Inside the amazing houses made out of shipping containers

New York Post 1 day ago

There’s something about shipping container buildings that gets people excited.

Perhaps it’s seeing something so mundane and functional become beautiful and personal? Or witnessing Tetris-like blocks stacked, disassembled and reassembled to create architecture? Or the fact that they can (sometimes) be cheaper, faster and less wasteful than traditional architecture? Cargotecture, as it is often called, fills up Instagram feeds, design blogs and shelter magazines.

And its market is expected to grow about 6.5 percent a year between now and 2025, according to Bigmarket Research.

New York — because of its high construction costs, strict codes and dearth of space — is not exactly the world’s cargotecture capital. But there are several homeowners and designers bringing the trend to town, both in the city and in areas like the Hudson Valley and the Hamptons — where it’s easier to build such residences.

Chris Graham, 38, who works for Amazon Music, and his wife Clara Pregitzer, 35, who works for the Natural Areas Conservancy, had never thought of living in a shipping container house, but after staying in one via Airbnb, they realized it could be a good option.

The Gowanus residents tapped Brooklyn-based firm Contanium, which supplied the metal-sided, one-room structure that would become their weekend cabin on 6 acres in the Catskills town of Livingston Manor.

“I was worried I would feel like I was in a small box,” says Graham. “But I was surprised by how spacious it was.”

Contanium was able to quickly deliver a house that was off-grid — a composting toilet run off solar panels sits in a separate outhouse — and within budget. “It was done in four to six weeks” in 2017, Graham adds. “You place it on the ground and you’re good to go.”

Each time Contanium builds a home, it becomes a model the firm can mass-produce. Take the Ashokan ($12,000), a 20-foot-long container with insulated windows, sliding glass doors and plywood floors. There’s the Saugerties ($32,000), also 20 feet long, with built-in windows and doors. (A 40-foot version is $52,000.) It comes with hardwood floors, insulation, a pine-paneled ceiling and walls, a solar energy system, a wood pellet stove, kitchen cabinets and a jug-ready sink.

All are meant to be affordable, easy to install and less wasteful than new construction. They’re not only off-grid (hence the composting toilets, wood stoves, solar panels and jug sinks) but also easily moveable (often placed on gravel, without foundations). Many serve as temporary lodging for clients building another house, as guest houses or as rustic retreats.

“We’re offering an opportunity to experience more minimal living, but that’s only for people who don’t desire all the comforts of on-grid living,” says Tim Gilman-Sevcik, Contanium’s head of development. “Our belief is that off-grid and without impact should be the new American dream.”

At the other end of the spectrum are the luxury container projects by New York- and East Hampton-based MB Architecture. The firm’s work has progressed from (among other projects) a small Hamptons art studio (made from two containers) to the Media Lab at Bard College (made from four) to their latest, an 1,800-square-foot home in Amagansett consisting of a four-container living space, a one-container cantilevered bedroom and a one-container guest suite connected by a small passage. The U-shaped structure is wrapped around a tree.

You can’t tell the home is made from containers from the inside, thanks especially to the double-height living room, a luminous, 17-foot-tall area whose grid of four windows overlook a pool and the horizon beyond. “It’s got a temple-like affect,” says firm principal Maziar Behrooz. “An epic sense.”

The project, largely fabricated off-site, cost about 30 percent less than conventional construction, according to Behrooz.

“The Hamptons is a good place to get this done,” adds Behrooz. “Traditional construction has gotten so expensive that people can’t even afford to build small homes anymore.”

What has been called the first container home in the Hamptons, informally known as the “Beach Box,” is currently on the market for $1.87 million with James Lancaster of Compass.

Owned by William White, the 58-year-old CEO of broadcast promotions agency Firefly Creative Entertainment Group, the home at 1932 Montauk Highway in Amagansett, just 600 feet from the ocean, was built using six containers. Brooklyn Heights-based container fabricator SG Blocks worked with contractor Andrew Anderson to put four bedrooms and a pool deck on the ground level, with the living room, kitchen, dining room and a roof deck above.

The 2,000-square-foot home, White tells The Post, doesn’t feel like an industrial shipping container at all (or “a dumpster,” as some snooty friends like to joke).

The façade is clad in cedar and sandstone; the front yard is planted with sea grass, as is the roof deck; most walls are clad in white drywall; finishes are uniformly modern; and there are many windows with ocean views. The only hints of the containers’ corrugated (ridged) construction come via one wall on the ground floor and a ceiling on the top floor. It’s become a house party hot spot for White’s family and friends.

“It’s so unconventional,” he says. “And that’s why everyone just loves this house.”

New York-based Steele House, working with its in-house architects and other firms like Brooklyn-based Big Prototype, have created four custom container houses in the Catskills, all incorporating a metal pitched roof to accommodate the area’s weather.

Founder Tim Steele, who likens his products’ aesthetic to industrial farm buildings, says his homes are comparable in price to affordable stick-built residences, coming in at roughly $200 per square foot.

Steele is working on another home in Hudson, NY, and is developing several container home prototypes to produce across the country that range from the Escape Pod, one room made from just one container ($80,000) to the two-story Cantilever House ($285,000).

He works closely with his clients, who are often moving outside the city but still able to work remotely.

The movement has staying power, he adds: “It’s not a fad. It’s been going on for a while now.”

One of the most notable local creators of cargotecture is Lot-ek (pronounced “low tech”), a New York City architecture firm that has championed the style since the 1990s. Its partners Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano, have designed dozens of container edifices in and around the city.

“It’s a way to look at the environment around and think more opportunistically and more intelligently about the resources we have available,” Tolla says.

Their Carroll House, completed in 2016 on a corner lot in Williamsburg, features 21 containers stacked and then cut diagonally across the top and bottom, creating a trapezoidal form that creates privacy from the street, and opens up in incredible ways from inside, thanks to a collection of stepped, easily accessible exterior spaces.

The owner, local restaurateur Joe Carroll (of Fette Sau and others), has listed the home for $5.5 million with Jon Capobianco of Compass.

More recently, Lot-ek completed a carriage house on Irving Place in Clinton Hill for artist Markus Linnenbrink, gallerist Cindy Rucker and their daughter.

The architects inserted bright orange container forms into the core of a two-story industrial building (which they first gutted), installing a stacked container penthouse above. Tolla compares the design to a jellyfish landing on the roof, its tentacles reaching down.

“We didn’t want what everyone else wants,” says Linnenbrink. “To me, it’s always been a dream to do something with a building that’s not the regular thing — to build a place where you really want to live.”

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