After 5 short but exciting years in green prefab design, Michelle Kaufmann has regretfully announced that she is closing the doors of her progressive homebuilding business. In a May 27th blog entry, Kaufmann posted: “Despite our best efforts, the financial meltdown and plunging home values have caught up with us. The recent closing of a factory partner as well as the gridlocked lending faced by homeowners, has proved more than our small company can bear.”
To see a great green designer call it quits is frustrating enough in itself, but the situation is made worse by the fact that the previously lukewarm green housing market has heated up and was bursting at the seams just when MKD was forced to close. In its first five years of business, Kaufmann Designs sold 40 homes, but upon closing, it had over 100 outstanding requests. The problem, then, was not one of demand; rather, it lay on the supply side. As Christopher Hawthorne reported in the Los Angeles Times, when the financial crisis hit, desiring buyers remained as interested as ever in Kaufmann’s homes, but they couldn’t get financing. Hyper-cautious lenders turned away from anything that wasn’t “conservative,” and green prefab was simply too far off the beaten path (even though the beaten path is probably what we do want to get off). The gloominess overshadowing so many recent articles on MKD’s closing, then, reaches beyond Kaufmann’s specific predicament (after all, she is sure to make a recovery–according to Hawthorne, multi-family and community-oriented projects represent her latest interest). But a deeper disillusionment accompanies the realization that consumers do not, after all, have the final say. In a way, this is old news, but it’s a tough pill to swallow when we finally seem to be getting a grip on what’s healthy for ourselves and for the environment in homebuilding.
Following Kaufmann’s optimism, however, we shouldn’t be deterred by the many obstacles scattering the unbeaten trail. Look for more on Kaufmann in the future, and keep checking her Blog–recent posts include experiences at the Eames Foundation 60th Anniversary Celebration, a review of John Wasik’s The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome; Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream, and a good-humored entry on personal water catchment systems (think inside-out umbrellas).
Images courtesy of Michelle Kaufmann Designs.