Visual Arts » Architecture

Simply Pre-Fabulous



For Ursula David, building a modern prefab home in a neighborhood where she has never lived feels nostalgic.  

Developing a cluster of like-minded homes so others can share in her bliss is "selfish."

And building her decidedly modern homes amid a cluster of quaint, more-than-a-century-old cottages is not the greatest contradiction of all, but, rather, an act of bridge building ... of highlighting the links between past and present, familiar and fresh, personal and public.

Ursula David outside her home as it's being constructed. - COURTESY URSULA DAVID
  • Courtesy Ursula David
  • Ursula David outside her home as it's being constructed.

"I think modern design brings that all together," David says.

A few years ago, that thinking drove David, a builder and contractor with three decades of experience, to create Indy Mod Homes, a line of prefab homes with the level of architectural style commonly associated with custom design, and without the flimsiness commonly associated with prefab buildings.

Ground Zero for David's endeavors is East 10th Street, just a couple of blocks from the Monon Trail in the Cottage Home neighborhood. David's own home, at the corner of 10th and Highland streets, serves as the point of genesis. The brightly colored house features two high, slanted rooftops separated by a lower roofline to form a sort of broken pediment. The effect is of two halves of a home that have been pushed apart to accommodate an entryway and connecting hallway. Another IndyMod home sits next to it, and another is about to take shape nearby.

In all, David envisions 10 Indy Mod Homes at this location, and as many as she can sell in other parts of town. The homes are planned to be between 1,500 and 2,000 square feet, David says, and they are priced in the mid $300,000 range.

All of those Indy Mod Homes will share a creation story. Designed by Axis Architecture, Indy Mod homes are built by High Tech Inc. in a manufacturing facility in Bristol, Ind., and they are delivered to the home site in a few massive sections -- and common design elements. The exterior elevations feature simple shapes, sharp angles, bright and contrasting colors and windows of varying sizes and shapes. On the inside, you find sleek lines, soaring ceilings and efficient use of space.

Why this style? "It's very selfish," David says with a laugh. "It's what I love. It's all about me."

In truth, this progressive style reverberates with history for David. An Indianapolis native, she grew up in a prefabricated "Gunnison Home" on the city's northside. "My parents actually ordered it from a catalog," she says. David didn't learn about her own prefab past until after she started Indy Mod Homes, or that Gunnison Homes used the word "prefabulous" to describe its homes ... the same word she coined for her business years later. "I had no recollection of that," she says. "I was 3 or 4 years old."

Ursula David's home being installed. - COURTESY URSULA DAVID
  • Courtesy Ursula David
  • Ursula David's home being installed.

What she does remember is the home they moved into next -- a midcentury modern home near Kessler Boulevard and 48th Street -- and her father's sense of style. "I still fondly remember the furniture in that home, like an orange laminate little cigarette table ... everything that was popular in that furniture style," she says. "Every place we had, he decorated himself. He was good at it."

In that case, David's dad would have enjoyed owning an Indy Mod Home. Homeowners work with David and AXIS to choose a floor plan, and then they specify finish items such as lights and plumbing fixtures. Next comes the usual approval and permitting processes, and then the factory workers build the house, a process that David says is much safer, smoother and sustainable than on a jobsite. About 70 percent of the materials left over from the construction process is recycled.

The walls are framed with 2-by-6 boards, for added stability. They then are clad with plywood to ensure that the drywall, which goes on next, doesn't get damaged in the moving process. Finally lighting and plumbing fixtures are installed. The whole process takes three to four weeks.

Ursula David partnered with Axis Architecture on the design of Indy Mod homes and High Tech Inc. for their construction. - COURTESY URSULA DAVID
  • Courtesy Ursula David
  • Ursula David partnered with Axis Architecture on the design of Indy Mod homes and High Tech Inc. for their construction.

Then the house is loaded onto a semitrailer and moved to the home site. "It's quite a gas seeing your house coming down 10th Street," David says. Here, flooring, siding and finish work take another 45 to 60 days, resulting in a truly 21st century home that David believes will respectfully complement, not conflict with, surrounding 19th-century cottages.

"We're about taking elements out of the old style and trying to incorporate them into the new," she says. "We're all about embracing 2014, and hoping that this, too, will be remembered as something significant."

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