Being Prefabulous on the East End

Prefabulous World
Prefabulous World (Abrams)

Prefabulous World (Abrams), a handsome and cleverly titled book on “energy-efficient and sustainable homes around the globe,” came out on Earth Day, April 22, and its message is clear—every day should be Earth Day.

But not just in the sense of caring about the natural world and saving wild places. Sheri Koones, an award-winning expert on prefabulous housing, takes her mission worldwide by featuring 50 homes (including one in East Hampton) from 19 countries that prove that prefab is the way to go for the planet and for our pocketbooks. She dispels myths about prefab as cookie-cutter predictable, repetitive, simplistic and restricting. No way you’re not going to be impressed by what a prefab home can look like in the hands of imaginative architects, manufacturers, builders, designers and landscape artists dedicated to doing the right thing and having it look beautiful.
In an opening acknowledgments page, Koones says that this book was more challenging than others she’s done because of the different languages involved and because of the wide range of styles, climates, techniques, methods, materials and practices.

And in a one-page forward by a celebrity who identifies himself as—note the order—“Environmentalist, Actor, Director,” Robert Redford pays tribute to Koones’ books, noting that they have inspired “valiant efforts” by professionals and homeowners to “conserve energy, and limit the need for fossil fuel.” The countries include Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and the United States.

What many people don’t know is that prefab takes less time to complete and costs less than houses built according to “normal” building codes—the 1,396-square-foot Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) house in Santo Domingo, Chile, was assembled in just 10 days. Computer-controlled machines reduce design error, make for more precise cuts in materials and ease transportation costs. Modular construction has also proved to be more resilient to weather, especially hurricanes. In addition, prefab can go where many traditional designs cannot. Research initiatives, such as the ecoMOD [comparison study] Project in Virginia show the superiority of such high energy-efficient Passive Houses, a finding that has sparked student competition to show off designs that “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” The gorgeous Casa Iseami in Costa Rica, built on stilts, “to minimize its impact on one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world,” would educate the public by way of the newly formed “Iseami” Institute—the word, from the indigenous Costa Rican language Bribri, means “Out Mother,” and its letters stand for: Institute, Sustainability, Ecology, Art, Mind and Investigation.

For each of the 50 homes featured in Prefabulous, Koones identifies photographer, architect, manufacturer, location, square footage, certification, and she highlights the green aspects of energy saving, native materials and unusual location design. The Morris House in Ontario Canada, on an island that juts into the Ottawa River, boasts no air conditioning. And the Eliasch House in Salzberg evidences inviting multilevel open-flow floor plans.

Of particular interest, of course, is 3,500-square-foot Laurel Hollow in East Hampton, near the village (walk, don’t drive), built by Gerard Mingino and designed by Yankee Barn Homes. It’s the brainchild of Jeffrey Rosen, who is now the creative director of Yankee Barn Homes. Styled to look as though it’s been around for a long time, its beauty is especially telling in the reclaimed timber beams of its two-and-a-half story living room, with hanging antique Swedish tin buckets serving as lights.

This is a book that will make converts.

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