A New Twist On Prefab Home Design

By Dan Gregory

It doesn't look like a prefab, does it! This new house near Lake Tahoe is by the innovative firm Sagemodern. Photo by Vance Fox

A residential renaissance is under way near California's Lake Tahoe at carefully planned second home communities like Martis Camp (see the aerial view, with the lake in the background).

There, among the undulating forests of Jeffrey pines below the ski slopes, new home construction continues apace, with work ranging from elaborately gabled lodges to sleek modern villas. 

I just toured several new Martis Camp homes by the innovative San Francisco architecture and design/build firm known as Sagemodern, founded by real estate developer Blair Porteus and architects Paul Warner and Joe Remick. 

What's especially innovative about this firm's work up in Martis Camp -- what Blair calls "Mountain Modern" -- is the way they combine prefab construction, like the module shown here, with site-built elements like the garage -- for a more efficient, flexible approach. It's also faster than conventional, all site-built construction, which is helpful in locations where winters are long. Prefab is also more resource-savvy because the controlled environment of the factory makes construction more efficient.

This imaginative new house by Sagemodern, which was designed on spec (see another view of it at the top of the post) is a case in point. 

The plan is shaped roughly like the letter L: one long wing is stacked, with two bedrooms over the kitchen and garage; the other wing contains the central living space and low two-bedroom section.

Only the garage is site-built; the rest is built from prefabricated modules, each no more than fifteen feet wide and 64 feet long.

Between the wings and connecting them is the grand surprise: a lofty, two-tiered living/dining/sitting/media space just beyond the front door. This room is especially imaginative in the way it takes advantage of the sloping site to create a conversation/entertaining area with built-in L-shaped bench a few steps below the dining/media/fireplace level opening to the the rear terrace and the kitchen, which is set off in its own alcove. 
The effect is wonderfully airy and dramatic, yet there are four well-defined rooms within the larger space. The overall idea was to provide a central zone where family and friends can pursue multiple activities together -- an architectural version of "parallel play."

The kitchen is vividly framed as a kind of stage. The bedrooms are just for sleeping and so can be relatively less spacious. As a second home, the design vividly expresses the casual, out of the ordinary, vacation idea.
This photorealistic rendering shows the view from the dining level back past the stairway and down to the front door. The glassy room at the top of the stair is an office just off the master suite. The children's bunk room 

is off the landing near the top of the stairs. (Four interior photographs above by Vance Fox.)

"We do different things with different houses," says Paul Warner, "Some people want everybody all together; other people want a nice living room but separate places for the kids to go after dinner."

Another Martis Camp house by Sagemodern is nearing completion and goes a step farther. The soaring site-built, butterfly-roofed great room is sandwiched between prefab units for the bedrooms and kitchen.

Here's a detail of the great room's structural steel beam and concrete column, expressing the site-built character of this part of the design. The master bath -- part of the prefab section -- embodies a minimalist

esthetic in the Zen-like contrast of the smooth sculptural freestanding tub against the rough horizontally grooved tile backdrop. It proves that prefab design is all grown up!

Prefabricated products like this Kohler sink with its own sliding cutting board -- installed in another Sagemodern house -- complement  the modern multi-functional esthetic. 

These ideas -- combining modular prefab construction and site-built, the multi-functional bi-level great room, the loft home office, and the bunk room, not to mention spa-like baths and cutting board sinks  -- expand the definition and esthetic of prefabrication. Paul and Blair started Sagemodern "because we are passionate about simple, elegant modern design and believe that prefab is a more efficient and sustainable approach to building a custom home." Now I understand the firm's name: it's shorthand for "wise contemporary architectural advice"! 

To browse other modern floor plans click here.

Thu Nov 06 00:00:00 PST 2014