May 30, 2020

Architects’ design fills housing needs > House One offers a different look

PORTLAND — A pop-up dream house for people with thin wallets. Just like the collapsible abode in the movie “Toys.”

Well, almost. Once this one goes up it stays that way. And instead of a push-button, you’ll need a crane to assemble the pitched roof.

Inside there are cathedral ceilings, seven-foot windows, wood siding, pine floors, hardwood cabinets, two bedrooms, a bath and a half and a laundry room.

Its creators, two Portland entrepreneurs who call their brainchild “House One,” say their design could revolutionize the way people think about prefabricated housing.

It’s also coming at a time when more people are turning to factory-built dwellings — including prefab or mobile homes — because of their cost.

House One is two 16-by-35-foot modules that can be arranged in several configurations. The basic two-section unit costs $35,500. Extra options include another bedroom, heated tile floors, bookcases, a fireplace and a wood-burning stove.

Already there are plenty who like factory-built dwellings. One in 16 Americans live in mobile homes, according to census data analyst William O’Hare at the University of Louisville’s Center for Urban and Economic Research. Over the past 10 years in Maine, 41 percent of new housing was mobile homes, says Susan C. Ruch, who launched House One with architect Carol A. Wilson.

“So many people say, `thank goodness someone is finally doing this,’ ” said Ruch.

Ruch, a past president of the historic preservation group Greater Portland Landmarks, thought that mobile homes had the potential to be better looking if someone made the effort.

“I had no interest,” says Wilson. “Susan was the one who looked at all the mobile homes and said, `Why don’t architects do something about this?’ It was a pet peeve of Susan’s for a long time.”

Inspiration for the solution came when a mutual friend introduced the pair and Ruch saw Wilson’s design for a house of her own — a one-story rectangular home with a pitched roof.

“Susan saw it and said `this is it.’ It never was my intention to create a manufactured home product to market and sell,” said Wilson.

After 2 1/2 years of design work and collaboration with the manufacturer, Burlington Homes of New England Inc. in Oxford, Maine, the model home will be ready for shoppers to walk through on June 1.

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