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Would you like a Corten Cathedral?

7 Dec

As you can probably imagine, we get questions about Shipping containers and “tasking”.

“Can I bury one?” they ask.


“Are you sure?” they plead.

“DO I need to beat you? I said NO.”

“Can I stack them up in a tree?” they wonder.

“Yes, but it better be one helluva tree.”

(We’ve built “treehouses” out of containers. It’s the very definition of “Corten Coolness”. It usually takes more than ONE stout tree.) 🙂

“Can I really insulate ISBUs using special paint?” they ask. “I’ve seen it on the Internet so it must be true, right?”

“Have you read my page on Ceramic coatings? Please email me again when you have  located your brain…” is my usual response. Actually, that’s not true. I deleted the extra words because this blog  is a family show. 😉

They send photos. You know, “Can I do this or that?” kinda photos.

After a reader sent me some photos of some metal roofing material “turned sideways”, I followed the links and saw these little steel cabins on the web.

They’re produced by a company called (what  else?) “Arched Cabins” out of Texas.

They wanted to know it this “style” of cabin construction could be incorporated into small ISBU cabins. They loved the way that it looked.

What's not to like?

What’s not to like?

Well, I love the way they look too.  Essentially, it’s just an insulated metal shed. But it made me think about HOW we build our cabins out of 20′ Shipping containers.

What if you built out your boxes and them towed them to a site where you’d then erect this arched “roof” over them?

3It’s really nothing more than a stylized metal A-Frame.  We’ve actually built A-Framed ISBU cabins and homes in the past. We insulated the roof shell instead of the boxes, using the roof to envelope the ISBU  cabin structure.

Can you mount containers on pilings supporting a deck?

Absolutely, if you use good design practices and good materials.

A “hybrid” home combining ISBUs and this arched roofing frame built in a manner similar to this would still sit up on pilings off grade, so it would shed well. If you built a “roof” like this that went almost all the way to grade, you could really have some fun with your ISBU cabin. Incorporating windows would be fun and fairly straight forward. They’d look terrific inset into that framing.  You could easily encompass any crawlspace height you desired as long as you provided a “landing place” for your roof framing.  That means you’d still have semi-protected storage areas under your cabin.

Is there anything about it I don’t like?

Okay, in the “high country” I might think about turning the orientation of the ribs of the metal siding to vertical so that they ran up and down instead of horizontally. That way water and more importantly snow would shed easier.  I wouldn’t want ice loading up and holding on all those horizontal rib surfaces. It would also allow for some really cool water retention surfaces.

Extend your arched roof out beyond the boxes and you get a really nice, sheltered and sturdy covered porch.

This is an intriguing idea and it’d go up pretty fast. If you built your boxes remotely and then trailered them to the site, you could erect this roof over them in a few days, with just a few friends helping out.

I also like the idea that if you put some thought into it, you could reclaim the created cavities for storage and even mech space.

Reclaimed Space

The yellow outlined areas could easily be reclaimed for use by the homeowner. I’d put a loft at either end, open up the middle creating a modernistic “vaulted ceiling” (complete with chase and track lighting or ceiling fans) and then use the areas on each side for storage. I’d even use it for protected structural storage of gear and perhaps a canoe or kayak.

You could easily get almost 500 square feet out of this design, if you thought it through.

Stay tuned.

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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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Loft me, Bro!

10 Jul

We’re buried.

Yep, I’m talking “up to our necks in it…” buried.

And while we’re trying to dig ourselves out, we’re getting requests for information and ideas from new building families.

We received four emails yesterday asking about novel ways to build lofts into ISBU cabins. Readers asked about ISBU Corten Coolness that could be “cabinized”…

And lo and behold, today DWELL Magazine (one of our very favorite magazines I might add…  especially because they love us  and our book “Introduction to Container Homes and Buildings”) ran an article on “One Room Wonders” where lofts and the staircase access are very attractively displayed.

