The Shipping Muse

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photos by:
August 31, 2009
Originally published in Made in the USA

Shipping containers are ubiquitous in Houston, though unlike the four that make up this new home, they're usually filled with foreign goods rather than flourishing lives.

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  One of the main draws of Kevin Freeman and Jen Feldmann’s house is its connection to the neighborhood, which is why the front porch was a must. “Homes that have a door but no outside space say, ‘I’m not interested in you,’” designer Christopher Robertson explains. “This says, ‘I’m here to be part of the community.’”Both Freeman and Feldmann's fathers flew down to help pour the cement steps in the front yard. For the lawn, the couple cover the yard with zoysia palisades instead of "the normal pokey St. Augustine grass" common in Houston. "We both come from the north where you can sit in the grass and be comfortable," Feldmann says. The bent-steel shade over the porch is held up with the help of an arm from one of the doors of the containers used to make the house.
    One of the main draws of Kevin Freeman and Jen Feldmann’s house is its connection to the neighborhood, which is why the front porch was a must. “Homes that have a door but no outside space say, ‘I’m not interested in you,’” designer Christopher Robertson explains. “This says, ‘I’m here to be part of the community.’”Both Freeman and Feldmann's fathers flew down to help pour the cement steps in the front yard. For the lawn, the couple cover the yard with zoysia palisades instead of "the normal pokey St. Augustine grass" common in Houston. "We both come from the north where you can sit in the grass and be comfortable," Feldmann says. The bent-steel shade over the porch is held up with the help of an arm from one of the doors of the containers used to make the house.
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  A door in the master bathroom connects the indoor shower to an outdoor one. Here, Feldmann and the couple's three-year-old son, Eli, wash their dog Arnold--named by the previous owner after the local St. Arnold Brewing Company.
    A door in the master bathroom connects the indoor shower to an outdoor one. Here, Feldmann and the couple's three-year-old son, Eli, wash their dog Arnold--named by the previous owner after the local St. Arnold Brewing Company.
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  Robertson--with the help of developers Katie Nichols and John Walker, who were heavily involved in the design process--finished the guest bathroom with Modwalls tiles and a sink they found on eBay. They used a piece of marine plywood, leftover from building the front-porch steps, to create a counter on which the sink could sit--and where the family can rest their toothbrushes. To the right of the sink is a Toto dual-flush toilet, which is great for conserving water but has proven problematic for toilet training, as American potty seats aren't designed to fit these Japanese basins.
    Robertson--with the help of developers Katie Nichols and John Walker, who were heavily involved in the design process--finished the guest bathroom with Modwalls tiles and a sink they found on eBay. They used a piece of marine plywood, leftover from building the front-porch steps, to create a counter on which the sink could sit--and where the family can rest their toothbrushes. To the right of the sink is a Toto dual-flush toilet, which is great for conserving water but has proven problematic for toilet training, as American potty seats aren't designed to fit these Japanese basins.
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  In the cutout of the 40-foot-long container along the northern side of the house is the office and play area. It's a mix of new and old: The bookcase and desk are from Ikea's Expedit living room storage collection while the small table and chairs were made by Freeman's grandfather. "He was a furniture maker and would make one piece for each of the 13 grandkids each year," Feldmann says.
    In the cutout of the 40-foot-long container along the northern side of the house is the office and play area. It's a mix of new and old: The bookcase and desk are from Ikea's Expedit living room storage collection while the small table and chairs were made by Freeman's grandfather. "He was a furniture maker and would make one piece for each of the 13 grandkids each year," Feldmann says.
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  The open-plan living spaces act like a “giant kitchen” that invites guests to mingle throughout the house. The white rug anchors the living room furniture, which includes two red couches from Room and Board and a coffee table and end tables that were thrift-store finds.Roberston opted for commercial storefront doors over sliding glass ones for the back of the house. "It's the least expensive way to get a wall of glass," he says. The only drawback: The doors automatically lock when they close so Freeman and Feldmann have to be sure to always have keys on hand.  Courtesy of Justin Reid.
    The open-plan living spaces act like a “giant kitchen” that invites guests to mingle throughout the house. The white rug anchors the living room furniture, which includes two red couches from Room and Board and a coffee table and end tables that were thrift-store finds.Roberston opted for commercial storefront doors over sliding glass ones for the back of the house. "It's the least expensive way to get a wall of glass," he says. The only drawback: The doors automatically lock when they close so Freeman and Feldmann have to be sure to always have keys on hand. Courtesy of Justin Reid.
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  In the kitchen, Freeman fixes a snack while Eli plays on the counter, one of his favorite spots in the house, second only to the kitchen steps. The horizontal window, which acts as a backsplash, is at the perfect height for looking outside when seated at the bar (stools not shown). Robertson jokingly calls the home the "midrift house," as from outside, all you can see are the stomachs of whomever is working in or walking through the kitchen.
    In the kitchen, Freeman fixes a snack while Eli plays on the counter, one of his favorite spots in the house, second only to the kitchen steps. The horizontal window, which acts as a backsplash, is at the perfect height for looking outside when seated at the bar (stools not shown). Robertson jokingly calls the home the "midrift house," as from outside, all you can see are the stomachs of whomever is working in or walking through the kitchen.
