affected by Trends in the Housing Industry [A Look at Pre-Fabricated Homes]

November 18, 2013

As designers, we are constantly looking at trends in the industries in which we are designing new products or services. For instance, when designing kitchen appliances or other products for the home our team studies housing trends and factors that might affect who or what consumers purchase. Recently, pre-manufactured homes have extended far beyond what was offered just a few decades ago. As new homes continue to improve, designers of standard kitchen appliances may have to consider making products optimized for these types of residences.

The Sears Roebuck Corporation was founded in Chicago in 1893 and quickly became a highly successful mail-order catalog that provided low cost goods to people all over America. Leveraging its reputation for offering quality products and high level of customer satisfaction, Sears began to sell the largest and most expensive product that a family could buy – a new home.

Sears Starlight from the 1927 Catalog (photo from

Sears Starlight with enclosed porch in Des Plaines (photo from

The pre-fabricated homes that were sold from the early 1900’s onward were a cheaper option than homes built onsite, and offered many options in sizes, style, options, and features. Although defaults on modular home loans during the Depression caused a major drop in sales of this product, things picked up again after World War II. By the latter half of the 20th century, pre-fab homes were associated with low-cost, bare bones housing often found in poorer rural areas.

There were many catalysts for the American housing boom from the 1990s to 2007 – money from the dot-com boom, low interest rates, low energy and commodity costs, as well as construction innovations such as synthetic stucco. The larger houses of the time reflected an era of excess: oversized luxury kitchens and baths, 5+ car garages, and multiple HVAC systems that could barely keep such large structures cool in the summer. The “McMansion” that typified this era made the idea of pre-fab housing seem like an old idea destined for the history books.

The housing crash (and current tentative recovery) occurred during a time of rising energy and commodity costs, increased financial responsibility, and increased desire for environmental sustainability. These factors, combined with improvements in manufacturing technology as well as development in sustainable materials, have provided a rebirth for the idea of pre-manufactured homes. The clean lines and minimal style of contemporary architecture is well-suited to modular homes as well. Computer aided design (CAD) helps to customize such homes to their sites and owners’ tastes, bringing them out of the realm of cheap, cookie-cutter housing.

Blu Homes and Simpatico are two current producers that are pushing the potential of the pre-manufactured home far beyond what was offered just a few decades ago. Sophisticated engineered modules are pre-wired for current code and electric demands, and elegant finishes and textures provide a fresh aesthetic. Improved materials provide additional insulation and built-in solar cells provide enough electricity to minimize reliance on the grid. Homes are delivered in several modules, and usually set up in one day.

Breezehouse, a pre-fabricated home from Blu Homes, in Healdsburg, CA. (photo from

Breezehouse Interior (photo from

You can check out the video below for a detailed look at how the houses are set up.

Simpatico Zero-Energy Roof (photo from SmartPlanet's YouTube video above).

Working in the design industry, it is important to follow industry trends and design products based on new technologies or other factors that will affect what consumers choose to purchase, or, in this case, how something is put together and the pieces that make it work.

Written by: Chris Kulujian, Manager of Product Development, Beyond Design, Inc.

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