Retail Giant Muji Joins Prefab Senior Housing Trend

Muji is joining the ranks of companies, including IKEA, looking to meet the demand for affordable senior housing through prefabrication.

Based in Japan, Muji has grown from a retailer of home goods to an internationally recognized brand with more than 500 stores in urban centers such as New York City, where it also offers products for sale at the Museum of Modern Art. As the MoMA connection suggests, the company is known for placing a priority on design. Muji has also branched into other businesses, including hotels, as well as prefab homes sold directly to consumers.

The prefab housing model, dubbed Yō no le (“Plain House”), is the latest in Muji’s line of prefabricated homes and marks a drastic departure from other designs in the line. Where Muji’s other prefab designs are geared toward smaller lots in urban settings and rise vertically, Yō no le is Muji’s first model designed without stairs, intended for more spacious lots in suburban and exurban locations, House Beautiful reports.

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The Yō no le design is a single story, 800-square-foot, one-bedroom open floorplan, with floor-to-ceiling doors leading out to a 200-square-foot deck which includes a sunken area which can be used for gardening or a fire pit. Muji, which has a “no-brand” aesthetic to home furnishings, designed the model with a bare wood, mid-century design intended to appeal to minimalists and fans of the “tiny house” trend.

Currently, Yō no le is only available in Japan, at a retail price of $160,000. Muji rolled out its first prefab house line, Tate no le (Vertical House), in 2010.

Prefabricated housing and modular construction hold the potential to meet the growing demand for senior housing, and is gaining popularity with contractors and developers looking to cut down on escalating construction and materials costs.

Chicago-based full-service design firm Skender pivoted in the past two years from a general contractor into a vertically integrated manufacturer of prefabricated modular building components for multifamily, senior housing, health care and commercial buildings. Skender opened a production facility on Chicago’s Southwest Side in February 2018, has modular prototypes for multifamily, hotels and health care in development, and is attracting interest from developers across the country.

Elder care innovator Dr. Bill Thomas has been a champion of prefabricated housing well before Skender entered the space. Thomas’ Minka model of tiny homes hold the potential for a range of uses in senior housing, including intergenerational dementia care. Thomas is in preliminary talks with Denver-based Christian Living Communities (CLC) to open a tiny home community for seniors in Colorado.

There is a precedent for prefabricated senior housing. Mobile home parks have proven popular with active seniors looking to extend their quality of life and their nest eggs, as well as institutional investors and real estate investment trusts seeking stable, long-term investments.

Muji is not the only home retailer to offer prefabricated housing. In 2017, Swedish furniture giant IKEA launched SilviaBo, a new type of prefabricated home for people with dementia, developed in conjunction with Queen Silvia of Sweden and her charitable foundation. Before that, IKEA partnered with global construction firm Skanska to create Boklok, a prefabricated affordable housing arm that has built 11,000 homes in Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom.

Finally, e-retail giant Amazon sells a wide variety of prefabricated homes and tiny home kits.

Muji did not return a request for comment from Senior Housing News.

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