Here’s just a few of our favorites;

Cabin Loft Access

Why NOT use that ladder structure to create more workspace in your kitchen? Genius!


A freestanding Organizer Closet can not only house your clothing, it can house an access ladder to the loft bedroom platform that it ALSO supports. MORE Genius! SPLIT that closet into a double sided unit and you also get a TON of pantry storage into your kitchen. DOUBLE Genius! 🙂

Modern Loft

We build “Storage Staircases” all the time. It just makes sense to use that space to your advantage. Done properly, it’s efficient AND attractive.

I want a Florida ISBU Beachhouse… like THIS one! :)

3 Jun

Every once in a while, we come across an ISBU home that just screams; “I LOVE THIS!”


We have a lot of friends in New Zealand. In fact, we’ve helped families BUILD homes in New Zealand. And, they send us stuff… incredible stuff. So, since they’re sharing with us… we thought that we’d share with YOU. We thought we’d share this Auckland, NZ ISBU home with you, located on Muriwai Beach.


This wonderful ISBU home is built from (6) 40′ High Cube ISBUs (shipping containers) and in our view, it’s “form and function” defined! These guys definitely did it right! There’s very little that we would change…


(And you guys know US… we change EVERYTHING! )


This  ISBU home was designed to be all the thinks that we love here art RR… It’s affordable, green, visually stunning and fully functional. Better still, it shatters the myth that ISBU homes have to be small and dark, long boxes filled with tiny claustrophobic spaces. This ISBU home is designed and oriented to let the outdoors in, making you feel like you’re living in the wilds, while you’re still in your living room!


Drop this beautiful little beast onto a beach or a bluff overlooking a terrific sunset and you’ll end up with smiles that last for days! In fact, I know a lass in Florida looking for a coolISBU that might just love this…

See more of this incredible home, HERE.

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Help! My cabin folds out like Origami! :)

25 Mar

It’s almost Spring in most parts of America!

(Okay, we’ve yet to see our traditional “Three days of Spring” here, but everywhere else, significant others are already getting the crowbars ready to pry people’s butts off couches for the big “Spring Fever” build-off!)

We have more projects than Doan’s has little green pills right now. So, while we try to climb out from under this giant pile of paperwork… let’s hit the mailbag!



Cover your eyes!

Wait… that’s not it…


Dear Ronin,

We’ve caught the Corten bug. We’re building a small fishing cabin in Louisiana, way out in the swamp!

The idea is to take a single 20′ ISBU and build it out to create a rustic cabin that includes a composting toilet, a small kitchenette, bunks and a seating area.

We saw a cabin you built that actually expanded by dropping the front wall down to form a big tented space. That’s exactly what we want. It’s genius!

We’re only going to modify one wall to do this so that we can build the kitchen and powder room off the “back” wall.

(Editor’s note: They’re referring to a “fold out” ISBU cabin series we built for 3 season use, that allows you to expand the Corten clad “space” by folding out the walls on both long sides. It uses aluminum frames and canvas/mosquito netting. much like the tents that you may already have out in your garage!) You essentially triple the size of a 20′ or 40′ box for the price of fab, framing and canvas.

And when you leave, you fold everything back up into the shipping containers original footprint, padlock the walls and doors and ATV, ride, or walk away. It’s VERY secure. It just looks like a regular shipping container.)

The double cargo doors will open to create an outdoor “semi-enclosed” shower area over a wood deck. Our SIP roof (thanks for beating SIPS and SSMR into our brains!) will extend to cover the shower area. We’re going to cover the long “open space” in mosquito netting to keep the critters out.

Due to the fact that the “front” wall folds out to become the floor, we’re puzzled about how we end up with the required pieces to allow us to live in the cabin a week at a time. We envision having to remove the furniture from the box (or squeeze around a pile of tables and chairs, etc…) in order to get inside to fold the outer wall down.

