Johnson is a real estate developer and builder, and he was dispirited by his research into the stock plan industry, which sells housing plans at a fraction of the price it would cost to commission an original design. It’s a good idea that’s often poorly executed, offering unoriginal plans for oversized houses.
So Johnson partnered with Houston architect Andrew McFarland to found Hometta, a company that would commission and sell plans for compact, sustainable homes designed by leading modern architects. He spoke to me from Houston as he gears up for Hometta’s launch next month with an initial stable of 20 to 25 designs available for purchase on its website.
"The big challenge has been creating a company with a vision and business model that works well with what professional architects and designers are already doing, without cannibalizing their business model," Johnson said.
Hometta recruited a small team of "core architects" that have been recognized for their innovative modern design. The architects—James M. Evans, Dawn Finley (who was featured in Dwell's October 2007 issue), Brett Zamore and Blair Satterfield—are minority owners in the company and have sole control over which other studios will be invited to contribute plans.Other participating studios include Garofalo Architects, MANIFOLD.ArchitectureStudio, Zoka Zola, and Min|Day (whose Wide Open House is pictured below).
The plans will cost between $1,195 and $3,195, and Hometta will pay the original architect a royalty for each plan sold. That’s a significant savings for the consumer, who would typically have to pay 10 to 15 percent of the construction cost for a high-caliber original architectural design.
Consumers can customize the plans by working with their builder or a local architect, or by hiring the original architect to make custom adjustments, which Johnson encourages. Home sizes are capped at 2,500 square feet, and the plans encourage the use of sustainable materials and energy systems. Johnson says he hopes affordable home designs will lead to more good architecture being built.
Drew Himmelstein is a writer living in San Francisco who reports frequently about religion. To learn about modern design in Unitarian Universalist churches for the November 2009 issue, she spoke to clergy, architects, and historians about the challenges and opportunities involved in creating sacred spaces. She also concluded that Unitarians might just be the nicest flock around.