Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Since the housing recession we have seen new home buyers looking for smaller but more elegant homes. They are putting their money into building green, energy efficient homes with smaller footprints. But one of the things that is also starting to see a resurgence is the Arts and Crafts style homes of the early 1900’s.

Most of today’s modular home builders are not craftsmen. Most come to modular from site building or as someone that looks to the modular factory to take care of finding the skilled people needed to build the houses that they have no training to do. For these people to begin building an Arts and Craft home would be like learning to ice dance in Hawaii.

The modular factory would appear to be a logical place for this type of home to blossom. I know a couple of factories have done them, most prominently Haven Homes but that shouldn’t stop other factories from offering them also. The basic house is the same; it’s the trim work that needs the most attention. But how do you slow down the line in order to add this time and labor intensive work and still keep production at a pace that satisfies all of the factory’s builders?

Many years ago I worked for a factory that had an indoor 2 slot bay at the side of the factory where individual modules that needed extra attention, like custom stairs, special kitchen cabinets, etc, were installed and finished. Two highly skilled interior finish men were dedicated to this area. After I found out that it actually existed, (they were only doing one floor a week in it before I arrived) I started working with my builders to have them include more special trim, stairs, built-in bookcases and cabinetry. I kept the area busy. More profit for the builder, the factory and ME!

The trim on an Arts and Crafts home is essentially flat, square-edged boards. Like the arms and legs of the “Mission” furniture to which they are closely related, these boards lack milled grooves or bands that create patterns of shadow and light. Nor will you see supplementary trim along edges, or devices like corner blocks or plinths where members meet. Instead, moldings rely on their relative size and thickness to create shadows and interest.

Door and window casings, too, are very often square-edged 1” boards, customarily around 4” wide. While headers may be the same material, they usually get a distinguishing treatment: made of slightly thicker stock to stand proud of the stiles, or with ends cut at 30 degrees to rest on the opening like a cap. An ensemble of flat boards and one-inch bands produced a header with interesting shadow, but still no ornament.

I would bet that if a factory had one or two good craftsmen on staff that could jump on an Arts and Crafts interior when needed, they would be head and shoulders above the crowd.

The only downside I see to this is with the factory’s management. Would they invest in creating 4 or 5 A/C home plans, source the material, train the line workers, invest in the tools needed, work with the Sales Manager and the sales reps, produce literature and promote them to the builder’s customers? Probably not! At least it was a thought and much better than those modular roadside toilets!


Anonymous said...

Coach, I'm not sure how realistic you are when it comes to building these homes. The factories can build them but will they? Most of them can't build a quality house now so what makes you think they can step it up and build an arts and Craft home.
As long as the salesmen use price as the only thing they offer, the builder will always look at modular houses as the quick and cheap way to build a house instead of a high quality home.
And as far as adding more stops in the line for custom built units, now that's a laugh. It will never happen.
You need to keep writing about things that could actually happen, like lower prices and bigger discounts so they can keep their factory open.

Coach said...

I'm not sure where you buy your homes but most of the factories I visit have good quality control people.

Price will always be a factor in modular home sales but not to the extent you say it is. Sales Reps that rely on low-ball pricing will never be the star of the sales team. It doesn't take any effort to sell on price alone.

There are many good modular builders out there that want to provide great looking houses to their buyers.

It will take a big effort by the factory owner to produce this type of home but someone will step up.

Here are some modular factories that I think can take up the challenge of Arts and Crafts: BarVista, Home Crafters, Design Homes, All American, Foremost, Handcrafted, Haven Homes, Icon Legacy, ProBuilt, Signature and several others across the country. Ritz Craft already has a complete custom cabinet and trim shop where they can build their own.

mwilson said...

Great article. This is exactly what the industry needs to be doing to set ourselves apart from HUD code and Hudular homes that are confusing consumers. Is it idealistic? Perhaps for some, but not for those that realize that the industry is evolving and that they better change with it if they are going to survive. Also keep in mind that not all of the finished millwork has to be done in the plant. We have to continually work at changing the consumers perception of modular construction and this is a great example.

Curious in CT said...

Why can't a modular company lease a small closed manufacturing plant near their factory and move the modular boxes there after they are built on the line and before the Arts and Crafts interior and exterior trim is attached?
It should only take 2-3 skilled trim carpenters to do it and the factory can charge a hefty upcharge.
When there is no custom trimout needed, the trim carpenters could cycle back to the main factory.

ibgreen said...

The design elements of craftsman styling "arts and crafts" are not that difficult for plants to accomplish. If you look at the history of that style, It was a design revolt against intricate Victorian styles of the period. One can argue that the modern incarnation of this style is the contemporary or dare I say industrial designs popping up in the modular realm. I have built several craftsman modular homes in the past. Purchasing does roll there eyes when ordering 1/2 grid windows etc, but site work can make or break the desired effect.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, what's the big deal on doing Craftsman and Victorian style homes? A quality modular plant can incorporate these designs by simply changing the workstation scopes of work for those style homes. This is not such a big deal as some are blogging.
As for adding line workstations most plants do not have that capability, but as stated above they must change the work to be done in their existing stations. This takes planning and that is a problem in many plants as management are STUCK IN A RUT! By that I mean they are so used to doing what they have done for years they are reluctant to change. These are the companies who fail in depressed markets, or when the market changes from the large homes to smaller homes with more amenities.
Plants can build virtually anything and are only limited by their own imagaination and determination.

Anonymous said...

I am looking for exactly what you have shown here, a modular house with true arts and crafts design elements. I would like to see open rafter tails but it doesn't appear that this kind of detail will be available. However, what you have depicted above is a great step forward, white oak floors, custom cabinets and interior trim are all elements I am hoping to incorporate in my next home and it will be a modular. If the factor can't do the job I will have them deliver the house with plumbing roughed in and no trim and I will hire my own finish people to complete the white oak floors, kitchen and baths, fire place and trim out. It would be much easier if the factory would do it but if they can't I will. I am pleased that Ritz-Craft has a cabinet manufacturing operation. That alone would make me consider them over other manufacturers. If they can make cabinets then they can cut 1X4 window trim with shadow lines and no gingerbread.

Anonymous said...

As a consumer this is the house I want --who builds it?

Unknown said...

I am in Oregon. Is there any modular builder in the state or in Washington that builds a 1 1/2 story modular, with a craftsman-like exterior? Not worried about the interior details. I've looked and looked and found many in PA, NC and other eastern states but none here.