Donna Miller lives surrounded by touches of Sweden. But her home is in Oakton and she and her husband pay Fairfax County real estate taxes.
Built in a factory on an island in eastern Sweden, Miller's spacious and sturdy home is believed by housing experts here to be the only European-built home imported to the Washington area.
Miller, along with her husband, Dr. Robert Miller, a veterinarian, are among an increasing number of homeowners throughout the country whose homes were not built in the traditional on-site fashion but in noisy, bustling factories.
Housing experts and proponents of such factory building methods contend that the modular home, when compared with the so-called stick-built homes, are built better, faster and more cheaply.
For Donna Miller, it all comes down to comfort.
"I just adore this house. It feels like we are always on vacation," said Miller, who moved into the house a year ago this week.
The Millers' house was built two years ago by Thorkil Schou, an industrious Swedish architect and civil engineer who wanted to bring a bit of his homeland to America. He also knew firsthand of his nation's reputation for high-quality, energy-efficient, factory-built houses.
So Schou began a laborious $400,000 endeavor. After being transported across the Atlantic by boat, Schou's house arrived at Baltimore's harbor in the spring of 1985. Unassembled and crammed into several crates, the house was trucked to a two-acre site in Oakton, where an American crew and Schou's family put the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle.
It took nearly a year to assemble it. The American construction crew struggled to cope with the home's European design, particularly its metric measurements.
After living in the house for about nine months, Schou sold the 4,000-square-foot, four-bedroom structure to the Millers.
Miller said she was not thrilled at first about buying the house, and not just because of its unusual butterscotch paint job.
"I was very much against manufactured homes. I always thought they were very slipshod," Miller said. "But once I went in, I fell in love with it."
Typical in its Swedish attention to quality and detail, Miller's house is an example of good craftsmanship. The energy-efficient structure -- designed with Swedish winters in mind -- was made to keep both heating and cooling bills low. Features include insulation below the basement slab, tight-fitting doors and a zinc-coated black roof that keeps snow from collecting on it.
In fact, Miller said she and her husband went through half of last winter before realizing that their upstairs heating system was not working. "I was very comfortable anyway," she said.
Miller added that the house can be as air tight as she and her husband want it, or extremely airy because of a system of strategically placed vents.
Coming from a country that prides itself on its vast lumber supply, the house contains a lot of wood. Pine ceilings, birch flooring upstairs, heavy wooden beams, massive wooden floor trusses in the basement, and oak doors show off the home's European styling.
Included in that design is a large living room, a second-floor sitting area and a sprawling U-shaped kitchen complete with Swedish appointments. The bedrooms are smaller than those in most new American houses.
Paul Kando, a Swedish housing consultant and executive director of a housing information group called Center for the House, said about five Swedish firms are exporting houses to the United States, a figure that has dropped in the past year.
Instead, Kando said, Swedish firms are becoming more interested in opening factories throughout the United States in an attempt to avoid shipping costs and construction delays. Those companies -- at least six at the moment -- are looking to form joint ventures with American firms, Kando said, particularly in the Northwest where lumber supplies are most plentiful.
Kando said imported Swedish homes start at about $170,000, which is the asking price for Swedish-fabricated condominium units being put up at a New Hampshire lakefront project.
Kando said Swedish-made houses are generally of better quality than American factory houses because of Sweden's emphasis on using quality lumber and other supplies.
In addition, the highly automated Swedish factories employ skilled workers who must build homes according to a strict national building code, unlike the varying standards in the United States.
Miller, after a year of Swedish-style living, agreed that American builders have a lot to learn from the Scandinavian nation.
"I can't imagine that an American factory could compete with a Swedish one," said Miller, who has lived in four other houses since moving to the Washington area in 1973. "Europeans, in general, build a house that will last forever, whereas Americans are more into fads. We have to look at houses not as an impulse that will last for a couple of years."