An Eichler-Inspired Modular Home in California

Originally published in 
as 
Modular Programming
With a sleek prototype in Emeryville, California, under its belt, Simpatico Homes sets out to redefine prefab's cost—and footprint.

 “What would Eichler do?”

That question clinched the deal that created Simpatico Homes, a modular-home company 
inspired by the work of the postwar developer Joseph Eichler.

During the 1950s and ’60s, Eichler built more than 
11,000 architect-designed modern homes in California. Seth Krubiner, Simpatico’s founder, lived in one during his youth and remained smitten with its mixture of everyman affordability and mid-century cool.

For his part, Robert Swatt, a principal at Swatt|Miers 
Architects based in Emeryville, California, had long pondered a way to make his grand modernist houses more affordable. The two met when Krubiner was called upon to promote and sell one of Swatt’s urban projects; they hit it off, and both soon became convinced that if Eichler were around today, he’d be building in factories to save time and money. And, Krubiner insists, “He’d definitely be interested in sustainability,” since Eichler popularized ideas like energy-efficient radiant floor heating.

United by this icon of modernism, the marketer and architect immediately felt a kind of “simpatico,” or like-minded agreement, and a prefab firm was born.

Simpatico, which is also run by architect Steven Stept of Swatt|Miers, places a strong emphasis on affordability, which, in the oft-pricey realm of prefab housing, is something they are able to achieve via the careful sourcing of materials. The company’s prototype home in Emeryville, in which Krubiner 
has lived since late 2011, was created in a San Jose factory for around $270 per square foot, far less than the $400-plus-per-square-foot price tag of 
the lowest-priced Swatt|Miers custom homes.

But where Simpatico really deviates from the modular prefab formula is in the way the homes are created. “We don’t sell house plans,” Swatt says. 
Nor do they sell one-size-fits-all boxes that 
travel from a distant factory to the jobsite. Instead, Simpatico’s homes are based on a system of 
modules that can be interchanged, allowing for 
semicustom design suited to each resident. The 
bar shape of Krubiner’s house, for example, fits 
its long and narrow 30-by-100-foot urban lot. Six 
modules make up the home’s three bedrooms, three baths, two outdoor terraces, and roof deck.

With plenty of sustainable features, the all-electric home is on track to be a net-zero building, producing as much energy as it uses, and, hopefully, to receive LEED Platinum certification.

And, who knows? If Simpatico takes off as a form of prefab for the masses, the homes just might dot the California landscape like Eichlers do today. “Eichler made a big impact and changed the way homes were built,” says Krubiner. “We want to do that, too.”

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...