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Shipping container homes spring up with modern designs in latest housing trend

Christina Hall
Shipping container homes spring up with modern designs in latest housing trend

FERNDALE, Michigan – Its two-story, modern design stands out in the older neighborhood of many ranches and bungalows.

Inside the front door, a floating staircase tailored from wood and steel leads up to the living room, dining room and kitchen. The bedrooms and laundry are on the first floor.

Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors at one end of the second-story’s open floor plan lead onto a balcony that overlooks the backyard. The kitchen features tiled backsplashes and a custom-made island made of reclaimed wood.

It's a home built for entertaining guests.

The features in this contemporary house can be found in many of newer high-end homes in suburban Detroit and throughout the country. But the construction might surprise you.

The newly completed house is made of 5½ shipping containers – the rectangular, corrugated steel boxes that can hop from a freighter to a freight train to the back of a tractor-trailer. It carries a price tag of $450,000. A garage is optional.

The house is part of what appears to be the latest trend.

“Our goal is to set the standard in quality in this type of construction. You have no idea it’s made out of shipping containers,” said Stephanie Coyle, co-founder of Forever Home, who partnered with Dee Tignanelli, owner of Alpha to Omega Properties LLC, to build the house – their first made from shipping containers.

“It’s more standard-looking to appeal to more of the masses,” Tignanelli said as she sat inside the 1,808-square-foot home.

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Coyle said she hopes their house will "remove the stigma that can sometimes be attached" to such homes, which are found throughout the world, but are a new concept to many.

"It’s just a different way to build a home,” said Coyle. “Show people this type of construction can be beautiful, and let’s show you it can actually look and blend into a community.”

Growing trend

Shipping containers have been used for residential and commercial projects around Detroit and across the country.

Scott Worthington, Ferndale building official, said the city has a handful of homes made from shipping containers that are either completed or in some stage of construction, which he said is "more specialized."

A new construction made from 5 and half shipping containers is for sale for $450,000 in Ferndale, Mich. photographed on Thursday, March 14, 2019. The home was built on an empty lot.

Coyle said shipping container homes can be made on large and small scales, can fill an affordable housing gap, in-fill vacant spaces and be built in communities struggling for development.

Their features and craftsmanship can vary widely, just like for a traditional home, from ceiling height to whether they have a finished look complete with fixtures and other extras to a more industrial look with exposed duct work.

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Fitting in

J. Michael Kirk, a principal with the Detroit studio of Neumann/Smith Architecture, said shipping containers are pretty versatile and “are a pretty good component to do housing from.”

“It’s a unique housing form,” Kirk said, adding that there has been talk of these types of homes for 15 to 20 years.

Kirk said these types of homes probably would work in transitional neighborhoods – those situated between industrial use and single-family residential use.

He said that he believes the quality is equal to or superior to wood-frame construction and with spray insulation, studs and drywall, they can look like a traditional residential unit.

Those who build structures from shipping containers say they are a stronger and more durable construction (maybe even rodent-proof), more energy efficient and more sustainable.

On the second story there is a Trex balcony that is 320 square feet overlooking the neighborhood in Ferndale, Mich. photographed on Thursday, March 14, 2019.

Coyle estimates dozens of trees were saved with the structure of the house being made of waterproof steel instead of wood.

In one of the three bedrooms, Coyle said, they did a small build-out to show that traditional construction can pair with shipping containers.

Worthington said that there can be neighbor concerns with shipping container homes, but they often come when the home is in the “rough stages.” A neighbor may ask “what’s that Dumpster doing out there?” he said when the containers first arrive, but concerns may fade once the house becomes more complete.

Arthur Kraus, 79, lives just down the street from the new shipping container house.

Kraus said when the house was first put together, he thought, “My gosh, I have no idea what that is gonna look like."

“I watched how they made that house. It was interesting how they made it,” he said. “I think it’s good. Not everybody liked it, but I liked it.”

Contact Christina Hall: chall@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Shipping container homes spring up with modern designs in latest housing trend