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The benefits of manufactured housing are clear, from time and labor efficiencies to reduced waste. However, the manufacturing process has limited ability to incorporate aesthetically stimulating features. But, the game is changing.

The origin story for micro-housing builder Kasita is part of modular home lore. To make a point, founder Jeff Wilson in 2014 spent a year living in a Dumpster. A dean at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Wilson regarded his time in the customized trash receptacle as an experiment, a teaching exercise, and ultimately a research project on tiny-home design. He stepped out of the container with a clear vision of what is important in living space.

“When you’re living in a 33-square-foot [3 sq m] space for a year, everything comes into sharp focus,” Wilson says today.

Wilson believes that focus has led him to the solution to the riddle of making modular housing a viable commercial option. The Austin-based Kasita is mass manufacturing carefully designed, fully equipped modular homes that can be easily transported and made ready for habitation almost as soon as they arrive on site. The typical model has 352 square feet (33 sq m) of space and includes a bathroom, a kitchen, a washer/dryer, a living area with a slide-out queen-sized bed, integrated Alexa-like technology, and a glass cube on the end that can be used as a seating area.

Kasita’s strategy is to make the micro-homes capable of mass manufacturing and as close to plug-and-play as possible to appeal to developers. While it is still marketing its product to consumers—the traditional prefab market of granny flats and quick-and-easy rural homes—Kasita is pitching the easily stackable, ­industrial-designed units, built to International Building Code or International Residential standards, as a better way of creating infill projects.

“Having the full package is different than anything out there,” Wilson says.

Sitting in the Dumpster, Wilson had an epiphany, he says. Looking up at the stars one night, he asked, Why don’t we stop making houses the way we make houses and make them the way we make everything else in the world?

Wilson decided to throw away conventional designs for modular homes and start from scratch, examining every element of a house. Instead of hiring an architect, he hired a product designer to create something focused on end-users.

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