Local Spotlight: LivingHomes
LivingHomes is a company started by Steve Glenn, that designs and makes pre-fabricated modern homes like you have never seen before. In fact, most people would not be able to tell these homes were not built on site. This modern day, green approach to home building has been gaining some traction over the years and it piqued our interest, so we had to know more. So we sat down with Steve in his LivingHomes house in Santa Monica to talk about how he started this amazing company and the major upsides to owning a pre-fabricated home.
So you and Blake (Owner of P2PB) used to work at Apple together, how did you get from working at Apple to building pre-fab homes?
The job at apple was a summer gig, so after that I went to grad school in LA for a year, and then started doing virtual reality and eventually ran the first virtual reality group at Disney. Then I got more interested in the internet, and so started a company called IdeaLab where we incubated a bunch of businesses, and 6 of those went public. I then took some time off after all of that and wanted to get into real estate because I had loved design since I was a kid but I ended up working for a non-profit in Africa. Then after all of that, 10 years ago, I started LivingHomes.
Did you have the lightbulb moment when you came up with this idea? Or can you explain how this came about.
No, it wasn’t like that. I was always into design and particularly modern design, mid-century modern design. I loved legos and books on Frank Lloyd Wright growing up but when I was in college I did a summer program where I discovered I had neither the talent or temperament to be an architect. But I learned about developers and realized that if you care about the quality of the build environment, developers are more important than architects, because they set the agenda. So I decided I should become a developer because the world could use more responsible developers. So that was the plan but there was no time-frame and there was no moment where I realized this is my destiny. I enjoy this work. I like physical spaces and well designed spaces, but I am interested in a lot of things.
What is the benefit of choosing the modular pre-fab design as compared to using a traditional builder?
It’s not ideal for every kind of situation, but when it works you can build faster. At a traditional site-based construction project you have to lay the foundation before you can even begin to do any of the work. With pre-fab you are working on site as well as off-site so you don’t have to wait. When your done with the foundation you can just bring over all the pieces and build it in a half or a third of the amount of time. Another advantage is that it can be a lower cost, for a couple of reasons. First is you are building in a lower labor rate area because we build the house off site. The workers, like the carpenters in Oregon for example, are 9-5 guys who can show up everyday and get paid at a lower cost than an onsite worker in California. Second, these builders aren’t a bunch of flakey sub contractors so you know how long something will take to get done. Third is quality. We are building in a controlled environment with jigs that are true and level and also you don’t have weather contamination. This way the project is much more reliable. So you are also cutting out liability, because you will know how long each step of the process is going to take and you don't have to rely on flakey general contractors.
Is there a lot of competition and if so how do you differentiate LivingHomes from other companies?
I don’t really keep track of competition. There's a big company that’s raised a lot of money, but they are only focused on Northern California. There has been a lot of interest but it's hard to do. So there are more aspirational projects than real companies like us. We just focus on the highest quality of homes with the highest amount of sustainability, this home we are in is the first home to be certified platinum. And now we’ve done 19 LEED Platinum homes which is more than any other design firm.
What is the life expectancy of the LivingHomes pre-fab homes?
I get this question from time to time and I don’t really know how to answer it because there is no industry standard to look at that sort of thing. But I will say that we use the highest quality material and the state actually makes us build to a higher building code because when the home is transported it is comparable an 8.0 earthquake. So we have to build it to a higher standard than most local municipality make normal homes. These homes are very durable.
Has there been any mistakes that you have made that you have learned from since starting LivingHomes?
Some of the things we’ve learned are to be very careful about clarifying scope of work between factory, installation group, to foundation. On the foundation side certainly because the GC’s haven’t usually worked with homes like this before. We need to be very careful with the factories about quality control. Managing expectations with buyers has been a learning process too. Some people think that since it’s pre-fab everything works like clock-work, but in reality its still construction and government approval.
FROM DIANA ROBERTS:
- I love that Ray Kappa designed the very first Living Homes and that it showcases his talent in architecture that is so unique.
Other pre-fab homes that we have seen aren't they truly green. At LivingHomes they are LEED Platinum homes which are actually green homes all the way through, from the water to the electricity.
The homes are designed very mid-century modern, which I personally love. While they are not for everyone, if you love this style then LivingHomes does it right.
For more information on LivingHomes visit their website here.