written by:
photos by:
May 1, 2009
Originally published in Prefab's Promise

In an unlikely mountaintop locale, Anderson Anderson Architecture crafted a home out of a complex composition of off-the-shelf components, paving new paths for the prefabricated construction industry.

Looking like a jewel box at dusk, Scott Stafne’s Cantilever House rests easy in the middle of the Washington woods. With miles of hiking trails, lakes, and waterfalls to explore, Stafne’s property provides almost unlimited opportunity for outdoor adventur
Looking like a jewel box at dusk, Scott Stafne’s Cantilever House rests easy in the middle of the Washington woods. With miles of hiking trails, lakes, and waterfalls to explore, Stafne’s property provides almost unlimited opportunity for outdoor adventures. The strong and sturdy house acts as a warm respite from the elements when the weather won’t cooperate, which is often—horizontal rain and whipping winds can be the norm.
Photo by 
1 / 10
Modern prefab cantilevered house in construction
The design of the Cantilever House, as it's known, is based on a 14-by-86-by-22-foot steel frame resting on a 14-by-31-foot concrete foundation bolted to an existing rock.
Photo by 
2 / 10
The use of structural insulated panels (SIPs) throughout the house helped speed the construction process. Peter Anderson explains, "The panels themselves hang from and rest upon the steel frame and wood spline beam system, which is the link between the st
The use of structural insulated panels (SIPs) throughout the house helped speed the construction process. Peter Anderson explains, "The panels themselves hang from and rest upon the steel frame and wood spline beam system, which is the link between the steel frame and the panels. The SIPs provide enclosure, insulation, and the spanning capacity to support the cast-concrete floor."
Photo by 
3 / 10
Cantilevered steel house near Granite Falls, Washington
Architect Peter Anderson explains that “the floating nature of the design would not have been possible with conventional onsite framing techniques, nor any of the currently marketed modular home designs.” Using a heavy structural steel frame, engineered wood spline beam system, and structural insulated panels, the architects created a truly unique hybrid structural system and, in the end, a home.
Photo by 
4 / 10
The living room looks out toward the two waterfalls that are also part of the property and the inspiration for its name. Artist Constantin Hapaianu made the coffee table and the stainless steel railings surrounding the staircase.
The living room looks out toward the two waterfalls that are also part of the property and the inspiration for its name. Artist Constantin Hapaianu made the coffee table and the stainless steel railings surrounding the staircase.
Photo by 
5 / 10
Scott Stafne relaxes in his upstairs office/TV room in his Natuzzi lounge chair.
Scott Stafne relaxes in his upstairs office/TV room in his Natuzzi lounge chair.
Photo by 
6 / 10
The stairs and the wood paneling were designed and built by wood-worker Noah Israel, a longtime neighbor and friend.
The stairs and the wood paneling were designed and built by wood-worker Noah Israel, a longtime neighbor and friend.
Photo by 
7 / 10
Stafne’s office showcases his ingenious use of the steel structure of the house as a handy bookcase.
Stafne’s office showcases his ingenious use of the steel structure of the house as a handy bookcase.
Photo by 
8 / 10
The master bath features a tiled shower—an optimal spot for viewing the intense weather.
The master bath features a tiled shower—an optimal spot for viewing the intense weather.
Photo by 
9 / 10
Mimicking the cantilever of the house, an outdoor shower just off the master bedroom stretches out gently toward the surrounding woods.
Mimicking the cantilever of the house, an outdoor shower just off the master bedroom stretches out gently toward the surrounding woods.
Photo by 
10 / 10
Looking like a jewel box at dusk, Scott Stafne’s Cantilever House rests easy in the middle of the Washington woods. With miles of hiking trails, lakes, and waterfalls to explore, Stafne’s property provides almost unlimited opportunity for outdoor adventur
Looking like a jewel box at dusk, Scott Stafne’s Cantilever House rests easy in the middle of the Washington woods. With miles of hiking trails, lakes, and waterfalls to explore, Stafne’s property provides almost unlimited opportunity for outdoor adventures. The strong and sturdy house acts as a warm respite from the elements when the weather won’t cooperate, which is often—horizontal rain and whipping winds can be the norm.
Project 
Scott Stafne Residence

On a cold, drizzly, late November morning in downtown Seattle, prefab buildings are not the first thing on most people’s minds—a roaring fire in a cozy cabin is more like it. But for Peter and Mark Anderson, of Anderson Anderson Architecture, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Prefab, with its ambitious ideal as an everyman’s architecture, holds the promise of making that cozy cabin dream both accessible and affordable.

But the Seattle- and San Francisco–based architects have found that this dream is not necessarily the reality. “Low cost is what everyone thinks when they think prefab,” Peter Anderson says with some chagrin. “We’ve been working with these building concepts for years, and while there is definitely a cost differential as opposed to stick-built structures, the homes we do are not what you would call cheap. Every house is different—different site, different client desires, different design—and with difference comes cost.”

Despite Anderson’s frustration with the common per-ception of prefab as the “low-cost alternative,” it’s also the reason so many are drawn to prefab. It’s certainly what brought Scott Stafne to the Andersons’ door. After seeing their Kennedy house on the cover of Dwell back in 2001, Stafne, a gruff, semi-retired lawyer who cut his teeth battling bureaucrats and insurance companies in Seattle, knew these were his architects. But the house Stafne desired was no ordinary structure, and the story of its development points to many of the obstacles standing in the way of modernizing the prefab housing industry.

