Until recently, going off the grid was a reality reserved for only the most dedicated, Thoreau-inspired iconoclasts. And for good reason. It was one thing to daydream about living amongst pristine wilderness, with nary a car horn to disrupt the sound of a nearby babbling brook. It was quite another to invest the time and resources required to actually create a home in one of these hard-to-reach locales. But now, state-of-the-art solutions are emerging that remove those barriers to entry — or should we say escape.
Our increasingly remote lifestyles are fueling new demand for far-flung residences. Amid the pandemic, modern bohemians were lured to a life on the road, with the #VanLife movement flooding social media with photos of friends checking their email from national parks. Until recently, RVs, camper vans and souped-up sprinters were still the best way to go off the beaten path in something more sumptuous than a field tent and sleeping bag. But let’s be real: For most of us, that cramped, often inconvenient existence can lose its luster quickly.
The surprising solution? Prefabricated homes, which are getting a glam makeover and making our remote living dreams a reality. Hear us out: Previously considered low-budget (and not in a good way), these structures composed of factory-made components have gotten a major upgrade thanks to advances in technology like 3D printing and autonomous power, allowing architects and designers to craft a more contemporary take on the log cabin lifestyle. These sleek, sustainably minded houses can be placed on even the most rugged of terrains, be it by a mountain lake, amid a desert oasis or even out on the open water.
“We created our company with people like us in mind,” says Jordan Bem, CEO and cofounder of New York startup Moliving, a prefab solution conceived to disrupt the modular living industry with its plush, fully off-grid units. “Our customers desire a bridge between traditional luxury and nature. They appreciate sustainable practices while being pampered in a tranquil, nature-filled environment.”
Another disruptor in the space, Seattle-based Haus.me employs space station technology and uber resilient materials to craft its 3D-printed models, which clock in at 400 or 800 square feet. In fact, the company’s creations are so sturdy that the team jokingly refers to them as “zombie-proof” — built to keep you safe and comfortable even in case of an apocalypse. Because these bungalows don’t require a foundation (just a flat surface) and come equipped with solar energy, water tanks and autonomous sewage, it’s possible to install them almost anywhere on land.
If life on the water is more your style, there’s an option for that, too. French company Anthenea has designed floating sea capsules inspired by the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, complete with 360-degree underwater views from the indoor cabins. Each UFO-like pod is topped with a rounded solarium, where residents can bask in the daytime sunshine or take in a starry night from their cocoon-like perch. These 530-square-foot sea suites offer more space than a standard houseboat as well as the serene silence and autonomy allowed by solar power.
The benefits of this trend go beyond just access to a tranquil nature escape for you and your family. For landowners, it’s an enticing opportunity to create new revenue streams via second home rental or even small boutique properties. Eye-catching designs — like the 230-square-foot units from ÖÖD House with mirrored walls that reflect the surrounding wilderness — cater to guests who are willing to pay a premium for unique stays, no matter the size. In fact, avant-garde and Instagram-worthy tiny homes took the top spot in Airbnb stays in 2021, with more than 2.5 million nights booked. And with suppliers like Vika Living boasting build times as quick as one hour per unit, stunning remote landscapes can be transformed into attractive small-scale resorts in record time.
As off-grid O.G. Henry David Thoreau famously said, “The world is but a canvas to our imaginations.” This has never been truer, especially now that our imaginations are no longer restrained by the restrictions of yesteryear. Thanks to a marriage of prefab design and innovative power solutions, high-quality houses can spring up in the most idyllic settings and at a fraction of previous costs. Meaning the call of the wild is simply too tempting to resist.