A Prefab, Short on the Fab
Zoe Bissell and Bryan Buryk, with their daughter, Shelby, at home in the Catskills. More Photos »
By BETH GREENFIELD
Published: April 18, 2012
WEST HURLEY, N.Y.
“It was very eccentric,” said Ms. Bissell, 41, a welding artist with a self-deprecating sense of humor. “It was borderline squalor.”
So when her father died in 1994 and Ms. Bissell and her brother inherited their father’s six acres (with the cabin on his side), she knew exactly what kind of house she wanted to build on her half: “Clean, crisp, no wood — I wanted the complete opposite,” she said.
Last year, she got her wish: a modern box of galvanized steel with a 1,450-square-foot interior awash in light and air, thanks to a rear wall that is almost entirely glass. Ms. Bissell lives there with her partner of a decade, Bryan Buryk, 39, a cabinetry designer; their 4-year-old daughter, Shelby; and two small dogs named Pearl and Angus.
The house is prefabricated, built from a kit Ms. Bissell found online called the LVL Home, designed by Rocio Romero, an architect.
Affordability, along with a minimalist aesthetic, were the reasons she decided on a prefab house — points on which Mr. Buryk, who had years before remodeled a 100-year-old house in Portland, Ore., wholeheartedly agreed. “I, similar to Zoe, was coming from a place of not wanting to do that again,” he said.
But it wasn’t quite as affordable as they had hoped. The house cost $260,000 to build, from start to finish (the kit itself was $47,000) — nearly $100,000 more than they’d expected.
The contractor they hired had assured them he could assemble the kit (which includes posts and beams, a plywood roof structure and siding) and complete the entire project for $120,000. But his quote wound up being at least $100,000 too low.
“We finally had to fire him when we were completely broke,” said Ms. Bissell, who was pregnant by then. The house was still about $45,000 away from being ready for a certificate of occupancy. To get it there, the couple cashed in retirement plans, broke out their credit cards and borrowed from family and friends.
They completed a large chunk of the work themselves, including insulation and low-voltage wiring; Mr. Buryk did the interior painting and tile work and built the outdoor landings, while Ms. Bissell used her welding skills to construct the railings along a front stairwell. Mr. Buryk went on an exhaustive quest for the best prices on the rest of the work: he got an estimate of $100,000 for commercial-glass windows down to $39,000 after trying six companies and coming up with a slight redesign; for the roof, a crew of workers came up from the city, completing it in a single day for $13,000.
The house is furnished with couches, chairs and tables found at thrift shops or on the street. Appliances and lamps are gifts or loaners; the art is mostly self-made.
And though they had to forgo things like flooring (apart from the $500 bamboo floor Mr. Buryk installed in the kitchen), landscaping and even a shower, they are still grateful for what they have.
“We would never have built this house if a competent general contractor told us from the start that it would cost so much,” Ms. Bissell said. But “because we were determined to make it work, we managed to finish a house we normally could never afford to live in.”