In continuing the conversation of desert modernism, Patrick Seabol also identified Palm Springs as the place to realize his dream: building affordable prefab midcentury homes. Seabol, the owner of Modernist Modular Homes, is living in an 1,800-square-foot steel and glass residence that he calls a Case Study–style house. Two bedrooms and two baths with a large (45’ X 22’) central living core—similar in that regard to Donald Wexler’s ’60s steel homes—the all-electric house has passive solar features that make his utility bills about half those of his neighbors’.
The home uses off-the-shelf technology, including recycled structural steel for the framing. “The urethane foam in the exterior walls is rated R-39 and the roof R-49; conventional homes usually have R-19 walls and R-30 roofs,” he says. “The house is sited to take advantage of cross venting winds and the overhang on the west side was calculated to keep direct sun out of the structure during the summer months while allowing the winter sun to strike the black-stained concrete floors.”
While this first home is site built, prefab models are available with either steel or wood frames, like the Eichleresque “[b]ranch-house” with its add-on modules making it expandable from 1,340 to 2,070 square feet. Modernist Modular homes arrive about 90 percent completed, with electrical, plumbing, cabinetry and baths in place. Foundations, garages/carports, interior flooring, exterior siding and hookup of utilities are done on site. Modules come in 10’ to 16’ widths and up to 60’ in length. Two factories are set up to produce the steel and glass models for Western states, while three others are turning out wood-frame models for the rest of the U.S.
Seabol maintains that 30 years of experience as a contractor and a couple more with a commercial modular manufacturer give him a leg up in the world of prefab. “I know what will and what will not work within a modular building framework. I am not doing concept 3-D potential modular buildings. We can and are producing what we design.”
As to the “Aren’t prefabs expensive?” question, he says, “With wood-framed modular you will typically save approximately 20 to 25 percent over a stick-built home. If you go steel-framed modular, you can expect to spend approximately 25 percent more than a conventional wood-framed home, but you end up with something much more wonderful in design.”