Whether you look at them from the street or from inside, you'd never guess they came out of a factory.
And yet the spacious, architecturally designed Blu Homes being made in a historic shipbuilding warehouse at Mare Island are elevating the look of prefab to a whole new level of sophistication.
For the past two years, Blu has been trucking its sleekly contemporary, steel-framed homes all over the country, including to Wine Country. (The name "Blu," by the way, is meant to encompass the natural colors associated with air and water, crucial elements to consider when designing sustainable, healthy homes, company spokeswoman Dana Smith said.)
In August, their Breezehouse, a variation of the celebrated Michelle Kaufmann design by the same name that rocked the architectural world a few years back, drew loads of people to the back of a Healdsburg housing development to see it set up as Sunset Magazine's 2012 "Idea House."
The four-bedroom, four-bath house with a front deck and expansive patios etched into a hillside served as a case study in what the future of factory-made could look like. And when the visitors were gone, it was put on the market by Palo Alto-based developers Jack and Rosemary Wardell for $2.6 million.
It wasn't the first Blu house in Healdsburg, however. That distinction went to Steve and Jo Cooper, who bought the first Breezehouse out of the factory and had it placed on a country lot northwest of town in the Dry Creek Valley earlier this year.
Jo, an interior designer, said she actually cut a picture of the Michelle Kaufmann Breezehouse out of a magazine nearly five years ago as a reminder of the kind of house she'd like.
"I really wanted an easy way to have a new home in a warmer place," she said.
And it was. They picked it out online in June of last year, selecting all the appliances, flooring and finishes within two hours and receiving an actual price, including delivery. They broke ground in September for the $80,000 foundation and site work and on Jan. 18 the three-bedroom, two-bath, 2,300-square-foot house arrived in pods. By the end of the first day, the three pods were unfolded and in place, and by the end of the next day a roof was on.
"It was a very cold day and they brought in a crane six stories high," recalled Jo, who watched with a mug of hot chocolate in her hands. "They swung them over oak trees that were 50 feet wide, dropped them and unfolded them right before your eyes. It was fascinating."
The house includes the kind of attractive and green features you usually find only in custom homes, like bamboo floors, radiant heating, Caesarstone quartz countertops, and Italian cement board and clear-cedar siding. The homes are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified for green building practices and energy efficiency.
Blu is attempting to solve the seemingly impossible equation contemplated by the great minds of modern architecture, everyone from Frank Lloyd Wright to Walter Gropius: how to create beautifully designed and crafted buildings in a factory, thus taking advantage of economies of scale to keep costs down.