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I’d like a “short stack” and Ice Water please!

7 May

First, sorry for the absence of new posts lately. We’re just getting swamped here at Corten Central.

As you can probably imagine, we are busier than bees right now, getting ISBU Home builds tracked out and running smoothly. It’s the time of year when building  projects pile up faster than Corten boxes next to a Container ship being unloaded!

Beyond that, there’s some very interesting news in store for you guys as we explore new opportunities that will allow us to spread the Corten Gospel across the planet!

I want you to stay tuned for that because it’s gonna blow your minds!

And since we’re talking about mind-blowing. what if you dropped a short stack of 20 foot boxes onto a CMU (concrete block) root cellar by a  creek? Just take (4) 20′ High Cube ISBUs and add water…

ISBU Micro-Condo - 1stISBU Micro-CondoNow add photovoltaic panels. solar hot water and a dish (for TV) and you have a remote retreat ready to sooth the aches and pains of city life!

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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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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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“Hard Teepee”… It’s NOT the name of a Rock Band.

30 Oct

We’ve been talking a lot lately about “tiny houses”.

Corten Containers can lend themselves to the creation of small and really cool spaces, but once you’ve accomplished that, you sometimes have some yard left over!

The way I see it, the more I build in the yard, the less lawn I have to mow. right? LOL!

What would happen if you built a teepee on a raised (insulated) octagonal deck (that sat on pilings up off the ground to get you out of the snow and muck…)

What if you then sprayed SPF (spray foam insulation) on the inside to not only insulate it but to add a vapor and moisture barrier…

What if you then sprayed it on the exterior with lightweight concrete?

What if you added photovoltaic panels to runs the lights and electrical appliances?

What if you did it, in about two weeks?

What if it looked something like… um…  THIS?

Native NowTech - web

You’d have a 24/7 shelter that was easily four season. And that’s exactly what some guy (I”m still trying to find out WHO) did, in the California Desert.

Let’s step it up a notch…. By building it large enough, you’d get a sleeping loft up where all the heat got trapped.

Cool, huh?

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How’s the air UP there?

28 Oct

Greetings, Campers!

We’re doing a lot of “Coastal” stuff lately. From Goleta to Galveston to  Gloucester, ISBU homes are literally “springing up”, seemingly right out of the ground. And what do these coastal “Corten Castles” have in common?

They all sit on stilts, up off  the ground.

Most people think “house on stilts” and they conjure up images like this:


Image Credit: Wall Street Journal – Home of the Day

Pretty cool, right? Well, if you have about 9 years and $11 million dollars, you too, can have housing like this in some “fairy tale paradise”!

Don’t get me wrong. I think this home is absolutely fabulous. I can easily picture it being built from Corten Containers. We designed and then helped build a similar home in France a few years back that looked out over acres and acres of vineyards. It’s spectacular (and even “zombie proof”). LOL!

But, homes like this aren’t the “norm”. They simply don’t fall into the definition of  “affordable build” for our families. The rest of us live on “Planet Earth” and we have different needs.

Many of you know that we’ve designed and built several ISBU homes that sit on pilings (stilts) up off the ground. This is particularly useful when you’re faced with things like flooding and heavy weather. I talk about building your pilings using concrete and rebar, cast inside cardboard Sonotube casings, all the time. Why?

Want a great view? LIFT that Corten House up off the ground!

Render by Rene Gonzales, AIA – Miami, FL

Want to improve your home safety by beefing up your security? Lift those steel boxes up off the ground!

Heck, you can even park your ride underneath!

My 1,600 square foot ISBU Studio on our “farm/ranch/cult/whatever…” 😉   will sit on concrete pilings 12 feet up off the ground, overlooking the river, deer, elk and my trout dinner (which if I can work out my roll casting, may be caught off my back deck!). And it WILL have a “retractable staircase” so that you can repel those pesky invaders… Amway Salesmen…. um… er… wait, that’s not it. Retracting the staircase at night will secure the home from any and all beneath it that want to do anything sneaky. It will also keep your kids from sneaking out in the middle of the night… unless they repel down from their bedroom windows… Hm… Maybe I need to build taller pilings! You know, like those fire towers we see in the mountains. Robe usually comes in 50′ lengths, right? So, I’ll make the pilings 60 feet.

