Prefab gets prefabulous in these downsized decadent summer retreats that come in sizes ranging from small to extra small. But don’t be fooled by the scale – they-re all about living large.

If  your idea of prefab housing is an eerily vacant aluminum-sided ranch house hurtling down the highway on the ass end of a truck, you’re missing out on one of the foremost progressions in habitation since artists began to move into abandoned factories and popularized the industrial loft as a liberated alternative to apartments and houses. In recent years factory-built housing has seen a renaissance thanks to innovations in manufacturing technology, shipping and materials and the cost efficiencies that result from more precise budgets and shorter construction times – a livable structure can be erected in mere hours. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the diminutive domiciles known as microdwellings.

These sleek green getaways are at the forefront of prefab: As size decreases, cost savings and environmental benefits increase because of reduced materials, shipping and labor requirements. Which leaves more time to concentrate on design – and where to put the damn things for the most jaw-dropping views, whether of island waterfalls or Burning Man bikinis. Now take a look at these Lilliputian lairs.

CAVE DWELLER
The man cave. While the term almost induces shudders, the idea itself is beyond reproach. And no one does mancaves better than Modern-Shed. At 40 square meters and compatible with water, sewer and electrical systems, the Seattlebased company’s highly customizable signature product offers options including a full wet bar, beer fridge, sectional sofa, deck, bike rack, guitar hooks and – perish the thought – gym or homeoffice equipment. The base price of a fiber-cement-sided model is about R100,000. Upgrades take the form of vertical tight-knot cedar or horizontal clear-cedar siding. There are three types of ceiling liners – sanded plywood pine and cedar – as well as several window and door-framing options. All the sheds come with preassembled clerestory windows around the top to provide natural light and reduce daytime lighting requirements. A manufacturing team test-fits the units at a company facility in Sedro Woolley, Washington and then delivers the components to clients, who can either build the sheds themselves or work with an installation team the company contracts at additional cost. After installation the structures can be disassembled for transport to a beach house or country home.

BURN UNIT
Edgar Blazona, an Oakland-based former Pottery Barn designer, is heavily influenced by pioneering modernists such as Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra and Donald Judd. Those inspirational sources are evident in his 3-square-meters modular dwelling. This highly mobile unit was built to withstand the extreme climate of the annual Burning Man festival, whose 50,000 scantily  clad and excessively painted – and intoxicated – revelers descend on Nevada’s Black Rock Desert over Labor Day weekend to ritually desecrate the timbered flesh of a Brobdingnagian effigy in the name of well, who knows anymore?  To offset the anarchy, Blazona tricked out the shelter with midcentury-modern amenities. The 1.8m-by2.1m stronghold (the company’s design options reach 26 square meters and are available with furnishings from sister company TrueModern) was assembled from R10,000 of steel, glass and wood siding. “It was designed to be a sliver of clean, minimal modernism in this dusty, chaotic environment,” says Blazona. Now it just has to survive the intergenerational dustups at the next family braai.

Published in Playboy South Africa September 2013