Oh, Oracle of all things Corten…

Any ideas?


Bayou Bound


Dear “BB”,

It sounds like you’re in the perfect place to build our “Corten Accordion!”

I’ve often thought about building one on piers or stilts in some Bayou while I ponder ‘Gator Hunting and Bass fishing in the wilds!

IMHO – One of the biggest mistakes that people make in working with small spaces is that they still try to cram all their luxuries from home into them.

Essentially, they make those small spaces even smaller.

What WE do is to build “Multi-purpose walls” that have foldouts producing work or entertainment spaces, on demand. If you do this right, you can build bunks that fold out of walls, encased in fold down dining spaces, complete with seating benches in an area that also incorporates storage for everything from pantry items to books and small DVD players.

(Not all of us head to the wilds and “rough” it. Most families have small kids that can be entertained during rainy spells by a good DVD played through a TV/DVD player that is powered using Photovoltaic panels and a battery bank.)

Here’s an example of a fold out dining system that is simple to build and folds up out of the way so that the space can be retasked for any other purpose required.

Murphy Table and Benches

You can easily build this in your garage and then haul the components out for assembly.

Hope this starts your “Corten Creative Juices ” flowing!


But I want a BIG little Corten Cabin…

28 Feb

On the flip side of our ISBU building madness, we’re talking about a terrific little Corten Cabin Concept that could fit right in whether you’re building  a beach house,  a mountain house, a vacation getaway or an off-grid retreat resort.

Now, this ISBU home will sleep 6+ and keep everyone safe and happy for decades!

This started it’s life out as a user submitted “Park Home” RV design! That original idea (from Canoe Bay Resort) was pretty darn sweet, but with a little Corten Creativity, it can jump right up to the next level!

Remember, ideas for that “perfect getaway” or off-grid home can come from EVERYWHERE!

16x40 2 bdrm cabin - webYou can read about it, HERE.

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ET’s Stealth Cabin

1 Dec

Here at RR, we often talk about “symbiotic life”.  We’re talking about letting your home live with your landscape in harmony.

Sometimes, we’re so successful that you can’t immediately SEE the home on the property.

While this cabin isn’t exactly invisible, it does pose some interesting opportunities to “blend” structure into site.

Let’s take a look, shall we?












Now, I know what you’re thinking. Washing the house takes on a while new meaning with all those mirrors, huh?

You’re gonna need an industrial sized barrel of Windex! 🙂









20Okay… you won’t have any trouble finding it at NIGHT…

From the website:

On the weekend of October 12th in Joshua Tree, California, artist Phillip K Smith III revealed his light based project, Lucid Stead. What was expected to be a two day event for a handful of viewers, turned into over 400 people making the journey over two weekends. People as far away as New York City and Canada traveled to the California High Desert to experience it. Numerous media sources have asked to do cover stories on the work. Thousands of photos professional and amateur, were taken, posted and shared across blogs and social media sights. In just over 30 days, Lucid Stead officially became a phenomenon.

Composed of mirror, LED lighting, custom built electronic equipment and Arduino programming amalgamated with a preexisting structure, this architectural intervention, at first, seems alien in context to the bleak landscape.  Upon further viewing, Lucid Stead imposes a delirious, almost spiritual experience.  Like the enveloping vista that changes hue as time passes, Lucid Stead transforms.  In daylight the 70 year old homesteader shack, that serves as the armature of the piece, reflects and refracts the surrounding terrain like a mirage or an hallucination. As the sun tucks behind the mountains, slowly shifting, geometric color fields emerge until they hover in the desolate darkness. This transformation also adapts personal perception, realigning one’s sensory priorities. A heightened awareness of solitude and the measured pace of the environment is realized.

Smith states, “Lucid Stead is about tapping into the quiet and the pace of change of the desert.  When you slow down and align yourself with the desert, the project begins to unfold before you.  It reveals that it is about light and shadow, reflected light, projected light, and change.

