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Shipping container house revisited now that it’s finished

By on June 27, 2018 in Featured Homes with 1 Comment

The Carter’s container house is all set up for summer with BBQ, comfy Adirondacks and a couple of first-time visitors. Cut out steel panels were re-fashioned into doors that secure the mostly-glass exterior walls while the owners are away.













Story by Susan Lagsdin

Photos by Donna Cassidy

Greg Carter’s labor relations work puts him on the Seattle docks, so he’s intimately familiar with shipping containers.

When builder Brandon Littrell of One Way Construction, knowing that, suggested the metal boxes for Greg’s and Rania’s vacation house on a 2-acre lot near Plain, Greg was intrigued.

The timing of the project was equally serendipitous.

The Carters always wanted a baby to complete their family, and they always wanted a getaway cabin near their favorite winter slopes at Stevens Pass.

The first seemed like a sad impossibility, and a few years ago they decided to go ahead with finding land and building a cabin, as a kind of recompense or trade-off for the lack of a child. It was a “we give up” gesture they hoped would be a fulfilling distraction.

You can tell from the photos how fate smiled.

They started to build a house. They got pregnant.

In fall of 2017 the young couple followed through on both their vacation home project and the birth of their baby. Estelle was born October 1 and three weeks later their brand-new daughter spent her first weekend in the not-quite-finished house.

We featured it in The Good Life October 2017 just after the six 40-foot by 8-foot cargo containers had been cut and welded into place. Designed by Syndicate Smith architects in Leavenworth, the house yielded some good surprises, wished-for elements that turned out better than anticipated.

One was light.

“We’d planned the windows, but nobody knew how bright it would be in here,” said Greg.

Rania’s choice of white walls and ceilings, in the whitest white you can buy in a can, was certainly a factor, but the tall, south-and-west facing main floor windows and French doors contribute a lot to the surprising openness.

Their weekend guest Derek said, “You walk in and entirely forget that you are inside what was a big dark metal box.”

Not only a box, he marveled, but one that’s traveled to foreign ports for years on the high seas with unknowable cargo and considerable battering. The latter is part of the charm of the boxes that Rania hand-picked in Tacoma. Scrapes and gouges are badges of honor.

“You can see there where a semi probably backed into the thing,” gestured Greg at a deep ripple on the corrugated interior. “Somebody suggested we buy them new from the manufacturer — but what’s the point?” From a budget and romance-of-the-seas standpoint, there was none.

The other new-house discovery was utility.

The cabinetry? Holds everything. The small bedrooms? Just big enough. The floors? Easy sweeping. The deck? Open and protected. The carport? Perfect coverage. Skiing? 20 minutes away… or just out the door.

Since their complete pillows-plumped, art-on-the-walls move-in this March, they’ve discovered the wisdom of their choices: simple structure, utilitarian ingredients.

At 1,600 square feet, the size of the whole structure is also just right for their life now.

Rania said, “At first we played with Jenga blocks to get a feel for the exterior and wanted to get fancy… but we finally decided to stack them in their natural state like they’d be on a ship or a train car.”

Ironically, she said when the six pieces were first delivered to the site in August of 2016, “It looked like a train derailed on our property.”

The straightforward small-end entrance and a stairway that hugs the wall stole away very little square footage, and the one-container-sized deck upstairs is spacious and protected from weather. Like “using every part of the buffalo,” extra cut-out metal pieces were fashioned into sliding exterior barn doors and awnings.

After a few months of company, Greg and Rania realized someday they’d like to build a guesthouse. Their experience working with building professionals and the outcome of their dream “cabin” was so good that they’d like to buy a few more containers and try it again. A secondary structure will be easier and quicker to build than the first, now that all concerned are familiar with the tricky parts.

“The expense wasn’t so much of a problem for us,” said Rania (Stick-built and containers can cost the same, with careful planning.) “But the elapsed time the whole project took got a little discouraging.”

The architect and builders started with the basic premise of premade metal boxes instead of a wood house. Sounds simple. But specialized foundation and welding requirements to meet code took complex re-engineering, and occasional design changes added some re-order and wait.

It was worth every dollar, every extra day, the Carters agree. Now, enjoying the summer sunshine in their secure and stylish house, they anticipate years of vacations. They’ll learn the community. Visits from family and friends will be frequent and the house can serve as a permanent home in retirement.

And Estelle, the good-luck baby with the cool new house in the mountains, might bring her own kids there…

Greg and Rania are totally pleased with their decision to build a one-of-a kind house in the woods.

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  1. Ewan Quirk says:

    I think it would be a great thing to follow up this story with a more technical review of the construction with mechanical and architectural details. Perhaps the builder might be interested? I know I would. For instance how do the two flat roofs drain?

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