Sadly, Green Prefab Firm Michelle Kaufmann Designs is Shutting Down

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Update 5-27-09: Michelle Kaufmann explains what's next.

A short few hours ago, an article popped up on the LA Times website breaking the unfortunate news that Michelle Kaufmann Designs is shutting down by the end of this week.  Despite the fact that the article was written by Christopher Hawthorne — pretty much the most authoritative architecture critic on the West Coast, the news was hard to process.  This is the firm that's built 40 green prefab houses, including the mkLotus, mkSolaire Smart Home, and a number of other beautiful green prefabs!  MKD can't close its doors!  But in an email late this afternoon, Michelle confirmed the news. 

Hawthorne explains the nitty-gritty: "Kaufmann sold the factory last year and in November trimmed the size of her Oakland office to 17.  She thought those moves would help see the firm through the recession.  But two factories MKD worked with have gone out of business since then, and clients and potential clients have found it almost impossible to get financing."

A confluence of several factors became too significant to handle: closed factories, lack of home financing, abundant labor pushing down the cost of stick-built construction, tough market conditions …

But MKD followers can all take comfort in the fact that, although the firm is closing, the ideas and people behind them will continue to contribute to this still fledgling industry.  In an email, Michelle said she's working with builders and developers to scale the designs that have already been created.  And she's going to focus more on sustainable communities as well. 

These are tough economic times.  Although lately it seems that there's been a trickle of more positive financial news, today's headline indicates that we still have some hurdles to clear.  Jetson Green wishes the staff and everyone affected by MKD's closing a quick and speedy recovery. 

Photo credit: John Swain Photography.


  • http://www.sincerelysustainable.com theauthor

    Unfortunately, I think they priced themselves out of the market even before the real estate bust. I don’t know many people who would pay ~$275 per sqft for a prefab home when they could most likely stick-build the same home for less. I’ve found that many architects, particularly modern architects, have a hard time sacrificing, or even compromising, vison for practicality. Always sucks to see innovation disappear in the name of economics. Welcome to the club! :)

    .

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ilya-Velichko/1250811376 Ilya Velichko

    I really love the look of there homes, one of my favorite prefab architects out there today. Real sad loss that they are shutting down. I hope that we will see them in the future.

  • http://mportlandrealestate.com/ Portland Real Estate

    Very sorry to hear that such a smart, cool designer is going out of business. I really hope that they are able to reform and surface again at one point. We need all of the green prefab companies we can get in the world, and especially the west coast.

  • Brian N.

    That stinks. I really thought MKD would be able to last. But when the factories close and your customers can’t get financing I guess the writing was on the wall. Hopefully her ideas will live on…

  • Anonymous

    theauthor is spot on right. at ~$275+ per SQFT, Kaufmann priced herself out of everyone’s league. They sure made it sound like it was for the masses, but at only 40 units built, that’s far from the masses, that’s the rich few. 100 units sold at 50% the cost she was seeking is far more interesting and financially viable then selling just 10 at her current price.

    with that said, financing has been difficult for some, but lower the price and you’ve made it appealing even to the banks to loan a smaller amount. Personally, paying $350k for a small 2 bedroom is FAR from appealing, and paying an arm and a leg upfront for “green design” is counter productive to the concept of being green and saving money.

    Though i’m sadened to see her close down, i’m also not shocked, and i can only hope she sees her mistakes in marketing and sales.

  • http://www.eco-pregnancy.com/ Eco-Pregnancy & Baby

    I’m sorry to hear this, too, because I love the prefab concept and enjoy reading the excellent coverage in Dwell magazine. But I agree with the other comments about the price. My husband and I seriously considered going with a prefab here in the SF Bay Area, but the price was a deal breaker for us. I understand that, over time, these prefab houses help you save money on utility bills.

  • Jodi

    I second (third & fourth) on comment regarding the her pricing. She’s one of the front-runner of green movement, but her product is the example of the unattainable/unaffordable direction of being sustainable. Please don’t get me wrong, I want one of her house, but she needs to lined up with big green (not money) minded investors who wants to save the planet as much as her.

    Bershire Hathaway (Warren Buffet)’s Clayton House just release their i-House, green and trully affordable to the masses. Here in east coast (though haven’t seen anything yet), LABHaus is already offering $200K home that is similar to what has been offerred in west coast. I find one of their page inspiring and something that MKD should ponder upon: http://www.labhaus.com/2008/11/introduction/

    I hope MKD finds a way to get thru and rethink their business vision.

    Jodi

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