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ARCHITECTURE

Curb, and pocket, appeal

Can a well-crafted home be built for $100,000? Karrie Jacobs set off on a road trip and found just that.

July 27, 2006|David Hay | Special to The Times

New York — THE last days of Karrie Jacobs' tenure as the founding editor of Dwell had been difficult. Her passion for the principles of Modernism -- not what she calls "the self-consciously historic style it has become" -- was losing its place within her own pages. "There was increasing pressure to show really high-end houses," she says, "and less room for features that weren't about product."

After a fractious departure from the magazine, Jacobs still struggled with a fundamental question that, she says, too many shelter magazines were avoiding: Is there such a thing as a home that's thoughtfully designed, well engineered and yet still affordable?

On the morning of July 4, 2003, she drove her midnight blue Cabrio convertible out of New York and set out on a journey that would end up covering 14,000 miles. Her mission: to find the perfect $100,000 house.

Jacobs thought her ideal home would be designed with the best Modernist principles in mind. "This meant using materials not so much for how they look as how they perform," she says during a recent interview in her cluttered Brooklyn apartment. "It was thinking about the qualities of light and space, how the house is positioned in relation to the sun. Ultimately it was about thinking carefully through a building." It would be a search for an American dream that seemed to have all but faded.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 30, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Affordable construction: An article in Thursday's Home on author Karrie Jacobs included a quote from her book, in which she describes the LV Home in Perryville, Mo., as "a seamless galvanized aluminum box with generous windows." The house's exterior siding is actually steel coated in an aluminum-zinc alloy.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 03, 2006 Home Edition Home Part F Page 7 Features Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Affordable construction: An article in last week's Home section on author Karrie Jacobs included a quote from her book, in which she describes the LV Home in Perryville, Mo., as "a seamless galvanized aluminum box with generous windows." The house's exterior siding is actually steel coated in an aluminum-zinc alloy.

By the time her road trip was over, Jacobs, 48, had discovered the answer to her question: Yes, an architecturally interesting home could be built for $100,000. Yet she found herself facing a more daunting mystery: Why did the search prove so difficult?

JACOB'S first stop was a two-week do-it-yourself home-building workshop at Yestermorrow, a "design/build" school in Warren, Vt. Here she learned the essentials of drafting and picked up a hammer to work on a small construction site. Absorbing the values of the building pragmatist was a valuable lesson as Jacobs drove on, meeting architects from across the Midwest, Mississippi, Colorado, California -- all the while documenting her search for "The Perfect $100,000 House: A Trip Across America and Back in Pursuit of a Place to Call Home," to be published next month by Viking.

In Perryville, Mo., the author found Rocio Romero, who was erecting a prototype of her LV Home, "a seamless, galvanized aluminum box with generous windows that, inside and out, speaks of a high-tech modernity," Jacobs wrote. The home also met Jacobs' main criterion, with construction costs (excluding land) less than $100,000.

In Lawrence, the Studio 804 design program run by the University of Kansas architecture school had recently built a pair of steel-clad boxes topped by wild-looking plastic roofs for $95,000. With the sun's rays streaming through clerestory windows, Jacobs confessed in her book, "I walk into this light-filled wonder and it makes me thankful that I'm no longer a shelter magazine editor." The family who owns this "perfect piece of architecture," she adds with relief, has filled it with items you rarely see in magazine spreads: the mundane, messy possessions of real life. (Dwell owner and founder Lara Hedberg Deam did not respond to requests for comment about Jacobs or her critique of design media.)

On Fox Island, across from Tacoma, Wash., Jacobs visited a brilliant house defined by its high, curved roof and zebra-striped siding. Designed by Anderson Anderson Architects and constructed for less than $90,000, the structure is in essence a two-story shed with a wall composed almost entirely of glass.

Between visits with 23 architects, Jacobs' conception of the perfect house changed. It was no longer pristinely Modernist, but rather more contemporary in its vernacular. She assumed that it would be built somewhere exotic -- maybe the San Juan Islands. It came as a shock that she would ultimately find her perfect house in Texas, in the humble Houston suburb of Eastwood.

There she met residential designer Brett Zamore, 35, who was in the early stages of constructing a house he called the Shot-Trot, a cross between the Southern style known as "shotgun" and the Texas Hill Country archetype, "dog trot," which has breezeways running from one side of the house to the other.

Late last year, Jacobs returned to see the Shot-Trot completed. "Brett took me there at night," she says. "I thought maybe this was one of those architects' tricks showing off a house glowing like a lantern, but in fact it was beautiful."

With a starkly pitched roof and cement-based cladding, it was hardly a model of classical Modernism. "But it had an authenticity about it," she says, adding that she has come to love its balance between traditional and modern.

Since Jacobs' last visit, Zamore developed three versions of the house to be sold in kit form.

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