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Big Ideas For Wee Houses

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By Kerry McNally, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Imagine driving by an empty lot on Monday only to drive by the same place on Tuesday and there’s a beautiful new house sitting on that lot.

For those who have watched the often-slow pace of construction, it may seem a little far-fetched. For workers at St. Paul’s Alchemy Architects, it’s just another day on the job.

From cozy bungalows to sprawling mansions, houses in Minnesota come in all shapes, sizes and price points. Now, a team of architects is specializing in state-of-the-art custom homes that show up completely finished on the back of a flat-bed truck.

Wee Houses are uniquely situated for Minnesota’s long winters, diverse neighborhoods and varied landscape. Alchemy’s projects are literally showing up, all over the country.

Alchemy Architects recently installed one of its houses in the Linden Hills area of Minneapolis.

“This is a modular house,” explained managing partner and designer Scott Ervin. “It was built in Wisconsin. It’s four separate pieces delivered here by a flat-bed truck. And then a crane set up here in the driveway, picked it up and set each piece individually.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if you could build a house indoors, especially when it’s like it is today, zero degrees. And all the paint and the caulk would work really well,” Warner said.

When your house arrives, it is locked in place and then the water and electricity are hooked up and turned on.

“There were 40 or so people here as the crane lifted each section up over that pine tree and dropped them in place. The small crowd set up lawn chairs and just enjoyed the show,” Ervin explained.

Walking inside, you see that the modern appliances and granite counter tops are wrapped in cardboard and plastic.

Manufactured homes are starting to show up all over the country, including Pepin, Wis. and in Marfa, Texas.

Founder Geoffrey Warner said that the economy has swung back to a more practical sensibility.

“The period right before this was one of excess and so people aren’t looking for big huge places anymore,” Warner said. “They’re looking for something greener, something smaller.”

Manufactured homes or “pre-fabs” began in England in 1905 with the “Portable Cottage.”

The current homes start as low as $49,000, and the inability to build here in Minnesota in the winter makes them a nice fit for Alchemy and their clients.

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