Wood in vogue, or modern homes for a comfortable life

Andrei Laptev, CEO and co-owner of Smart Wood, combined the traditions of Russian wooden architecture with high technology to create a stable business and build beautiful and comfortable wooden houses around the world.

The history of wooden construction in Russia spans centuries. Everything used to be built from wood – houses, churches, royal chambers, and fortresses – until the end of the 19th century, when wooden architecture became inferior to stone. Rich people erected stone mansions, while poorer folks continued to chop, saw, and hew. Even now, a good suburban house is more readily associated with a stone structure.

According to Andrei Laptev, very few companies offer the construction of premium wood-frame houses in Russia. In contrast, in Canada or the United States, many companies offer luxury wood-frame projects even though those countries do not have centuries-old traditions – the Canadian Home Builders’ Association is less than 50 years old. With each new project, Smart Wood refutes the idea that a wood-frame structure is for temporary living, a bungalow or a holiday home. Wooden houses can and should be places for permanent residence – stylish, high-quality, comfortable and even luxury.

After managing several construction projects, Laptev decides to become a freelancer and get into the wooden construction industry. To explore the industry from the inside, he gets a job as a carpenter with the construction team of Dmitry Stenyayev and Vitaly Kim. He found both experience and fellow-minded people. In 2013, Laptev, Stenyayev and Kim created Smart Wood, a company that “builds cedar wood houses for top managers and top officials.” Laptev’s first investment into his dream project amounted to RUR 600K ($9K) of his personal savings. First clients found them just a couple of months into an advertising campaign on social media. Today Smart Wood is one of the market leaders in Russia with its own architectural design studio, a production facility in Sergiyev Posad, a construction team, a maintenance team and customers all over the world.

The economic crises that strongly hit house sales in the low and middle price segments are serving well the premium segment, according to Laptev, which is a stable market.

“Our customers are people with good taste and high quality and aesthetics standards. They will not give up on a dream to build a truly solid wooden house because the exchange rate collapsed or the economy is in trouble. On the contrary, they will choose the period of recession as the most advantageous time for this kind of investment,” Laptev notes.

Another component of success, Andrei says, is that Smart Wood is a full service company that develops projects, has its own storage facility for high-quality timber, builds the frame and the entire house, and offers interior and landscape design services, and even maintenance of wooden buildings.

“The log frame is in fact a semi-finished product; it costs some 20%-30% of the price of the house itself. But people do not need a frame, they need a comfortable wooden house with quality utility lines and furniture. In Russia, wooden houses are associated with dachas, simple timber houses, not with advanced engineering technology that we offer. For instance, a wooden house requires a certain humidity level, so we build automated systems of water spray humidifiers inside the partition walls and ceilings. We also have developed a mobile app that allows for monitoring and controlling all systems in the house. We can build wooden houses anywhere. I don’t know of any other such company in Russia that can build turnkey homes anywhere in the world,” Laptev says.

Can Smart Woods build a luxurious house of Siberian pine, say, on an island in the Mediterranean Sea? It’s no problem: Agios is the largest wooden complex in Cyprus, built in the mountains near Limassol.

To implement this, the company had to order a comprehensive research by St. Petersburg State Forestry University to learn what properties wood will have in the Mediterranean climate and whether it will be eaten by termites. Then a log frame was made and fully assembled at the production facility in the Moscow Region; then it was disassembled, sealed and shipped by sea to the island. During this stage, materials were examined by local phytosanitary services, which impose rigid requirements for such incoming cargo.  

Currently, Smart Woods is implementing three remote projects: the Agios residential complex in Cyprus, the Emba complex in Kazakhstan, and the large recreational center Eriva in Russia’s Gelendzhik. Smart Woods’ product is not targeted at the mass market; the company annually implements about five or six large projects that require substantial professional skills. Smart Wood does not promise to assemble a wooden house for a week, with construction taking one or two years on the average.   

Smart Wood’s profitability stands at 15-20%. When asked whether their products are overpriced, the company founders say that they always consider the cost price and are perfectly aware of prices offered by competitors. Given the quality of work and materials as well as the level of services, the average price of RUR 150K ($2.3K) per square meter seems adequate and reasonable.

Today, about 60 such houses are built in Russia annually. It’s not a lot, and this business has prospects for growth: given the fast-growing popularity of wooden homes, it has much to offer.

By Natalia Sysoyeva    

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