On a cross-country drive with his 11-year-old son in 2007 to install the first cabin in his new prefab building venture, Andrew Kelly passed a smallish log cabin, the kind sometimes used out West to house trading posts, gun shops or anything else that can thrive beside a highway. It was dingy, with a tar paper roof, asphalt creeping up to its porch and a soupy puddle wrapped like a moat along one side.
He took a picture and posted it on a blog he’d started to chronicle the journey. He mockingly titled it, "My Competition."
Five years later, the self-taught Miami industrial designer and his wife, furniture designer Gayle Zalduondo, are well on their way to establishing what could be Miami’s first successful eco-friendly prefab construction boutique, Cabin Fever. They’ve completed 48 cabins already — from a ferry station in Homer, Alaska to worker housing at David Copperfield’s luxurious Bahamas resort, where bookings start at $37,500 a day. Other projects under way include a San Diego campground and a Panhandle communal housing development.
In the first six months of the year, the couple say they have racked up more than $1 million in revenues and have sold about 20 small structures, including a two-story loft, a clinic and the Copperfield worker housing that Kelly was overseeing earlier this month.
“It’s forward-thinking, progressive, handcrafted, innovative and right in Miami,” said Andrew Frey, a development manager with CC Residential, Armando Codina’s multifamily venture, and land-use attorney. Frey, who has also taught at the University of Miami’s School of Architecture, is unabashedly crazy about the cabins.
“If you told people in Miami that there’s a prefab accessory structure that meets hurricane codes,” he said, “they’d go bananas.”
The cabins, constructed in a 12,000-square-foot warehouse in Little Haiti, range in size from 120 square feet to 800, and cost between $20,000 and $80,000. They can also be custom-designed for more space. Clients have used them for offices, guest quarters or even small homes. Several musicians have purchased them for backyard music studios, while one client Kelly described as an “off-the-grids, tear-up-the-credit card” type, installed a cabin in New Mexico. The place was so remote it didn’t have an address, just GPS coordinates.
Made from recycled steel that has “already been through several life cycles as cars or refrigerators,” the cabins are bright and airy, with maple veneer on the walls, exposed roof beams and clerestory windows. Those used for housing, like the ones at Copperfield’s resort, include an Ikea kitchen with butcher-block counters, a bathroom with a shower and a washer and dryer tucked in a closet. Copperfield’s personal cabin will include an extra large closet, Kelly said.
And they can be built quickly. At last year’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair, where Kelly merchandised his Zip cabin as a backyard structure, it took two workers just seven hours to erect one.
While originally designed to create extra space for existing homes, over the years they have transformed into single-family homes, an idea that Kelly continues to refine and one increasingly attractive to a new generation of homebuyers, said University of Miami architecture professor Rocco Ceo.