As a young girl growing up in Austin, Texas, Kimber Reed’s parents were always bringing home dingy wooden wardrobes to fix up and refinish for their small antiques shop. Many years later, after she graduated pre-med at the University of Texas, got married, had kids of her own, then divorced, the memory of hands-on design grabbed hold of her. A passion for remodeling and redesigning her own home eventually lead to her co-founding two modular design companies: Reclaimed Space and, most recently, Austin-based Sett Studio. The latter punches up the prefab vernacular with a knockout modern design—all charred wood siding, floor-to-ceiling windows and bamboo floors—that go for just under $200 per square foot. "Where a lot of modular buildings are dressed-up sheds, ours is a really good small house," says the now 36-year-old. Here, Reed breaks down her studios.
On what the studios can be used for:
I know studios can be used for offices and bedrooms, but what's the most wild use you've seen so far? What is possible that you haven't seen yet?
People have talked to us about recording studios; we talked to someone who wants to produce a hydroponic studio, all self-maintaining. Another cool one is a space for chemically sensitive individuals. There are a lot of people that, in pretty much any structure they live in, have serious medical conditions because of the amount of VOCs and chemicals released. So we’re actually working with a doctor and a client to produce a studio that they can live in healthily.
And you mentioned before that permitting isn’t required?
In Austin, and a lot of other places, any accessory building that is under 200 square feet does not require a permit from the city. So when you put one of these in, you don’t have to worry about permitting, unless there’s plumbing. And you’re also not taxed on it.
On SIP panel structure:
What’s unique about these prefabs? What makes them different from all the others?
We use building materials that are actually better than traditionally built homes. We use SIP panels for all our structure surfaces, that stands for structural insulated panels. The durability and the energy efficiency far exceed that of any traditional, stick-built home. They’re two OSB boards with Styrofoam in the center, which acts as insulation and provides structural stability. These panels are so strong that they can be a cantilevered ceiling 14-foot long without any support under them. So these units can very easily have a rooftop deck. And the panels are nontoxic, no VOCs.
On charred-wood siding:
What are the exteriors made from?
All of our materials that we use to clad the walls, the floors, they’re all sustainable and they’re also all uniquely handmade by us. We have some different things that we use, one is charred wood. It’s inspired by the Japanese shou-sugi-ban. The charred process not only creates an aesthetically pleasing look—when you char it, it highlights the grain of the wood—but charring it also increases the durability of the wood, the mold and pest resistance, as well as the fire retardant. It’s a way of increasing the life of your wood and still makes it look pretty. We typically do pine siding and then go and char it. We do a penetrating seal or stain that can be different shades. They can also be used for interiors.
On the walls:
We typically do sheetrock. And we like to use what’s called American Clay on top. It’s almost like a plaster, but it’s not; it’s clay. It’s all-natural and gives a real nice, soft finish that can be different colors. But one of the nice things about it is, if anything gets messed up, if there’s a hole, you just spray with a little bit of water and rub over it and the wall is fixed. So we don’t have to worry about any cracking.
On the interiors:
And y’all do the interiors as well, right?
We like to use a lot of windows to make the space feel bigger. We typically do a bamboo floor, but people can change it to anything—cork, a concrete overlay. We’ll do built-in furniture, shelving, desk, Murphy bed.
On the process:
So how long from the time someone sits down with you to them sitting in their backyard unit?
Once the design phase is finished, I like to say it takes four to six weeks.
They are as easy as plugging it in. We use a RV panel box. It is the client’s responsibility to get the plumbing and the electric to the location that the studio is going to go. We can assist on what needs to happen or who to call.
On how to get one:
So what do you have to do first to start the process?
Treehouse, a sustainable home goods store [in Austin], sells our units. And we’re working on a new system with them out next month. Walk into the store and we will have a predesigned office, guest room or a yoga/arts studio. Come in, buy all the pieces, put it together and go. For custom studios, contact us.
Mitchell Alan Parker is the editor of Austin HOME magazine. When he's not writing about modern houses, he's dreaming of owning one with his wife and nine-month-old son. He also collects early 20th century typewriters. At least that's what he likes to tell people.