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  Tucked away to the right at the end of the kitchen are the washer and dryer. Robertson originally was going to close off the area as a separate laundry room but later decided to keep the space open. The vertical window brings in additional natural light and has become the perfect access point for the compost bin, which sits outside below the window.
    Tucked away to the right at the end of the kitchen are the washer and dryer. Robertson originally was going to close off the area as a separate laundry room but later decided to keep the space open. The vertical window brings in additional natural light and has become the perfect access point for the compost bin, which sits outside below the window.
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  To the right of the house, the couple had a Geosystems FilterPave porous pavement driveway installed. Made of post-consumer recycled glass, the driveway lets water pass through it at an astonishing speed and, in the sun, adds a little sparkle.
    To the right of the house, the couple had a Geosystems FilterPave porous pavement driveway installed. Made of post-consumer recycled glass, the driveway lets water pass through it at an astonishing speed and, in the sun, adds a little sparkle.
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  Throughout the house, Robertson, Nichols, and Walker emphasized the beauty of the natural finishes and colors of the materials they chose. Robertson originally was going to paint the overhead beams but left them in their raw state to match the tiger bamboo that covers the floor. The light wall around the master bedroom, made from Enduro Systems fiberglass, is a light turquoise on the bedroom side, amber on the living room side, and glows green at night when the lights between the two layers are turned on.
    Throughout the house, Robertson, Nichols, and Walker emphasized the beauty of the natural finishes and colors of the materials they chose. Robertson originally was going to paint the overhead beams but left them in their raw state to match the tiger bamboo that covers the floor. The light wall around the master bedroom, made from Enduro Systems fiberglass, is a light turquoise on the bedroom side, amber on the living room side, and glows green at night when the lights between the two layers are turned on.
  • 
  The wall outside Eli's room is covered with chalkboard paint, adding another method by which to leave messages around the magnetic house. The room measures in at just under 7.5 by 14 feet. "It was extremely necessary at some point to confront the constraints of the containers," Robertson says.
    The wall outside Eli's room is covered with chalkboard paint, adding another method by which to leave messages around the magnetic house. The room measures in at just under 7.5 by 14 feet. "It was extremely necessary at some point to confront the constraints of the containers," Robertson says.
  • 
  The master bedroom is another place where Robertson placed emphasis on the existing size and shape of the containers. The room opens up to a clerestory window beyond the foot of the bed but the exposed edge of the container ceiling makes “you almost feel like a hobo on a train,” Feldmann says, romanticizing about her view from bed.
    The master bedroom is another place where Robertson placed emphasis on the existing size and shape of the containers. The room opens up to a clerestory window beyond the foot of the bed but the exposed edge of the container ceiling makes “you almost feel like a hobo on a train,” Feldmann says, romanticizing about her view from bed.
  • 
  The 400-square-foot deck between the main house and guest quarters catches a cool breeze—a big bonus during Houston’s “super-summers”—and is often filled with the couple and their friends enjoying local microbrews. "The challenge was how to stitch together the house and the guest container without it looking like at the last minute we decided we needed a little more space," Robertson says.
    The 400-square-foot deck between the main house and guest quarters catches a cool breeze—a big bonus during Houston’s “super-summers”—and is often filled with the couple and their friends enjoying local microbrews. "The challenge was how to stitch together the house and the guest container without it looking like at the last minute we decided we needed a little more space," Robertson says.
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  Alongside the redwood shade screen, which keeps the house from overheating, Freeman and Feldmann grow vegetables in an 18-inch-wide garden. Despite their love for homemade meals made from homegrown food, they frequently bike to nearby eateries to enjoy the local Mexican cuisine.
    Alongside the redwood shade screen, which keeps the house from overheating, Freeman and Feldmann grow vegetables in an 18-inch-wide garden. Despite their love for homemade meals made from homegrown food, they frequently bike to nearby eateries to enjoy the local Mexican cuisine.
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  For the dining room, Freeman and Feldmann swapped their tiny table for Walker's larger one since he was moving into a smaller space. They topped their new table with a $12 pendant lamp from Ikea and finished the room with a console from West Elm.
    For the dining room, Freeman and Feldmann swapped their tiny table for Walker's larger one since he was moving into a smaller space. They topped their new table with a $12 pendant lamp from Ikea and finished the room with a console from West Elm.
  • 
  One challenge of using two 40-foot-long containers and one 20-foot-long unit in the main house was the different heights of the two container lengths. Rather than keeping the floor level the same, Robertson chose to lift the kitchen container up a few feet to match the ceiling height of the other two modules and add a step between the kitchen and dinning room. "Every home has its challenges," he says. "It's always like solving a Rubik's Cube."
    One challenge of using two 40-foot-long containers and one 20-foot-long unit in the main house was the different heights of the two container lengths. Rather than keeping the floor level the same, Robertson chose to lift the kitchen container up a few feet to match the ceiling height of the other two modules and add a step between the kitchen and dinning room. "Every home has its challenges," he says. "It's always like solving a Rubik's Cube."
