Two San Francisco art and travel addicts overhauled a loft—and customized a pair of shipping containers—to accommodate their collection and reflect their passions.
Jeff Wardell and Claudia Sagan are not laid-back. When the San Francisco couple says they love to travel, they don’t mean trips to Napa. Over the past three summers Wardell put 15,500 miles on a motorcycle he and Sagan keep in Milan on rides from the Arctic Circle to southwestern Portugal. When Wardell began collecting street art in the mid-1990s, he admits, “it quickly became an obsession.” When he began dating Sagan several years ago, “we got serious about buying big.” Starting with local graffiti artist Barry McGee, they bought ever-more ambitious installations by stars like Shepard Fairey, JR, and Os Gemeos—until they needed a bigger home to accommodate their approximately 120-piece collection.
Where some might box the cavernous space into cozier rooms, Wardell and Sagan wanted “to cele- brate that length,” Sagan says. The apartment lies on a north–south axis with large windows at either end. To showcase the art and maximize daylight, they decided to situate the master bedroom at the back, away from the street, but keep everything else open, with a central kitchen and living room and a den facing the street. They hired a local company to sandblast the interior to expose the board-formed concrete walls and replaced the carpeted floors with Georgia hickory pecan planks— the longest, knottiest boards they could find—to further lengthen the loft and make it look more like a warehouse. The next question was, “how do we make a home office and a guest bedroom happen without cluttering the space?” Sagan says.
“I contacted Hapag-Lloyd looking for an orange one in newer condition,” Wardell says. “But they’re German. They have rules. They wouldn’t sell us one, but they put out a call that these nuts in San Francisco wanted containers for their house. In late 2007, we got word that the Port of Oakland had some used ones.” Sagan examined several before choosing. “A ton are just a mess,” she says. “You’ll see a huge dent in the side and go, Wow, a wave did that? It’s important to smell them, too, because they pick up odors from their cargo.”
For the container interiors, “the mood we wanted was raw,” Wardell says. There was only one caveat: The guest room “had to pass the Dottie test,” Sagan says. Her mother would be their first visitor that Christmas. “She was mortified by the idea of sleeping in a container,” Sagan says. “She said it sounded like a coffin.”
To customize the apartment and containers, Wardell brought in Pat Carson, a furniture designer and builder who shares the couple’s love for travel and industrial design. When asked why his pieces have so many rivets, Carson grins, “I’m that guy on the airplane by the window, staring at the wings.” Over six months Carson designed and constructed 75 custom fixtures for the apartment, many with a kinetic, gadget-like charm. “A lot of the creative ideas I’ve had in the past 20 years are manifested in this house,” Wardell says.
Shortly before Dottie arrived, Carson installed the custom Murphy bed, which is clad in aluminum with dozens of rivets and rolls up on a pulley made from a mill wheel. The unconventional guest room passed with flying colors. “She was pleasantly surprised at how spacious and comfortable it was,” Sagan says. It’s been a hit with subsequent guests as well. “We’ve found the container self-selects,” Wardell says. “Our friends who are the most fun choose to stay here.”
If you’d like to incorporate shipping containers into your house—or build a structure entirely out of them—these architects and designers are good resources:
Robert Humble and Joel Egan, HyBrid Architecture, Seattle, Washington
Their prefab Cargotecture homes incorporate shipping containers, with prices starting at $29,500. They also consult on D.I.Y. projects. hybridarc.com
Peter DeMaria and Michael Sylvester, Logical Homes, Manhattan Beach, California
Prefab Logical Homes, some incorporating shipping containers, start at 160 square feet for $25,000. logicalhomes.com
Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Ligano, LOT-EK, New York, New York
Pioneers of the field, they use containers to build offices and residences around the world. lot-ek.com
Jennifer Siegal, Office of Mobile Design (OMD), Los Angeles, California
Siegal integrates containers into homes priced from $230 to $280 per square foot. In 2013, she will launch a line of Take Home container homes, with prices starting at $100,000. designmobile.com
Geoffrey Warner, Alchemy Architects, St. Paul, Minnesota
Builds containers into his custom projects and offers prefab wooden weeHouses starting at $79,000. weehouse.com
Adam Kalkin, Quik House, Bernardsville, New Jersey, and Paris, France
Known for high-concept designs, including a three-bedroom $119,000 Quik House made from six containers. architectureandhygiene.com