Thursday, May 24, 2007

More about the Factory Visit

As usual, we were well received by the folks at Simplex (last time I was there they put my name on the marquis on the highway). We had asked Jason beforehand if it would be ok if our kids tagged along and they were happy to oblige (though they kept us out of the factory). It was really great to actually step inside of the box and feel what the space was like. When we were first looking around at the different prefab options, we had no real perspective on what 14' wide or 16' wide would be like for the whole length of a house - those are both obviously fine dimensions for a single room, but how does it feel to have a whole house fit into that width? When we first met with Res4, we were lucky to learn that they had a project on Long Island that had recently been set that was right around the corner from my mom's house. There were contractors on the job, and we met with the foreman one afternoon last summer and walked through. It was an enormous house - I think it was four modules. But we were really able to see how a single bar would work just fine for what we wanted. So yesterday it was reassuring to actually stand in ours and feel how open and comfortable the space is. The soffit feels like it extends a bit further into the middle of the house than I was expecting, but it certainly has the anticipated effect of forcing one's attention to the sliding glass wall and it certainly exaggerates the height of the butterfly. Of course, as you can probably tell from the pics, the boxes in the yard are all stacked pretty close together, so the view was of some lumber and other materials. It'll be nice when it's a view of trees, sky and valley.

The finishes, for the most part, looked terrific. One of the real upsides of designing this as a second home/rental is that we aren't nearly as obsessive about the finishes as I'm sure we would be over a place we'd be living in full time. That's another of the paradoxical advantages of prefab (or at least the process as we've experienced it): constrained choice. Res4 has done this so many times now that they've identified a limited number of finishes that they think work. We picked cabinet and floor material/color, tile selection, sinks, faucets and appliances from a small set of options they recommended. They did the rest. So walking through the box I'm seeing things for the first time (like the brushed aluminum recessed lights, which we never discussed, but which look awesome). I'm sure we would have wanted more say over those types of finishes if this were a fulltime house, and I know I would have hated that process. (In a previous life I was a lawyer and I was involved not too long ago in a litigation over a $1.5MM custom home between the original builder and the owners. Reviewing the email and correspondence was really enlightening; having to pick every finish detail in a 5000sf home is an overwhelming task.) As a result, there are of course some things that wouldn't be my first choice - the windows on the uphill side of the house have white hardware, while the sliders have a much more attractive silver, for example. (I asked about that today, and John at Res4 said that Armstrong charges a hefty premium for the silver and Res4 doesn't think it's worth it.) So those are the kind of tradeoffs you're talking about when you cede control over the finer details. I'm happy with the tradeoff on the whole.

One big surprise (and it shouldn't have been, because both Res4 and Simplex talked to me about it months ago) is that we are going to have to paint. One of the realities of prefab travel and setting is that drywall inevitably cracks. I had reviewed this with everybody a couple of times; we discussed that Simplex will not be responsible for fixing any of it. But it turns out that, because of this inevitability, they don't do finish painting - just a white prime coat. And the sliding doors come unfinished as well. So that's one more thing to do on the back end. Not a big deal, but one more thing (and not a fun one, either).

There's also the fact that not everything's perfect at this stage. Wrong size cabinet here or there, mismatched door hinges, little things. The last apartment that we owned (in a wonderful old cast-iron building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn - man did it kill me to have to sell that place) was also new construction, so we were used to the idea that there are always things that get missed/need to be fixed. That's something I think anybody who's doing this process for the first time should be prepared for. The key is to have good communication and a good process for how that stuff gets resolved (and between Res4's very high expectations and Simplex's excellent responsiveness, we've been very happy with that part of this process).

Sarah says my posts are always too long, so I'll stop here. But more about the visit soon.

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