Pre-Fab Fabulous

By Feifei Sun / April 25, 2013

Photography by Nicholas Yarsley

Simple. Clean. Sustainable.

That is how architect Alexander Kolbe describes his design philosophy, which he’s been spreading with his wife, Michelle, one prefabricated home at a time, since the couple founded their architecture company evoDOMUS in 2011.

With a belief that home owners should be able to enjoy the speedy construction and economic benefits of prefab homes without sacrificing style or sustainability, the Kolbes offer clients panelized houses primarily inspired by the Bauhaus, a school of design founded by German architect Walter Gropius in 1919, and defined by its modern, geometric and simple aesthetic.

“We wanted to build homes the way we did in Europe,” says Alexander Kolbe, who, along with Michelle, worked abroad in Germany and England before returning stateside in 2009. “Modern homes inspired by a mid-century, modern architecture style, but rooted in green design.”

But their biggest challenge in doing just that was finding a manufacturing partner who could understand their green message in construction. This February, evoDOMUS named Bensonwood, a New Hampshire-based company that builds energy-efficient homes, as its exclusive manufacturer. Among Bensonwood’s green designs is a LEED Platinum, Net-Zero resi- dence—the Maine home creates as much energy as it consumes.


“It was love at first sight,” says Alexander Kolbe, about their relationship with Bensonwood. “When we toured their factory in New Hampshire, we were blown away. It was thrilling to see a spitting image of the manufacturers we saw in Germany, which reached the highest level of quality in their designs.”

The Kolbes design and conceptualize each home before send- ing the idea off to Bensonwood to erect and finish. The couple then comes back to perfect the interior, such as fixtures, tiles, plumbing and wiring, among other facets.

That evoDOMUS found the perfect match in Bensonwood is not surprising. After all, sustainability is at the heart of theKolbes’ work, and they work with materials with high-recycle content as well as wood and bamboo certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Each air-tight home is built facing south—to maximize periods of natural light and reduce electricity use—with triple-glazed windows to optimize thermal qualities. Elsewhere, their design work incorporates photovol- taic systems to convert sunlight into electricity and air-water or geothermal heat pumps. Green roofs, low-flow water fixtures, non-formaldehyde plywoods and low-VOC paints are just some of other green elements evoDOMUS offers to its clients.

Customization is key, and, rather than using modular construction, in which companies build cookie-cutter room cells that are then shipped on trucks to the construction site, the Kolbes opt for panelized construction, which gives them the freedom to craft a home to its surroundings. “We’re unlimited in flexibility, from walls to the ceiling span,” Alexander Kolbe says.

In fact, first meetings with clients often includes discussion about sunlight, locale, surrounding nature—as well as how they plan to use the space that day, five years from then and 20 years down the road.

“It was important for us to incorporate how people will live into the design of the home,” says Michelle Kolbe. “And to offer a product that had environmental qualities from the walls and ceilings to the windows and fixtures. You can do basically anything with design, but if you build a beautiful house that’s not substantive under the skin, it’s a missed opportunity.”

Feifei Sun

Feifei Sun

Feifei Sun is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She began her career at Vanity Fair and later worked as an editor at TIME, where she wrote about fashion and politics and helped edit the magazine's special issues, including the TIME 100 and Person of the Year. Her writing has also appeared in Real Simple, Marie Claire and the Huffington Post.
Feifei Sun

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