Oh just stop it! I can hear you gasping. Kids are made outta rubber. They’ll probably BOUNCE that ten feet, easy… LOL!

Are you starting to see a pattern?

Pilings reduce the need for big thick foundations. Pilings get your home up out of the muck of winter and any errant acts of nature that Ma Earth tosses at you. Pilings get you increased views. Pilings add security to your home. Pilings deter unwanted guests.

2-4-6-8! What do we most fabricate? Pilings! Pilings! Yeah!

Around here, we like to “Let the Corten Fly!”

Well, according to a pal of mine, the message is getting sent to “places far-flung” too.

This single ISBU Container Home is being built, “high in the sky” on stilts… in India.


Image Credit:

Krupa Jhaveri is the guy letting the Corten Cat outta the bag!

I thought I’d let you know about this super sweet shipping container tiny house on stilts that’s being built right now in India. This is the first time I’ve seen a container cabin like this on stilts so since it’s so unique I got excited about sharing it with you. I’m always a fan of elevating structures a little bit not just for safety from floods, etc. but just for the sake of improving the view from the house as well as creating the opportunity to make an outdoor space that’s higher up than usual (like a balcony).


In India, they apparently use grills quite often instead of windows. The builder fabbed these himself and I just LOVE them! After seeing these, it’s really gotten my creative juices flowing!

Now, imagine this humble little Corten Cottage tucked back into the woods, or out by the lake, or sitting on a rural riverbank someplace. Imagine it with a “green roof” so you could go up and pick herbs and look for dinner (elk, deer, bison, rabbits…) at the same time!

More photos of this project in India are available for you to see here.

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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.

For the last time, Housing ISN’T “Booming”.

5 Sep

I keep reading on all these “Housing sites” that things are getting better. IN fact, “Housing is Booming!”

They heard  Obama say it, so it must be true, right?


I’ve been saying for months (in response to this “booming” garbage) that it’s just investor driven. NOW the statistics are finally coming out and the data proves my point.

According to Goldman Sachs, almost half of ALL U.S. home sales are completed using “full cash” transactions.

Yes, that’s right. Goldman Sachs just reported that cash sales account for 57 percent of all residential home sales versus 19 percent in 2005. Other estimates are not as high, but still range from 40 percent to 50 percent. That’s amazing. And that’s not just new homes; it’s ALL homes.

So, do you really think that a lot of first-time homeowners are racing hellbent into escrows – buying their homes with 100 percent cash?

Really? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m betting my paycheck that most second- and even third-time homeowners probably aren’t paying 100 percent cash or anything close to that.

When “cash purchases” drive a Bull market (despite what guys clinging to the sides of lifeboats would have you believe)  it’s NOT an upturn in the marketed item. It’s a FIRE SALE. The fact that this bull market is driven so heavily by cash purchases tells you conclusively that it’s not a real housing market boom at all. It’s just another cattle drive by greedy investors looking to cash in on hardship and market swings. Can you say “investment bubble”? I knew you could. 😉

And, in some states where housing is a huge deal, it gets worse. In places like Florida and Nevada, the cash sales recorded represents 65 percent of the market transactions. Arizona? That’s a big “housing” state, right? Brace yourself. 1 home sale in 2 is cashed out.

This goes right back to what I was saying. Investors are snapping up homes to either try to flip for a profit or turn into rentals as more and more American families find themselves unable to either maintain a mortgage or even GET one.

IMHO – those guys trying to convince you that everything is healing… are simply lying to you.  These so-called “Booming housing markets” are clearly not booming because of a fundamental demand for housing, economic recovery or market influence provided by the tooth fairy.

They’re booming because of investment demand.

And anyone who says otherwise is full of the same stuff in my cattle pastures… and I’m not talking about “grass”… unless you’re talking about it in it’s “recycled form”.

