Just a few years ago, home value was all about more square footage for less money. But that thinking is fading away as words like small, affordable, well-designed, low-waste and efficiency become today’s building industry buzzwords. Smart builders are working to cater to a growing segment of the population who wants homes that are inexpensive and easy to maintain, yet beautiful, healthy and cleverly designed. Enter Alchemy Architects’ weeHouses. The brainchild of principal architect Geoffrey Warner, weeHouses are small, energy-efficient, factory-built dwellings that are customized to each client and site.
Alchemy isn’t jumping into the small, prefab market because of its recent popularity. The idea for the weeHouse was born in 2003, when a client requested a home on a $50,000 budget. “Our client wanted a retreat, but she’d spent a lot of money on the site,” Warner says. “So she needed a place that wasn’t too large but was still accommodating.” Warner designed a tiny, affordable space with ease and respite in mind. And the idea caught on—after the construction of the 336-square-foot Arado (pictured) near Pepin, Wisconsin, Warner’s phone began ringing off the hook with callers interested in learning more about the tiny homes. “It was a symbol of ‘A Place of One’s Own’. The simplicity of the design and the process seemed to catch people’s imagination more than the ‘Big House on the Hill,’” Warner says. “The idea of delivering something without as much hassle as is typical in many architectural projects was appealing, too.”
Every weeHouse has some custom element, whether it’s something as simple as tile selection or as complex as a completely new floor plan. “We like to make site visits, as it helps us relate more quickly and fully to our clients’ needs and dreams and helps us fully appreciate each site’s hidden potential,” Warner says. Along with their small size, affordability and customization, quick delivery is a weeHouse selling point. Depending on size and style, Alchemy can design, build and deliver a weeHouse in nine months to any location in the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska. And the homes’ “construction” is a sight—trucked in on trailers and lifted into place with a crane, most weeHouses show up in one piece and are ready for move-in by the end of the day.
The Good Stuff
• The 336-square-foot Arado home now stands as the iconic image for the weeHouse identity. Its design also serves as the plan for the “studio” model.
• White rubber roofs reflect the sun’s heat.
• Floor-to-ceiling low-emissivity Andersen windows allow natural light to enter the Arado weeHouse, helping to warm it.
• The Arado's exterior is clad in cementitious siding. Today, Alchemy offers recyclable corrugated steel siding or corn crib siding from FSC-certified or local sources.
• A small kitchen allows for cooking. In the Arado, an outdoor “wee weeHouse” (or bathroom) was constructed using leftover materials. Alchemy’s current studio model, based on the Arado, has an indoor bathroom.
• A single wood-burning stove warms the small interior during winter. Many weeHouses in cold climates are built with in-floor radiant heat.