As orders increased, Kelly added designs. He created the one-room Zip with its slanted roof and glass front, small enough, to “fly under the radar of permitting because of the size.” That first cabin, the Maxwell, with a curved roof and clerestory windows, can now be built large enough to accommodate two bedrooms and two baths. His staff also expanded, and now includes an architect, an engineer and a computer modeler.
And even though they are prefab, that does not preclude them from being personalized. Cabins built in Miami meet hurricane code while those in California can withstand earthquakes, Kelly and Zalduondo said. A mountain cabin might have more glass, to maximize the view, than an urban backyard cabin. One client has asked for a two-story loft model for a trailer park in Malibu, where a double-wide can top a million dollars and come with granite counter tops. Kelly designed another cabin for a Haiti project with a Dutch door, he said, so children could be kept in and animals kept out.
Frey, the development manager for CC Residential, sees Cabin Fever as offering solutions to two problems: the struggling home construction industry and blighted neighborhoods.
First, he pointed out, prefab is free from the constraints of the local economy.
“It doesn’t matter where demand is. This is a great business model because you’re not relying on any one geographic region’s broad-based recovery. You’re saying I’ll take my recovery where I can find it,” he said. “One of the things Miami does really well is construction and development and there are people struggling and suffering and going out of business. Everyone wants to get back to the old normal. But maybe there’s a new normal, a new system and a new ecosystem.
“Given their success, I think Mayor [Tomás] Regalado should be on their doorstep saying, ‘How can we help you? What can we do to help you grow locally?’ Do you see anyone else creating jobs in Little Haiti? These are 21st century, good, creative, solid jobs,” Frey said.
Secondly, he suggested Kelly’s inexpensive prefab structures could help revive flagging areas until the economy fully recovers.
“It’s a farfetched idea, but there’s a lot of vacant land in downtown Miami. In Park West and Overtown. And it’s vacant for a reason. People who own it are speculating long-term on much bigger buildings. But this idea of a prefab modular structure that could be inserted into the urban environment temporarily to create activity in a neighborhood and familiarity so people find it comfortable and the neighbors benefit too, because they don’t have to live next door to a huge vacant lot.”
Both Kelly and Zalduondo believe the trend in housing is ready for Cabin Fever. Since opening, they’ve outgrown their first warehouse and expanded into a neighboring bay, but have now outgrown the 12,000-square foot warehouse and are looking for a bigger space. They also want to hire additional staff, so they can boost production, increasing runs from 10 to 30 cabins over two weeks and “pivot over to 50 to 200.”
“We occupy a niche,” Kelly said, where “style, function and cost all occupy the same space. Not one over-riding the other.
“Just like the world needs a good table,” he said, “it needs a good home.”