Designers Explain the Neon House in Fountain Square

Neon Architecture has high hopes for cool pre-fab housing on tiny lots.

Last April, architects Brian Burtch and Minda Balcius got into the business of designing compact, factory-built houses. The first one, called the Neon House in Fountain Square, is a real head-turner with its narrow proportions and stripped-down features. Here, the designers explain.

Why do you think this concept will work in Indianapolis?

BB: It’s a place where you can really take risks because some of the ideas are still new. It’s kind of a perfect time in a lot of ways.

Your spec house, called the Neon, is a 1,050-square-foot, two-story design in Fountain Square. Why so small?

BB: The lot itself is only 21-and-a-half feet wide, so by all standards of current zoning codes, you basically can’t build a livable house on that property. I think, in a weird way, the reason we chose that lot is because we like challenges.

What about the yard?

MB: People who are interested in living in an urban core don’t necessarily need a lot of yard. It’s about low maintenance and spending time enjoying the city as opposed to mowing the lawn.

BB: I think you’re finding that people want nontraditional spaces, like a roof deck.

How do your homes use space efficiently?

BB: When you walk into the Neon House, the whole wall to your right is built-in storage the length of the house. You really minimize the amount of furniture the buyer has to accumulate. It’s more about the quality of the space, opposed to the quantity. This house has a double-height living space, which is completely unexpected and gives you a sense that this house is much more spacious than it is.   

MB: One other element of design that we’re incorporating is multifunctional use of space.

Such as?

MB: We have a really large island that also serves as a space [to do] homework, to gather with friends, and enjoy dinner.

Your designs are factory-built in Decatur, Indiana. Why?

MB: It saves time and resources. Not being builders ourselves, we wanted to have a very reliable, very controlled process that would fill that need.

Do you need to be a minimalist to live in the Neon house?

BB: I think you have to be a little more particular of what you have, what you keep and don’t keep.

How much does the neon house cost?

MB: A true custom house is going to be somewhere between $300 to $400 per square foot, whereas our product is targeting $185 and $250, plus the land.