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Home Front: Luminhaus Lights Up

Prefab hype brings attention to Richmond Pioneers.

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"We were afraid we were going to have trouble renting it out," Bless says. "We had no idea it would catch the public's imagination the way it has."

In March the Washington Post put them on the cover of its Home & Garden section. That story was picked up by papers around the country and resulted in Bless and Watson getting calls from as far away as Seattle and Miami.

The couple's fielded calls from real-estate agents and construction companies looking to get into building and renting prefab homes. Indian, Japanese, French and Russian visitors based in Washington, D.C., have all stayed there.

The project also landed on the cover of Smart HomeOwner magazine; on the Do It Yourself network's "Assembly Required," which airs Sept. 18 at 2 p.m.; in a feature on hotels in Dwell magazine in October; and in a coffee table book called "Kit Homes Modern" by Ima Ebong, coming out in December.

Since Home Style last visited Luminhaus, the interior has been furnished and decorated, complete with reproductions of some mid-century modern icons: a Le Corbusier recliner Watson found on eBay and a Marcel Breuer coffee table. The couple also decorated the home with local art and a display of small works they collected from Art-o-mat machines. Once they finish a series of paths through the grounds, they hope to have local sculptors create work for the exterior. In addition, Watson is researching native Virginia plants and those in Thomas Jefferson's garden in hopes of cultivating some endangered species on the property.

Bless, Watson and their four children have stayed at the house twice and have plans to visit for 10 days in July. Bless says they're renting the house out about 10 weeks a year. "The object isn't to make a profit," he says. "The object is to afford the project." They've also given time at the house to family and friends who helped with the construction. As for new guests, there's a waiting list for weekend visits.

Bless says that while all the attention has been great, one aspect of it has been a little strange: The Post article declared them part of a movement.

"People have an inflated sense of reverence," Bless says. "One guy wrote, 'Thanks for helping us see the way.'" While Bless is wary of trends, Watson takes pride in the association.

"We're not rich, we were the average couple and it was the very first prefab [model] available, mass-produced, on the market," Watson says. "So I would say, yeah, we are pioneers."

Bless concedes that one positive result of the hype surrounding prefab has been the introduction of affordable models. Breckenridge trailer company has designed a modern trailer that costs $45,000 and doesn't require any assembly. Target recently decorated five of the trailers and used them to publicize its products in Manhattan. The model Bless and Watson used, the LV Home kit, costs about $30,000 but must be put together and finished on the inside.

Now Bless and Watson are thinking about starting a 30-acre vacation community with one of every modern prefab home on the market. The rentals would allow potential buyers to test out a prefab home before taking the plunge.

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