A Northern Michigan builder and entrepreneur redefines the word modular with his Modernist, very green, small home concept. And did we mention he can put one up for you between sunrise and sunset.

Builder Drew Craven call the small homes he builds “little gems.” And certainly his carefully crafted concept homes shine with distinctive qualities. The model home that he built  (and rents out) on the outskirts of Traverse City looks as though it popped off the pages of the hip home magazine Dwell, what with its organic Modernist design. The streamlined structure utilizes simple materials like plywood and corrugated metal, and has a slanted roof and plenty of window to connect the home to its landscape. Look closer and you’ll discover surprising details, like an outdoor shower and sliding barn doors that seal the home’s windows and glass entry for privacy and weather protection—while giving a nod to the surrounding rural Northern Michigan buildings.

All of this style, in yes, a modular (read factory-built) home. But Craven’s homes are hardly your garden-variety factory-built versions. Imagine manufactured homes, the next generation. Craven’s Traverse City-based company, Cottage in a Day, is part of an international trend toward modular architecture, a movement propelled by the need for sustainable, affordable and energy efficient building and design.

Craven’s cutting-edge process begins with modules, built in his small factory, made from uber-energy efficient and strong Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS). Before being transported to the building site, the modules are shrink-wrapped to protect them from moisture. Once they’re onsite, Craven assembles the modules on a pre-poured concrete column foundation: a feat that can be accomplished within a day. Moreover, the land is barely disturbed during this process, making the houses ideal for difficult or environmentally sensitive building sties. Utilities and interior finishing are the final step. “Other companies ship kits, but nobody else is doing this,” Craven explains.

Speed translates into construction cost savings. And since the construction meets or exceeds Energy Star and LEED residential criteria, energy bills in the home are blessedly low.

While all of that sounds conceptually smart, what is it like living in the homes? Adam and Alicia Spinniken, who recently rented the 725-square-foot Traverse City model, use words like open, airy, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing to describe the cottage. Indeed, Craven cleverly coaxed every available inch of living and storage space out of his blueprint. The open kitchen/living area flows outside to the adjacent deck to expand living space in warm weather. Storage and utilities tuck under easy-access panels in the floor or in slide-out drawers accessible from both inside and outside the house.  A sleeping loft lies under the peak of the slanted roof, creating a quasi-second bedroom. And that outdoor shower comes in handy during summer house guest season when everyone needs a quick rinse after the beach.

Natural flooring including bamboo flooring and unfinished wood beams combine with loads of natural light to create a relaxed, welcoming living space.

While the 725-square-foot model is Craven’s prototype, clients can expand and customize the space using modules based on a 14-by-14-foot standardized unit. In his office, Craven shows prospective clients various configurations using scale models—a basic living room/bathroom module starts at $54,500. But no matter how large they decide to make a new cottage, owners can be sure that Craven made efficient use of resources—time, money and materials. They’ll be reminded of that each time they pull out their house key dangling from a Cottage-in-a-Day shaped keychain—a gift from Craven that he punched out of metal leftover from construction waste.

This article is featured in the April 2011 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine and Northern Home & Cottage.

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