by Forbes Asia
This story appears in the July 25, 2016 issue of Forbes Asia. Subscribe to Forbes Asia
Robbie Antonio defines the art of living by living with art. The 39-year-old Filipino real estate developer owns a Rem Koolhaas mansion in Manila decorated with MoMA-worthy works by Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, David LaChapelle and Marina Abramovic, among others. Now Antonio wants to bring high design and blue-chip architecture to the masses in a small way–a few hundred square feet at a time. Last year Antonio launched Revolution Pre-crafted Properties and commissioned dozens of bespoke prefabricated homes intended to be collectible. His new venture isn’t nearly as expansive as his own house–which reportedly cost him more than $15 million. The amount of money he raised to launch Revolution, he says, is no more than $10 million.
Antonio hired 39 architects, artists and designers–including Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid, David Salle and Lenny Kravitz’s Kravitz Design–to create homes and pavilions that can be made to order and shipped almost anywhere in the world within three months. The average price for these mini-mansions is around $300,000, with an average size of 1,000 square feet.
“I want the homes to be perceived as art pieces,” Antonio says during a recent trip to New York to attend the Frieze Art Fair. It was through his travels to art fairs and exhibitions that Antonio met Swiss businessman and diplomat Uli Sigg, a major collector of Chinese art, and persuaded him to invest in Revolution.
Sigg was swayed by Antonio’s years in real estate and his passion for these modular homes. Antonio’s family’s company, Century Properties, is renowned in the Philippines for its luxury hotels and towers branded with design houses such as Giorgio Armani and Hermès, as well as partnerships with Donald Trump, Paris Hilton and Forbes (disclosure: in February Century broke ground on a Forbes-branded media tower in Manila). Antonio’s father, Jose, credits his son for making much of the family firm’s leap into celebrity dealmaking. And while Robbie Antonio remains a managing director responsible for Century’s luxury product line, Revolution is his baby. He didn’t ask his father for an investment in his new venture: “I didn’t want to impose my passion,” he says.
In creating Revolution, Antonio is using the same big-name flair he’s strived for in his role at Century. Among his first calls was to architect Alan Ritchie–a longtime design partner with Philip Johnson who inherited the late architect’s firm–to create a modular version of Johnson’s Glass House. The 1949 New Canaan, Connecticut home is an icon of minimalist architecture, and Ritchie was intrigued by the challenge of modular construction. “I think this is something that can be built off-site and assembled like a Lego set,” he says. “We’re striving to do something that’s customizable.”
Ritchie designed at least two models that can be one- or two-bedroom homes. He followed the Glass House’s clean composition and was faithful to Johnson’s proportions. He also had to ensure that the components were simple for fabricators to re-create, in sizes compatible with global shipping container standards and with assembly directions easy enough to be followed by any developer. Another Antonio hire, Marcel Wanders, a Dutch designer best known for creating whimsical furniture like the Knotted Chair, says he was drawn to the project precisely because it combines architecture and industrial design. Wanders has a line of homes that can be easily expanded and are somewhat customizable (roofs are available in different colors).
While this prefab home business is reminiscent of IKEA on a grander scale, Antonio says that he was most inspired by Airbnb, which does three things he wants to emulate: It doesn’t own any land and has no inventory; it’s a global operation; and it uses technology in a disruptive way. Antonio outsources fabrications to various factories (mostly in the Philippines); his buyers so far span Russia and Central America; and he says manufacturers are using advanced robotics to create the products.
To buy a Revolution home requires a 50% down payment before production begins, with the remainder paid on delivery. Components are delivered in a flat container to the customer, who is responsible for obtaining permits and a contractor to build it (furniture and appliances are not included). For an additional fee Antonio will provide a local developer to assemble the structure. After launching last December, Antonio set a goal of 144 home sales for 2016 and says he had orders for more than 100 as of June. He is projecting $64 million in revenues for 2016 and did not disclose his designers’ fees, but he claims Revolution’s profit margin is around 35%.
The market he has entered has been growing in recent years, and other entrepreneurs have taken note. Christopher Burch, former husband of designer Tory Burch, started Cocoon9 with home builder Edwin Mahoney in 2010 to sell prefab homes, with prices ranging from $75,000 to $225,000. His company, which has a factory in New Jersey, produces three models. The design magazine Dwell also offers its own brand of prefab homes starting at $250 a square foot.
Antonio emphasizes that his homes are collectibles and has been seeking prospective buyers at the global art fairs he frequents. In recent months he jetted from Art Basel Miami to the Cannes Film Festival and Art Basel Switzerland, showcasing his designer pavilions to fellow collectors. The pavilions, which can cost upwards of $120,000, are intended for more “aspirational players” and available in more limited editions. His first major sale was a Zaha Hadid dining pavilion, which went for close to €1.3 million in March. Still, the majority of Revolution’s market is in affordable houses, sold mostly through developers whom he plans to target at real estate fairs like Cityscape in Dubai. A few months in, his model appears to be working: “85% of our business so far is B2B,” Antonio says.
Phase Two of his business plan involves adding more fashion houses to his roster in an effort to bring haute couture to the prefab home market. “I want us to be a unicorn,” says Antonio. “I want us to be the first unicorn in Southeast Asia.”