This Ain't Your Grandpa's Flatpack House

Updated at: 09/13/2013 5:01 AM
By: Networx

Photo: Steve Cadman/Flickr.comI've done my fair share of battle with IKEA furniture. I'm guessing you have too -- if not with IKEA, than with other flatpack brands. Incomprehensible directions, utterly confusing drawings, and finished products that don't always look quite like what you were expecting. So I admit, when I initially heard about the flatpack house trend, I was skeptical.

I envisioned boxy, ugly designs that would make an architect weep. And I assumed they'd be small (I mean, how big could a house be when it comes on the bed of a flatbed truck?!). I also figured they'd be flimsy and a bit tacky. Furthermore, they seemed like rather a gimmick to me, something that couldn't be practically introduced to the world at large.

Boy, was I wrong, and boy, am I glad.

Flatpack houses are totally taking off, and despite skeptics like me, some very big names in architecture and design have been attracted to them. The result is a series of stunning homes with beautiful modernist aesthetics, and far from being cramped and chintzy, they're spacious, stylish, and gorgeous. Not only that, they're getting more and more affordable.

Much like flatpack furniture, flatpack houses are leveling the playing field, providing low-income people with a shot at great design, beautiful homes, energy-efficient living spaces, and modern surroundings. So far they've been used in fancy high-concept design, but they've also appeared in low-income housing, and designers have worked on flatpack housing projects intended for refugees, people recovering from disasters, and other disadvantaged people.

Fortunately the directions are a little easier to understand than those on the chair I assembled last week -- and contracting professionals are required to safely assemble a flatpack house. Some things don't change in terms of needing to install a good foundation (which means that you may need to call a Boston concrete contractor), set up the house, and get it totally good to go with wiring and electricity. Experts in flatpack house assembly can get a house set up in a day!

There are some special options, too, like mobile flatpack houses that can be set up on a wheeled base to travel with you wherever you might go. (Or to allow people to avoid building permits by building small and mobile, if they want a starter flatpack home without the expense of costly permits -- but be aware that permit laws vary by region and you'll need a contractor to confirm that this is an option.)

Read on for some examples of stunning, interesting, and fantastic flatpack homes.

Maison Tropicale (above). Jean Prouvé designed this flatpack home in response to the need for housing in West Africa. This experimental metal specimen was allowed to fall into decay, but restored in 2000 and displayed at the Tate Museum. As an early entry in the world of flatpack housing, it didn't make a big splash, but it's an interesting piece of history.

Homeshell. Designed by Richard Rogers, this home has been used in low income housing -- and displayed as a stunt to showcase his contributions to the world of architecture. The Homeshell is high efficiency and high style, the best of all possible worlds!

AKTIV. Yes, there's an IKEA version, as you might have guessed from the name. These one-bedroom high-efficiency homes are stylish, and will probably look familiar to IKEA fans.

Finnlife and Helsinki. UK giant Tesco has also gotten into the game with flatpack log cabins, which they will deliver for a nominal fee -- but construction is up to the customer. As is, of course, applications for building permits.

IbbN. In the Netherlands, first-time homebuilders can qualify for a special program: a flatpack home delivered to their doorsteps, ready to be assembled in six weeks with a well-coordinated building team.

Katie Marks writes for

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