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Sarah House – Utah done RIGHT.

1 Sep

Labor Day. I think in Montana, every day is “Labor Day”.

Lately, we’re laboring like crazed dogs.

Dealing with fire (the Lolo Creek Wildfire is still raging, consuming everything in it’s path to the tune of over 12,000 acres now), famine (hundreds of firefighters and National Guard troops are literally chomping at the bit for a good hunk of grilled meat and a big potato), floods (hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are being dumped on hundreds of acres at a time as we try to stem the tide of this damned fire) and all those other riders of the Apocalypse…

Lolo Creek Fire… we’re just beat.

Many of us still have hay to bring in, horses to breed, chores to do and kids to chase around…

So much for a three day weekend.


The Utah guys down at Sarah House are just kicking butt.

Apparently, they take their labor pretty seriously.

They’re finishing out the kitchen in one of their terrific ISBU projects. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s several thousand that insure that you understand that ISBUs are here to stay;

Sarah House - Utah - carcassesWhat started out looking like THIS… now looks like THIS:








Now THAT’S a project to be proud of. We’ve been watching this one from the start and frankly, we’re really impressed with the quality and craftsmanship they’ve brought to the party…

Way to go, guys!

Now, get some rest over the holiday weekend, hang out with the family, grill a steak, drink something frosty and cold, and then… get back to work! That “Corten Cutie” ain’t gonna finish itself! 🙂

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A box is a box…

29 Aug

Many fans of RR know that we’re involved in a lot of “unusual designs” where alternative housing is concerned.

Here’s one that we were NOT involved with, but we readily admit that we’ve had similar thoughts about a structure like this – using 20′ High Cube ISBUs;

This unusual design-build structure consists of a basement structure, with a manually-operated tilting metal box placed on top of it like a wedding cake topper.


Note that with little to no natural light available when the “lid” is secured, this dwelling is probably not going to work for those with a fear of being trapped in a small enclosed space…

… but if you’re looking to “Zombie-proof” your home, this might be a great starting point.

The 1 bedroom, 1 bath – with a basement – home  (I’d call it a cabin)  measures approximately 914 sq ft and contains a kitchen and living area located in the metal box above. A staircase gets you up and back into all the designated spaces.

But here’s the fun part;

The entire upper area of the home is transformed into a semi-outdoor space once raised with a steampunkish hand-crank, and the metal box itself is constructed from iron tubes, with a galvanized corrugated metal exterior and MDF interior.

(If it was me, I’d resolve that “open air” issue with retractable skirts made of mosquito netting or something to keep insects out. Can you imagine the reverberation of a thousand flying insects trapped in there, swarming around your head?) 😉

When the “lid” is closed, the structure is transformed into a sealed vault, private, secure and defensible against “any miscreants that might wander into your yard”… you know, like those “undead stumbling around looking for brains…”

The article about the home (featured in Arch Daily) says;

“The actual impetus behind THIS home’s unique design, and whether or not such mundane practicalities as adequate ventilation and fire safety issues have been fully handled, isn’t altogether clear.

“The project of Caja Oscura is a project of material and immaterial technology at the same time,” explains Javier Corvalán (the architect).

“In some way it is an antithesis of many known definitions of architecture, as the idea is made by absence of light.”

I can see how this could be done. And, it could be quite affordable. I’d still use a 20′ ISBU or two to pull it off as the increased strength that they would provide would be an asset in the face of heavy weather, zombies… or worse, visiting relatives. 😉

Built with a budget of $30,000 US, the home was completed in 2012 with a few grand left over for “stuff”… 😉

Consider this also;

When “open”, that raised lid “face” could be used as a splendid “photovoltaic farm”.

Cut in a few skylights or sola tubes to bring light into the cavity and it’d be a lot more comfortable.

Add a padlock hasp to the box so that you can sneak up and lower the box when it’s inhabited by your idiot brother in law and break out that bullet-resistant Master Padlock and you have the perfect place to teach that bozo a lesson for drinking all your frosty cold beverages…

I’m just saying…  🙂

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