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ISBU Hotels… Imagine that? :)

19 Nov

People following our Facebook pages know that we’re working around the clock helping provide aid and comfort in the Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan.

So while we’re working, we thought that we’d share some really cool ISBU (Shipping Container) buildings with you.


Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-02 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-03 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-04 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-05 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-06 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-07 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-08 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-09 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-10 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-11 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-12 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-13 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-14 Eco-Stacked-Shipping-Container-Apartments-in-Uruguay-15

This unique shipping container apartment building was built by a celebrity chef/entrepreneur named Alejandra Dellepiane. Alejandra decided that Jose Ignacio, Uruguay needed a hotel. And Alejandra used ISBUs to build it.  Why did Alejandra do it? Well, because it had never been done in Uruguay before!

Aside from the wooden decks, flower gardens, firepit, jacuzzi and grill, it’s all ISBU.  This beachside hotel is surrounded by a forest of pine trees. The location seems almost ideal!

And, best of all, they incorporated Solar Hot Water and LED lighting, to make the building more efficient.

RR AvatarResources/Credits


Do you have a yearning for a “Corten Cottage”?

23 Oct

I’m a HUGE fan of LITTLE houses…

We work with families all the time that want to build them affordably and efficiently.

A pal of mine just sent me a notice that an 8×20 Tiny House was for sale in Mississippi, just outside Jackson, the state’s capital.

8x20-MartinAfter Katrina, a bunch of these sprang up from the rubble to house families while they either rebuilt or relocated. We personally participated in the building of several of these “Katrina Cottages” using 20′ High Cube Shipping Containers for local families on the Gulf Coast.

Anyway, the reason I’m posting this is that many families are now looking at these little cabins as vacation and holiday homes, or even fishing and hunting camps.

The notice I received states that the wood framed Tiny House offered for sale was purchased for $37,000. NEW. Are you doing math? That means they paid over $230 a square foot for it.

$230.00 per square foot.

You realize you can build a “regular” sized house for that kind of cash, right?

Now, many years later, they’ve put it up for sale. It’s a bit worn, it needs some TLC and it’s needing an “update” to make it more modern and efficient. They’re asking $10,000.00 cash. That’s just over $60 a square foot.

Okay, it IS a cool little house.

8x20-Martin3And I’m seeing this same scenario happen over and over again.

Frankly, I’m a bit amazed by this.

We help families build 8×20 Corten Cabins that can be trailered from scratch. Yes, we use recycled materials when we can. Yes, we use volunteer labor when it’s available. Yes, we repurpose like MacGiver on Acid…

And in the end, at project completion, these little Corten Cuties cost approximately $9,500 – $10,000.00 brand new.

So, while I hope this family gets their tiny house to a good place, making a great home for someone else… I wonder if there are other’s out there who’d rather spend the same kind of cash and begin the Tiny House trek… with a NEW home, instead of being tasked with repairing an older one.

Since this story broke, I’m getting email after email asking us if WE can build a small Corten Cabin for under $230 a square foot. The answer is yes. If you bring us $230 a square foot for a project like this, we could probably build… two of them and have money left over.

8x20-Martin4University Architectural programs are asking us about Alternative Building Practices. We’re actually helping write the curriculum. We’re actually helping sponsor class projects, to demonstrate just how much potential these little boxes hold.

People have been asking us about this for years, so here goes;

If we can find enough people in a given area to support it, we’ll take steps to start a training process that will teach families HOW tho build smart, safe and affordably…

Let us know if you are interested.

Little Tiny Ideas!

7 May

I bet that you wouldn’t have to look twice to see a 20′ High Cube ISBU built out like this.

HOME!Need a guest room in your backyard?

A private room for your teen?

A place for your Mother-In-Law to stay, so she’s not under foot?

Just do it.

TIP: Click on the image to see in in “Wallpaper” size. It’s really nice! 🙂