Is This House the Answer to the Affordable Modernist Housing Crisis in the Hamptons?
An East End home seeker of avant-garde sensibility and slender means might dream of erecting an ultra-modern prefab house on a sliver of land. A compact structure of galvanized steel and glass by the Chilean-born architect Rocio Romero, say. At 1,169 square feet, the house she calls the LVL is a light-drenched thing of beauty. One would never guess it had been assembled from a kit. When Romero launched her flat-pack line fifteen years ago, she impressed critics with the relative affordability of her designs. There are no Rocio Romero houses on Long Island. Could it be time?
“The prevailing view is that if you want to build a house in the Hamptons, stick-built is the way to go,” says Bryan Midlam, an associate broker at The Corcoran Group who specializes in modern architecture. “Even though custom-designed is more expensive, you know from the outset how much it will cost. With kit houses there seem to be a lot of financial unknowns.” Indeed. In 2012, the New York Times ran an article about a couple who spent $260,000 to build and finish an LVL in the Catskills–$100,000 more than they anticipated.
Nevertheless, Midlam thinks high-end, high-concept kit houses will catch on as an increasing number of second-home seekers find themselves priced out of the East End market. “A lot of city people don’t want a Shingle-style house and yet they can’t afford something modern,” Midlam notes. “For those clients, the idea of buying a lot in East Hampton and putting up a really gorgeous ultra-modern kit house for under a million dollars is an attractive one. Also, you can rent the property out in the summer, because modern architecture is always in demand.”
Alex Khludov, a principal at Gemini Craft, a design/build firm in Sag Harbor, isn’t convinced. “It’s a nicely done house but I don’t think it would work in the Hamptons,” he says of the LVL. “Given the price and scarcity of land out here, it would be hard to get a good return on your investment. Basically, you’re paying for high design.”
To be sure, the LVL kit, which starts at $43,000, doesn’t include windows, doors, interior walls, roofing materials, cabinetry, or finishes of any kind. As Khludov observes, “A true pre-fab house is delivered in a finished or near-finished state. But a kit house like Romero’s is assembled at the construction site. And that means you’ll have to deal with building department officials and red tape and contractors with extremely high rates compared to those in other parts of the country–all things to be factored in.”
Midlam has a different take on the matter. He says, “Truly modern houses in which the architect put at least half a second’s thought into the design are rarely found in the Hamptons for under $2 million. From that perspective, the LVL house could be a bargain.”