How did the founder of SkyMall end up on a mission to create environmentally friendly, affordable and beautiful modular homes?
A long-time entrepreneur with a CPA’s passion for efficiency, Bob Worsley didn’t expect to be on the vanguard of the housing industry. But his curiosity was piqued while serving in the Arizona Senate (2013-2019). Bob began hearing about the need for affordable housing from his constituents. Trade shortages and inefficient construction methods combined to leave a big gap in the market; homes weren’t being built fast enough to meet demand.
“Why hasn't the housing industry had a disruptive moment, like everything else has?” Bob wondered. “It’s a 4-trillion-dollar industry that hasn’t been updated in a long time.”
So Bob went into research mode. He spent 18 months exploring small, flexible living concepts with Hall Labs in Provo, Utah. Convinced the world needed housing solutions sooner than later, he launched ZenniHome.
Bob wanted to create a smaller home that would free people to live bigger lives. “An awful lot of your income goes to housing, and most of your housing is not used,” Bob explains. “It’s just sitting there being air conditioned or heated all day long.”
A smaller, smartly designed home could combine single-purpose rooms to reduce square footage, energy use and maintenance, and costs. Recruiting architect Stephen James and land-use planner and designer Trevor Barger, Bob began ZenniHome’s vision in earnest. They wanted to create a home that conformed to standard shipping-container dimensions for easy transportation. And they wanted the home to be truly modular—able to be used in different configurations.
“Imagine if a ZenniHome was not just for mother-in-law quarters in your backyard, but could be stacked for multi-family housing,” Bob says, remembering those first brainstorm sessions. “Imagine if you could factory-build these ‘LEGO blocks’ that were beautiful and had everything a traditionally stick-built home would have.”
They quickly realized that precision-building these homes in a sustainable factory would be a game-changer.
“Our greatest challenge is that the current way we build things in situ, or in place, is broken,” Bob explains. “Job sites aren’t controllable enough, there’s too much waste and costs are rising. You can’t control the schedule. You can’t control the weather.”
“The holy grail is getting this into a factory, into a climate-controlled environment with routinization,” says Bob. “Our inspiration is how automobiles get assembled. That’s how we should build a home—rapidly and at low cost.”
ZenniHome began working with Sandy Munro, known for his work with Tesla, to find ways to translate traditional construction methods into an automated, streamlined process. Similarly, Bob collaborated with ORI Living to incorporate their innovative robotic furniture into ZenniHome’s models, to expand the uses of every square foot. In December of 2021, Bob finalized a contract with the Navajo Nation to establish ZenniHome’s flagship factory on the site of a decommissioned coal plant outside of Page, Arizona. The vision is becoming reality.
“We are completely changing how a home should be built,” Bob says. But it’s not just process innovations that excite Bob, it’s ZenniHome’s promise of community.
“Frank Lloyd Wright created the concept of the Usonian house—a home that everyone in America could afford,” Bob says. “But he felt like he didn’t accomplish his last great work: How to develop them in community. He wanted people living together in these units in such a way that they would be happy and connected and feel very comfortable in a community.”
“That’s what exciting for me,” Bob shares. “How do people live in ZenniHomes vis-à-vis their connection with other human beings? How does a community of ZenniHomes feel? That’s a great new area to explore.”
Learn more about what makes ZenniHome different here.