In the mid-’90s, Stafne had acquired 360 acres of mountaintop land consisting of 16 buildable lots of 21 acres or more near Granite Falls, Washington, about an hour outside of Seattle, giving up his house in the city for the windswept, almost uninhabitable tract of land. But Stafne and his younger brother Todd, a former owner of a construction company in South America and earth-moving-equipment enthusiast, were ready to build. “There was nothing up there,” Stafne explains. “Nothing except acres and acres of trees, wild animals, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls.” While in some respects the site  had everything, it had none of the most basic creature comforts—no electricity, no water, and no roads, save for a primitive logging road that wound up the exceedingly steep mountainside.

Cost aside, prefabricated construction seemed like the perfect solution to Stafne’s needs, given the difficult nature of the site and Stafne’s desire to keep it as pristine as possible. But, as Anderson explains, “That is another misconception people have about prefab—that it is a simple, quick, clean process. While there are definite advantages, the way the process has to be conducted now, it is still quite complicated.”

The design of the Cantilever House, as it’s known, is based on a 14-by-86-by-22-foot steel frame resting on a 14-by-31-foot concrete foundation bolted to an existing rock. “That rock is really what allowed this to be such a unique house,” says Anderson. “It’s what allowed us to cantilever the whole structure and take advantage of the site, pointing the house directly at the waterfalls, which are incredible.”

An early estimate from one national steel company prior to engineering and further design of the steel frame, however, presented the first obstacle. An Arlington, Washington–based steel manufacturer, chosen for their proximity to the site, quoted the Andersons the manageable sum of $45,000—a number that seemed unrealistically low to the architects but stuck with Stafne. But when construction was set to begin—three years after this initial quote and the very early research that had confirmed the viability of the design concept—the turbulent steel market had caused the cost of the frame to spike considerably.

Frustrated but left with little choice, Anderson Anderson took the project to Seattle-based United Iron Works. The frame was now set to run upwards of $66,000, a significant jump from the original estimate and a big chunk of the $200,000 Stafne had hoped to spend on the entire project. But client and architect remained committed to the design scheme and the project continued.

With the framing issue solved, the architects turned their attention to panels. “We wanted to use SIPs [structural insulated panels] for everything,” Anderson explains. The most noticeable part of the plan had the 4-by-22-foot panels hanging off the steel frame, acting as walls, their weight shared equally by suspension from cantilevered roof structure beams (which in turn rest on the steel frame), and by support from cantilevered floor structure beams (which cantilever out from the steel frame). The panels follow a simple pattern that leaves open space for dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the house. Once some of the Andersons’ more unique ideas for the SIPs were fully developed, their use for the floors, ceilings, and walls proved to be a huge time saver.

But before any of that could happen, the team had another problem to resolve. The steel frame made its way from Seattle to Granite Falls on the back of a tractor trailer, but once the truckers reached the area, they refused to scale the mountain: The unpaved road that ascended the grade by way of narrow switchbacks was more than they’d bargained for. The driver unloaded the frame and left it sitting at the foot of the mountain in the morning fog.

“We were a little stunned,” says Todd Stafne. “That put us in a tough position and cost us thousands of extra dollars.” But the Stafne brothers, who’d figured out how to extract electrical power from the rivers on the property and get running water throughout, were not about to be stopped by their Fitzcarraldo-like dilemma. “We’ve gotten to know a bunch of the loggers up here and they know these logging roads,” he explains. “We gave them some cash and they hooked the thing up to one of their trucks and just started dragging.”

Amazingly, it worked. The frame was pulled to the top of the mountain, and then craned into position on the foundation. The project finally started to experience the effects of prefab’s speedy potential. “The basic structure  of the home went up relatively quickly,” says general contractor Kyle Keever. “All in all, it took about two weeks to come together once everything was in place.”

Prefab’s benefits were enticing, but Stafne also yearned for a truly unique home—representative of his varied pursuits and passions. To that end, he engaged many of his artist friends to help. Woodworker Noah Israel built the stairs that wind through the center of the house, and also lined the interior walls with Douglas fir that was planed five times in order to warm up the space and add texture to the otherwise flat surfaces. Artist Constantin Hapaianu contributed much of the stainless steel work, as well as many of the sculptures, while Brian Stephens and Dennis Coons completed much of the exterior landscaping and earth work around the house. Artist Larry Stauffer also designed much of Stafne’s artwork specifically for the house. With this creative collaboration, the house, as Stafne is fond of saying, “really feels like a work of art.”

While these flourishes have been critical to the structure’s ability to be a home rather than just a steel box, they’ve also been the culprit in many of the cost overruns that have been perturbing to all involved. “We were hoping to get this place built for $150,000 to $200,000,” Stafne says. “But that just didn’t happen. It came out to be much more. There are still so many unknowns and unforeseen difficulties that can occur.”

Despite all the problems, one would be hard-pressed to argue that the project has been anything but a success. And if the home didn’t meet all of Stafne’s budgetary goals, it has certainly made him happy. “Once the house went up, it was incredible,” he says. “I don’t know if any of us could have appreciated the views we were going to get—the home we were going to get—until we actually got them.” And the house adds an interesting case study to the ongoing research project that is prefabricated building—another rung to the ladder the building industry needs to climb to maximize prefab’s potential. 

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016