written by:
photos by:
February 1, 2009
Originally published in Prefab Now
One day last April there was great excitement on Highland Avenue, a quiet, hilly street (on which this writer happens to live) of Craftsman bungalows and 1960s apartment buildings in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica, California.
1 / 7
A view of the lower living space on the ground floor. Green materials used include the FSC-certified cedar on the ceiling, Permlight LED downlights, and a floor of polished concrete with fly ash mix with radiant heating underneath. The couch was designed by Glenn’s interior designer, Heidi Toll Design.
Photo by 
2 / 7
Glenn looks toward the front entrance from the northeast wall of his house. The wall is exposed concrete block with translucent Polygal windows.
Photo by 
3 / 7
On the second floor, an open balcony of FSC-certified tigerwood with a cedar trellis leads into a light-filled study/guest bedroom.
Photo by 
4 / 7
All the cabinetry in the kitchen/dining area, including the door into the parlor bathroom, is FSC-certified maple.

All the cabinetry in the kitchen/dining area, including the door into the parlor bathroom, is FSC-certified maple.

Photo by 
5 / 7
EcoSmart fireplace fueled by denatured alcohol.
The lower living space on the ground floor of a Los Angeles, California, home features an EcoSmart fireplace fueled by denatured alcohol. Read the full article here.
Photo by 
6 / 7
The house, complete with Glenn’s Toyota Prius.
Photo by 
7 / 7
livinghomes exterior facade
Glenn Residence

One day last April there was great excitement on Highland Avenue, a quiet, hilly street (on which this writer happens to live) of Craftsman bungalows and 1960s apartment buildings in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica, California. The road was closed off, and residents and TV crews turned out to watch as six huge lowboy trucks delivered their load of steel-framed modules, 11 in all, which were then craned into place and bolted and welded together over the course of eight hours. By the end of the day, the champagne was flowing and Steve Glenn was standing in the future dining/living area of his first LivingHome, toasting his architect and construction crew. Almost three months of finish work later, he moved in.

Glenn, a wired 42-year-old, is a onetime computer-technology entrepreneur and longtime architecture enthusiast, who recalls a childhood passion for Case Study Houses and Frank Lloyd Wright. After exhaustive research, he concluded, however, that it is developers rather than architects who hold the levers, and decided a couple years ago to try his hand at residential development. He identified a market of people who, like himself, “care deeply about design, and about the health and sustainability” of buildings, and launched LivingHomes, a modern prefab home company whose goal is to wed “profit and purpose” by selling stylish green homes at a price accessible to “people on the marketing pyramid below those who can afford custom.”

The designer of his first five model homes is architect Ray Kappe, founder of SCI-Arc and a living legend among many architecture enthusiasts, whose own 1967 house, a gorgeous concrete, glass, and wood structure nestled among trees, is often held up as an icon of West Coast modernism. “Ray’s my favorite living architect,” says Glenn. “He practices a warm modernism that is very unique.” Not only that, it turned out Kappe had prior experience with prefab and with environmentally sensitive design. For him, LivingHomes are the “realization of a long-held ambition.” The modular steel LivingHomes are based on a wooden system Kappe devised 40 years ago; the overtly 3-D quality of Glenn’s house, with its changes in level and interlocking vertical and horizontal planes, is reminiscent of Kappe’s residence, albeit compressed onto a much tighter, and less lush, site.

Glenn claims his homes “are clearly among the most environmentally considered production homes ever built,” and designed his prototype house to achieve a LEED Platinum rating, which it received in August. “Zero Energy, Zero Water, Zero Waste, Zero Carbon, Zero Emissions” is his mantra, and to that end he has packed his house with energy-saving technology and sustainable and nontoxic materials. A solar-energy system on the roof is intended to provide 75 to 100 percent of the electricity and 80 to 90 percent of the hot water. There is a graywater system and a storm-water cistern for watering a garden (currently in process) of drought-resistant plants; the irrigation system will tap in to weather telemetry on the Internet to assess when to operate. A rooftop garden (also pending) is designed to divert storm water and to help with insulation and absorb sunlight, thereby, says Glenn, “reducing the heat-island effect.” Materials are carefully chosen for their healthful and sustainable properties.

Though they are factory produced, LivingHomes are not currently spinning off the assembly line in identical units, to be shipped to an anonymous, mass customer base. “I think it will be a while, if ever, until you literally put a credit card in and order a home,” says Glenn. “A lot of this is site-specific.” The company has seven homes under contract, each of which is customized to meet individual needs, and Glenn is moving ahead with the first phase of four houses in a development in Joshua Tree, near Palm Springs, which were presold. “We are not doing kit homes,” he says. “We haven’t released a standard design. What we are doing is constrained custom, a level of customization that allows people to play with size and room placement.” He says that, eventually, the company will offer five or six standard models designed by Ray Kappe, ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 square feet.

“Now comes the hard part, which is creating a sustainable business,” says Glenn, acknowledging that his own house exceeded intended costs. The finish process proved frustrating at times, he says, and overly long, but also educational. “We’ve learned lots of connection details that we need to make better, cheaper, and quicker, and major systems—the frame, the windows, electrical, waterproofing, environmental systems—that we intend to refine. In the future we want to do as much of the work as possible in the factory.”

Ultimately, for LivingHomes to succeed as a business, the houses need to work as living homes. Glenn candidly assesses his own prototype: “I think it turned out really well. I’m really happy, but until I actually live in it, that’s the test.”

