Many considered it a brilliant move when Target began selling goods by famous designers such as Michael Graves and Isaac Mizrahi, thereby bringing high design to the masses. Now a consortium of award-winning architects, designers and builders is seeking to do the same thing with house plans--minus the big box store. With the launch later this month of Hometta.com, a Web site offering blueprints by well-known custom architects, organizers are hoping to democratize good residential design and ultimately improve the looks of the American housing landscape.
"We think it’s a tragedy that 98% of American home buyers cannot afford the services of an architect," says Mark Johnson, a Houston-based green builder and owner of the development outfit Area 16, who co-founded the joint venture in partnership with architect Andrew McFarland. "Our singular purpose is to improve the design quality of single-family houses being built today."
Hometta’s niche is specific: The site will specialize exclusively in contemporary-style residences that are modest in size (limited to 2,500 square feet or smaller) and sustainable, incorporating features such as hydronic heating and cooling, passive ventilation, and photovoltaic systems.
Visitors to the site will be able to browse renderings, educational content, audio clips, slideshows, and video podcasts free of charge, as well as a design blog with updates on house tours and other events, plus commentary by featured architects. But the main attraction--house plans--will come at a cost. Unlike philosophically similar online ventures such as FreeGreen, which provides eco-friendly house plans for download at no charge, Hometta is banking on the hope that design aficionados will be willing to fork over a little extra cash for material that is slightly more upscale.
A "design subscription" of $9.95 per year will grant consumers access to a detailed construction guide, as well as searchable database of qualified builders. Only serious potential customers opting for a "Build Subscription" at $99.95 per year will be privvy to actual builder plan sets. Licenses for featured plans will range from $1,195 for a studio-sized dwelling to $3,195 for a three-bedroom model. The price tags are higher than your average mail-order house plans, which usually run between $500 and $2,000. But organizers are optimistic that consumers will be willing to pay a premium for plans by well-known architects.
Builder partners who end up listed in the online database will be exempt from subscription requirements and will have full access to site content, says Johnson, who is a spec builder himself. To seed the venture, Johnson and McFarland enlisted four "core" architects--James Evans, Dawn Finley, Brett Zamore, and Blaire Satterfield-–who, in turn, recruited more than 20 additional firms to contribute designs to the collection. Some of the 25 plans that will be available upon launch were created exclusively for Hometta; others are based on custom homes that have already been built. Johnson expects to eventually offer 75 plans to 150 plans.
"Hometta makes good modern home design available, without risk or complication, to folks who might never have considered real architecture to be an option," says contributing architect Wes Jones, whose eponymous firm is based in Los Angeles.
Other participating architecture firms include
Barry Price Architecture, Woodstock, N.Y.
Borden Partnership, Los Angeles
Brett Zamore Design, Houston
Collaborative Designworks, Houston
davidclovers, Hong Kong
Dufner Heighes, New York
FAR frohn&rojas, Los Angeles; Cologne, Germany; and Santiago, Chile
Garofalo Architects, Chicago
Guthrie+Buresh Architects, Ann Arbor, Mich.
HouMinn Practice, Houston and Minneapolis
Jones, Partners: Architecture Los Angeles
Karl Wallick, Cincinnati
Keith Krumwiede, New York and Los Angeles
Kiel Moe, Boston
KRDB, Austin, TX
MANIFOLD.ArchitectureStudio, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Mainze, Germany
Mike Jacobs Architecture, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Los Angeles
Min | Day, San Francisco and Omaha
over,under inc., Boston
Roger Sherman Architecture, Santa Monica, Calif.
Studio Terpeluk, San Francisco
Zoka Zola, Chicago
Jenny Sullivan is senior editor, design for BUILDER.