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  The guest quarters in the shipping container behind the main house is one of Freeman's favorite places. "We just haven't figured out how to use it yet," he says. When Eli was younger and woke up earlier, either Freeman or Feldman would take him back here to play without waking the other parent. Now, it is predominantly used by out-of-town visitors or the couple's parents when they come to stay. "The main house is such a social space that I worry about being misinterpreted as antisocial if I go to the guest quarters," Freeman says.
    The guest quarters in the shipping container behind the main house is one of Freeman's favorite places. "We just haven't figured out how to use it yet," he says. When Eli was younger and woke up earlier, either Freeman or Feldman would take him back here to play without waking the other parent. Now, it is predominantly used by out-of-town visitors or the couple's parents when they come to stay. "The main house is such a social space that I worry about being misinterpreted as antisocial if I go to the guest quarters," Freeman says.
  • 
  The corrugated steel of the container that houses the master suite becomes a textured wall for writing messages in the home's entrance. "When we were furnishing the house, I thought, 'Oh no! Our fridge isn't magnetic for Eli's artwork,' but then I realized the whole house is magnetic," Feldmann says. "We've become magnet connoisseurs," Freeman adds.
    The corrugated steel of the container that houses the master suite becomes a textured wall for writing messages in the home's entrance. "When we were furnishing the house, I thought, 'Oh no! Our fridge isn't magnetic for Eli's artwork,' but then I realized the whole house is magnetic," Feldmann says. "We've become magnet connoisseurs," Freeman adds.
  • 
  The outdoor shower can be accessed through the master bathroom or from the back porch, which is nice after a long bike ride on a hot Houston day--especially since the couple stores several of their nine bikes inside the walled-off shower space.
    The outdoor shower can be accessed through the master bathroom or from the back porch, which is nice after a long bike ride on a hot Houston day--especially since the couple stores several of their nine bikes inside the walled-off shower space.
  • 
  Freeman and Feldmann's two dogs, Arnold and Ruti (short for Rutabaga), have claimed their territory as the space between the ground and the bottom of the 20-foot-long container that houses the kitchen. "The dogs like to go under there, because it's a two-foot-high space that is shaded and gets a nice breeze," Feldmann says. "When we were landscaping, we had to make sure to leave a path for the puppies so they could get to that spot."
    Freeman and Feldmann's two dogs, Arnold and Ruti (short for Rutabaga), have claimed their territory as the space between the ground and the bottom of the 20-foot-long container that houses the kitchen. "The dogs like to go under there, because it's a two-foot-high space that is shaded and gets a nice breeze," Feldmann says. "When we were landscaping, we had to make sure to leave a path for the puppies so they could get to that spot."
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  The horizontal steel I beam that wraps around the house above the containers was salvaged from a warehouse. The home's roof rests on beams that span from the 40-foot-long container on the north side of the house (right) to the one on the south.
    The horizontal steel I beam that wraps around the house above the containers was salvaged from a warehouse. The home's roof rests on beams that span from the 40-foot-long container on the north side of the house (right) to the one on the south.
  • 
  The kitchen is the prime spot from which to observe the rest of the house. The view extends through the dining room and living room, past the glass doors and windows, across the patio, into the guest quarters, and out its back wall of glass to the fence that lines the back of the couple's property and lights up at night. "You feel like the captain of the house in the kitchen," Freeman says.
    The kitchen is the prime spot from which to observe the rest of the house. The view extends through the dining room and living room, past the glass doors and windows, across the patio, into the guest quarters, and out its back wall of glass to the fence that lines the back of the couple's property and lights up at night. "You feel like the captain of the house in the kitchen," Freeman says.
  • 
  Entering the house by the front door (right), the first view one gets before turning left and entering the main living area--where the couple's dog Ruti likes to lounge--is of the color-shifting fiberglass light wall. "Whenever possible, I like to open up views, not reveal everything at once, which is why I made a subtle entryway to the house," Robertson says. "It's nice to not walk right into a room but instead let things unfold as you move through the home."
    Entering the house by the front door (right), the first view one gets before turning left and entering the main living area--where the couple's dog Ruti likes to lounge--is of the color-shifting fiberglass light wall. "Whenever possible, I like to open up views, not reveal everything at once, which is why I made a subtle entryway to the house," Robertson says. "It's nice to not walk right into a room but instead let things unfold as you move through the home."
  • 
  The couple had a big flat-screen TV but didn't want it to be the focus of the living room. Placed on the wall behind one of the red couches, it hangs quietly without drawing attention to itself but is in perfect position for TV-watching from the second couch (not pictured). Below the television is a console that Feldmann's mother picked up at a thrift store for $50. Feldmann had her reservations about the piece at first but after they took off its original base and lifted it on two-by-fours for an elevated look, she was sold.
    The couple had a big flat-screen TV but didn't want it to be the focus of the living room. Placed on the wall behind one of the red couches, it hangs quietly without drawing attention to itself but is in perfect position for TV-watching from the second couch (not pictured). Below the television is a console that Feldmann's mother picked up at a thrift store for $50. Feldmann had her reservations about the piece at first but after they took off its original base and lifted it on two-by-fours for an elevated look, she was sold.
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