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

San Francisco dining room with chandelier and Eames shell chairs
Brooklyn-based RBW's work—from diminutive sconces to large floor lamps—shape these five interiors.
February 09, 2016
Glass-fronted converted garage in Washington
These garages go behind parking cars and storing your drum sets.
February 09, 2016
Modern Texas home office with sliding walls, behr black chalkboard paint, concrete walls, and white oak flooring
From appropriated nooks to glass-encased rooms, each of these modern offices works a unique angle.
February 09, 2016
picnic-style table in renovated San Francisco house
From chandeliers to pendants, these designs make the dining room the most entertaining space in the house.
February 09, 2016
Midcentury house in Portland with iron colored facade and gold front door
From preserved masterworks to carefully updated time capsules, these homes have one thing in common (other than a healthy appreciation for everything Eames): the conviction that the '40s, '50s, and '60s were the most outstanding moments in American architecture.
February 09, 2016
Modern living room with furniture designed by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba
These oases by the sea, many done up in white, make stunning escapes.
February 08, 2016
A Philippe Starck standing lamp and an Eames chaise longue bracket the living room; two Lawrence Weiner prints hang behind a pair of Warren Platner chairs and a table purchased from a River Oaks estate sale; at far left of the room, a partial wall of new
Texas might have a big reputation, but these homes show the variety of shapes and sizes in the Lone Star State.
February 08, 2016
Montigo gas-burning fireplace in spacious living room.
Built atop the foundation of a flood-damaged home, this 3,000-square-foot Maryland home features vibrant furniture placed in front of stunning views of a nearby estuary.
February 08, 2016
Studio addition in Seattle
An architect couple sets out to transform a run-down property.
February 08, 2016
West Elm coffee table, custom Joybird sofa, and matching Jens Risom chairs in living room of Westchester renovation by Khanna Shultz.
Every Monday, @dwell and @designmilk invite fans and experts on Twitter to weigh in on trending topics in design.
February 08, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment living room vertical oak slats
For the modernists among us, these spare spaces are a dream come true.
February 08, 2016
The square fountain at the courtyard's center is a modern rendition of a very traditional feature in many Middle Eastern homes.
From a large gathering space for family or a tranquil sanctuary, these seven designs feature some very different takes on the ancient idea of a courtyard.
February 08, 2016
stdaluminum 021
Since windows and doors are such important aspects of your home, it’s always a good idea to take the time to evaluate how they fit within the lifestyle you want. Whether you’re in the middle of constructing a new home, or you’re considering replacing your current setup, there are multiple elements to consider when it comes time to make the final decisions. Milgard® Windows & Doors understands how vital these choices are to the well-being of your home and has developed ways to turn the process into a journey that can be just as enjoyable as it is fulfilling. Not sure where to start? We gathered some helpful insights from their team of experts to help us better understand what goes into the process of bringing your vision to life.
February 08, 2016
modern fire resistant green boulder loewen windows south facade triple planed low-e glass
These houses in Broncos Country prove modern design is alive in the Rocky Mountains.
February 08, 2016
french evolution paris daniel rozensztroch living area eames la chaise butterfly chair moroccan berber rug
A tastemaker brings his distinct vision to an industrial loft with a centuries-old pedigree.
February 07, 2016
senses touch products
The haptic impact can’t be underplayed. The tactility of a material—its temperature, its texture­—can make the difference between pleasure and discontent.
February 07, 2016
senses taste products
Ambience is a key ingredient to any meal—materials, textures, and mood all impart a certain flavor.
February 07, 2016
senses smell products
The nose knows: Though fleeting and immaterial, scent is the lifeblood of Proustian memories, both evoking and imprinting visceral associations.
February 06, 2016
design icon josef frank villa beer vienna
Josef Frank: Against Design, which runs through April 2016 at Vienna’s Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, is a comprehensive study of the prolific architect, designer, and author.
February 06, 2016
senses sound products
From an alarm to a symphony, audio frequencies hold the power to elicit an emotional call-and-response.
February 06, 2016
Italian Apline home with double-height walls on one facade.
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 05, 2016
A built-in sofa with Design Tex upholstery marks the boundary between the two-level addition and the bungalow. Leading up to the master bedroom, a perforated metal staircase, lit from above, casts a Sigmar Polke–like shadow grid on the concrete floor.
From a minimalist Walter Gropius design to a curving sculptural stair, these six stairways run the gamut.
February 05, 2016
distant structure lakeside prefab norway facade stones green roof
Dwell has traveled all over the world, from Tasmania to Indonesia, to report on modern houses.
February 05, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment master bedroom atrium
Get ready for a weekend of rest with these sleepy, little cocoons.
February 05, 2016
lamp show 99 cent plus gallery 0
At Brooklyn's 99¢ Plus gallery, 30 artists and designers re-imagine the lamp in an illuminating light show.
February 04, 2016
Hidden storage stairwell with raw brass hardware
Having ample space to stow items is a daily struggle—peep these modern homes for some ideas on maximizing your square footage.
February 04, 2016
modern fairhaven beach house blackbutt eucalyptus living room Patricia Urquiola sofa
Whether it's along a coast in Australia or the French Alps, wood provides a natural touch in these interiors.
February 04, 2016
Glass and steel sculpture in Printemps store of Paris.
In the Paris' venerable Printemps department store, two Toronto-based firms were tasked with enlivening a new atrium and creating a unique experience for visitors. YabuPushelberg, partnering with UUfie, designed this stunning steel "sail" embedded with vibrant dichroic glass.
February 04, 2016
Monochromatic Master Bedroom in Copenhagen Townhouse
Whether it's to maximize limited light or create a soothing interior, these five projects go white in a big way.
February 04, 2016
EQ3 Assembly quilt by Kenneth LaVallee
The new Assembly collection from EQ3 celebrates up-and-coming figures in Canadian design. Discover this newly appointed class, which debuted at Toronto's Interior Design Show, here.
February 03, 2016