Five years ago, while driving cross-country with his 11-year-old son to install the first cabin in his new prefab building venture, Andrew Kelly passed a smallish log cabin -- the kind sometimes used to house trading posts, gun shops or anything else that can thrive beside a highway. It was dingy, with a tar paper roof, asphalt creeping up to its porch and a soupy puddle wrapped like a moat along one side.

He took a picture and posted it on a blog he'd launched to chronicle the journey. He mockingly titled it "My Competition."

Now, the self-taught Miami industrial designer and his wife, furniture designer Gayle Zalduondo, are well on their way to successful with their eco-friendly prefab construction boutique Cabin Fever. They've completed 48 cabins -- including a ferry station in Homer, Alaska, and worker housing at a luxurious Bahamas resort where room bookings start at $37,500 a day. Other projects include a San Diego campground and a Florida Panhandle communal housing development. In the first six months of this year, the couple sold about 20 of their small structures, including a two-story loft being used as a clinic.


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The cabins, built in a 12,000-square-foot warehouse, range in size from 120 to 800 square feet, and they cost $20,000 to $80,000. They also can be custom-designed for more space. Clients have used them for offices, guest quarters or even small homes. Several musicians have purchased them for backyard studios. For one client, Kelly installed a cabin in an isolated New Mexico location. "The place was so remote it didn't have an address, just GPS coordinates," he says.

Made from recycled steel that has "already been through several life cycles as cars or refrigerators," as he puts it, they are fitted with plenty of windows and maple veneer on the walls, exposed roof beams and clerestory windows. Those used for housing include an Ikea kitchen with butcher-block counters, a bathroom with a shower and a washer and dryer tucked in a closet.

They can be built quickly. At last year's International Contemporary Furniture Fair, where Kelly marketed his Zip cabin as a backyard structure, it took two workers just seven hours to erect one.

While originally designed to create extra space for existing homes, over the years Cabin Fever structures have evolved into single-family homes, an idea that Kelly continues to refine and one that will seem increasingly attractive to a new generation of homebuyer, predicts University of Miami architecture professor Rocco Ceo.

"People want energy-efficient houses or cabins built in a way that's more in tune with the environment. ... You can't build out of pressure-treated (wood) and then have an organic garden next to it," Ceo says.

Walking through one of the cabins being built in their warehouse, Kelly points out, "This is a rectangular box and, without any details, it's kind of boring. But put in the curved roof and exposed beams, and with one gesture you can make an iconic structure."

This prefab cabin in Santa Monica is the Maxwell model built by Cabin Fever in Miami, then disassembled, trucked to the site and reassembled. (Cabin Fever)
This prefab cabin in Santa Monica is the Maxwell model built by Cabin Fever in Miami, then disassembled, trucked to the site and reassembled. (Cabin Fever) (Contributed)

Kelly says that, for the buyer, building this kind of cabin is relatively simple. The first step is to check local building codes to see if sheds are allowed. From there, Kelly and his team take charge. They find local builders and a staff engineer to navigate building departments. So far, he explained, Los Angeles codes have proved the toughest to navigate; Alaska's, where approval and permitting took just two hours, are the fastest.

In retrospect, that first cabin could be seen as portending good things to come. After talking to a prefab seller he discovered while flipping through a design magazine, Kelly built the 320-square-foot cabin on spec so he'd have something to photograph for his sales material.

Then came a call from a landscape architect in California. "After some conversations, I realized I had a sale," he recalls.

Unprepared for such a quick transaction, Kelly had to install it himself. So he loaded up the cabin in a rented 6-ton diesel U-Haul and took along his 11-year-old son, turning the drive into a vacation, with a boat ride down the Louisiana bayou and other diversions along the way.

When they finally arrived in Santa Monica, Kelly says he was amazed by the beauty of the house and grounds where the cabin was to be constructed: a lot of almost 15,000 square feet just a block and a half from the Pacific Ocean. The client's name was still a mystery, since he'd dealt with only the landscape architect. But, as Kelly tells it, during the week he was installing the cabin, he cornered one of the gardeners and got him to reveal the owner's name -- Bob Dylan.

Soon, orders started flowing: a ferry station for the Seldovia Tribe in Homer, Alaska; an artist in Pasadena; a buyer who wanted a vacation cabin overlooking Mount Shasta; and more.