ATLANTA A low-cost concept that began as an effort to provide affordable homes to victims of Hurricane Katrina is now being seized upon as an alternative for Americans looking for a vacation home or to downsize their current living space.
Out of the 2005 disaster came "The Katrina Cottage" -- a small, sturdy, single-family house that is expandable and can be built in a few weeks. For many home buyers, these specifications fit like a glove.
The first of these bare-bone homes was designed by New York architect Marianne Cusato, who was looking to develop housing for people left homeless by Katrina.
Then, last year, Cusato partnered with home improvement retailer Lowe's Cos to sell designs for the cottages at the home improvement retailer's U.S. Gulf stores.
In late June, Lowe's made the home plans available in all of its stores, and says it has received a good deal of interest.
"They have been selling in the Gulf, but we're really finding the greater interest is around the country," Lowe's spokeswoman Chris Ahearn said.
Ahearn declined to give sales figures but added that "a lot of people are looking at them as vacation homes, lake or mountain cottages."
Ahearn also said that some homeowners plan to use the cottage design to extend their current homes or construct in-law suites near their primary residence.
Lowe's sells home plans and building materials for 11 models designed by Cusato and other architects. The homes start at 544 square feet, and feature a living room, bedroom, kitchen and porch. They have metal roofs, and siding that is rot- and termite-resistant.
Initial costs for the design and materials range from $45 to $55 a square foot. Buyers will need to hire a contractor, adding to the cost, and have their own land on which to build.
ALTERNATIVE TO TRAILERS
In the U.S. Gulf, these cottage-style homes, which are built to withstand strong winds, have popped up as an alternative to trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the aftermath of Katrina.
Home Front Homes, an Englewood, Florida, company that specializes in hurricane-resistant, energy-efficient houses, built one of these cottages in New Orleans after Katrina.
Brian Bishop, Home Front Homes president, said his prefabricated homes can be shipped in kits that cost $30,000 to $55,000 and can take as little as three days to construct. His company has built cottage-style homes for charities and cities looking to recover from previous hurricanes.
But he also said the homes have attracted interest from people looking to downsize their living quarters, as well as for other uses.
"We're building them for people who not only want a very small home, but for cottages or for resort," Bishop added.
In Mooresville, North Carolina, Our Towns Habitat for Humanity, an affiliate of the global nonprofit, is planning to dedicate a 1,100-square-foot Katrina Cottage later this month.
The group, whose volunteers built the cottage with materials supplied by Lowe's, is hoping to build a community of similar cottages next year, provided that it obtains property and necessary government approvals.
"It's a great opportunity to bring more affordable housing to other areas," said Terry Laney, executive director of Our Towns Habitat.