There’s something about Elections that makes people think about the future…

5 Nov

As I sit here watching the poll results start to come in, I can almost feel America holding it’s collective breath.

Imagine my shock when one of my “arch-nemesis” (“I’d never live in a metal box…”) rivals called me on the phone to ask my help.

He has a guy (who lives in California) who wants a small hunting and fishing cabin built on his riverside lot on the Salmon River, not 60 miles from me. The client wants to get out of California “before the politicians force it to fall off into the sea”.

He drives by one of the largest shipping container storage yards in the United States, located in Long Beach, California on a regular basis. Those trips past “the boneyard” inspired him, those big metal boxes called out to him. He WANTS a Shipping Container cabin built and he wants it built “by people who know what the hell they are doing”.

So his architect, my “naysayin’ pal” called me.  He’d recently seen my “Architect’s Cabin” on our CHC website. We’re building an ISBU (Intermodal Steel Building Unit – also commonly referred to as “shipping container”) based cabin for a Project Manager who will live on-site monitoring an extremely large construction build-out that sprawls across more than a  thousand acres.

In the originally executed design, the cabin is a contemporary 2 story structure with a large loft bedroom over a spacious 2 story high “Great Room” style cabin complete with a large ceiling fan.

(In my personal version, the second floor bedroom opens to a covered three season rooftop terrace, that could easily be converted to a four season space.)

Amirage ISBU Guest Studio - 4x20HQ plus steel and SIPs-SSMRThis design exceeds the needs of the hunter/fisherman that we’ll be speaking with. He wants a smaller, more compact  single-story solution.

So, we just convert the “workspace” into a multi-purpose space that includes a bedroom. A queen sized bed will fit into that space easily.

Small remote cabins usually suffer from the same haunting malady – the small footprint fails to supply adequate storage space. As a result, I build storage lockers into the floor (just like you’d find in a sailboat) and capitalize on every space possible to provide additional storage. As the client had specified that he have a separate workspace for his computer work and hobbies. I’d definitely use a “library style” Murphy Bed system so that the space could be seriously multi-tasked.  I can  easily picture  fold down tables on the front of those bed cabinets that could be used for fly tying or reading/working, possibly even with a large LCD monitor and a laptop computer docking station.


library-murphy-bed-in-oak-walnut-openThe client also has a large dog (a retriever) that travels with him everywhere. Rather than just sharing the couch or the bed with his beloved hound, I’d suggest something like this;


murphy-bed-for-dogI’d actually mount the cabin’s primary  LCD Television above it and use the interior storage space for DVDs and his PlayStation video game system.

Those relatively simple modifications made, I’d flip the closet so that it opens into the “bedroom” zone, install a tub in the bathroom to replace the washer and dryer, slap a SIP (structural Insulated Panel) gable roof  – covered with a waterproof membrane and SSMR (Standing Seam Metal Roofing) on top of it  and voila, you have a quickly built, energy efficient, very affordable, “instant” Retreat Cabin.

Oh yeah…

I’d splurge a little bit on the bathroom. If it was me, it’d get a “walk-in” tub, for relaxing and soaking those tired muscles at the end of the day.

walk in tubThis same cabin (with lofts created at either side of the SIP roof structure) would actually support a small family spending vacations and holidays in the woods or by the beach.

And… with some planning and forethought, this cabin could easily be lived in, year round. I could “homestead” this cabin, easy. This small cabin would function flawlessly just about anywhere a loft style home is applicable. It’s small, comfortable, affordable and easy to build.

People, I can’t stress enough that ISBUs (shipping containers) are just “modular boxes”. They’re just massive steel frames waiting to get welded together to form skeletons. Once you get the boxes in place, it’s pretty much a “conventional” build supplemented with enough “tech” to take the home “off-grid”.

Building a home (or even a commercial project) using ISBUs isn’t “rocket science”.

You embrace your project in the same manner as you would any other type of  construction:

  • Start with good design principles.
  • Do your homework. Learn everything you can about what’s happening. Information is the purest form of power.
  • Define your needs and wants clearly.
  • Define your budget early on and stick to it.
  • Choose quality materials, reusing, recycling and repurposing materials where you can to keep your budget manageable.
  • “Multi-task” every area you can.
  • “Friends in the trades” make light work. Call in favors. Buy Pizza and coffee. Apply beer liberally. :)
  • “Light makes Right”. You’re  not building  a cave, you’re building  your home. Use as much glazing as you can.

Remember that building small spaces means building spaces capable of being “multi-tasked”. Use space for as many purposes as possible. The more you do this, the smaller your home  requirements become.

“Capture” as much light as you can. There are those that believe that “Container life” means living is a small metal tube. NOTHING could be further from the truth. Great windows make great homes. Sunlight means airy, enjoyable  spaces. Sunlight means heat. Sunlight makes you happy. I like “happy”.

If you design well, define with diligence and stay focused on the details, you’ll build a successful project.

And in places like Montana, Idaho and Colorado, as long as you have a sustainable, energy efficient ISBU home that basks in the sunlight, a water well and some firewood combine to insure that winter isn’t going to give you any trouble at all. Trust me.

Stay tuned. This should be a fun one.

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