“People want energy efficient houses or cabins built in a way that’s more in tune with the environment in a lot of different ways,” Ceo explained. “You can’t build out of pressure-treated [wood] and then have an organic garden next to it.”
For more than two decades, Kelly and Zalduondo had run their successful furniture company, Urbanus, producing award-winning modern furniture for Room and Board, Crate and Barrel, and Ethan Allen, among others. But in 2007, tired of competing with overseas manufacturers, they sold their 30,000-square-foot Miami warehouse and shuttered their High Point, N.C. showroom to focus on a design salon in Miami’s Design District.
“We found ourselves being required to sell our product for less than 10 years earlier. And the costs were going up,” Kelly said.
So they trademarked a few of their more favorite designs, which continue to be manufactured in Alabama, and turned to structures.
“When we started in furniture, there was not good style for the masses,” Zalduondo said. “Now there’s Target and Ikea.”
They applied that idea to designing the cabins.
“Even when we were designing for Crate, and Room and Board, it was simple and well-designed. Simple not just in affordability, but in design,” Zalduondo said.
Added Kelly: “This is the next version of that.”
Walking through one of the cabins being built in their warehouse, he explains, “This is a rectangular box and without any details, it’s kind of boring. But put in the curved roof and exposed beams and with one gesture you can make an iconic structure.”
Kelly insists that for buyers, building a cabin is relatively simple. The first step is checking with the building department to see if sheds are allowed. From there, Kelly and his team take charge. They find local builders and have a staff engineer to navigate building departments. So far, he explained, Los Angeles has proved the toughest to navigate while Alaska, where approval and permitting took just two hours, the fastest.
In retrospect, that first cabin could be seen as portending good things to come. After talking to a prefab seller he discovered while flipping through a design magazine, Kelly built the 320-square-foot cabin on spec so he’d have something to photograph in sales material.
Then came a call from a landscape architect in California.
“After some conversations, I realized I had a sale,” he said.
Unprepared for such a quick transaction, Kelly had to install it himself. So he loaded up the cabin in a rented 6-ton diesel U-Haul and brought along his 11-year-old son, turning the drive into a vacation, with a boat ride down the Louisiana bayou and a visit to The Thing, Arizona’s famed roadside attraction.
When they finally arrived in Santa Monica, Kelly said he was amazed by the beauty of the house and grounds where the cabin was to be constructed: a lot almost 15,000-square-feet and just a block and a half from the Pacific Ocean. The client’s name was still a mystery since he’d only dealt with the landscape architect. But, as Kelly tells it, during the week he was installing the cabin, he cornered one of the gardeners and got him to reveal the owner’s name — Bob Dylan.
Soon enough, the orders started flowing: A ferry station for the Seldovia Tribe in Homer, Alaska; an artist studio in Pasadena, Calif.; and a vacation cabin overlooking Mount Shasta in California’s Cascade mountains.