In 2008, Frank Vafaee, Manish Desai, and Andre Farhang founded Proto Homes. The Los Angeles-based company designs, builds, and sells homes as products. "When you buy a phone or a car, you expect it to be innovative and to have the latest updates," says Vafaee, the company's CEO. "That's what we're doing by selling houses as products."
Proto Homes first structure is the Sunlight Residence—which the company plans to build upon for each subsequent model. "Just like you get a new generation of cars every year, you'll get a next-generation house each year as we track any deficiencies or inefficiencies," Vafaee says. Here, we chat with Vafaee about the company, the home, and his take on prefab. Vafaee will join Mark Rylant of Method Homes at Dwell on Design in Los Angeles June 24-26. The Sunlight Residence will be part of Dwell on Design's Westside Home Tour on June 18.
Why treat a home like a product?When you buy a product like a phone or a car, you expect it to be innovative and have the latest updates. It's easy to access and easy to check out. It has options. When you purchase a service like a home, you don't get all of that. Once you look at a house as a product, however, what you expect from it changes and you suddenly have those options, updates, innovations. That's what we're doing by selling a house as a product. Like most prefab houses, a Proto Homes structure is part prefab, part site-built. Tell us more about the building process.We call it hybrid construction. We make all our walls in the factory and drop them at the site. In panelized construction, you then send in the electrician, plumber, and so on to install the wires, pipes, et cetera. We prefab the entire infrastructure system and drop it into the center as the ProtoCore. The ProtoCore is like a car engine. In a car, most of the stuff that makes the car function is under the hood so when you need to replace a spark plug you don't have to tear out the seats, when you change the oil filter you don't have to rip open up the trunk. The ProtoCore is eight-feet wide, eight-feet long, and 22-feet tall. It houses the furnace, condensers, water heater, and so on. The toilets are all wall-mounted and are already installed in the core. We put it in the middle of the foundation and build the house around it.How is the living space organized?There are no other houses like this because of the flexibility we offer. You can choose to have no bedrooms besides the master bedroom, and then if you have a kid or two down the road, you can buy the components to make bedrooms. Then, when the kids leave, you can take everything out and regain your big open space. The system is based on armory practices and the idea of components that can be taken apart and put back together again.Why should someone choose a prefab home like those by Proto Homes over a stick-built home?It offers a very predictable construction process. That's the goal of all prefab: to create a predictable experience. Our homes are completed in about three or four months.