A Colorado Firefighter Built His Own Shipping Container Home, and Found a New Calling Along the Way

Add to
Like
Share
By Ray Mark Rinaldi
Nine shipping containers form the basis for a new multigenerational house near Denver.

Making a house out of shipping con­tainers sounds easy enough: Just snap up a few neglected boxes from a local junk dealer, rack ’em and stack ’em, and create a bit of old-school prefab magic.

Newsletter
Join the Daily Dose Mailing List

Get carefully curated content filled with inspiring homes from around the world, innovative new products, and the best in modern design

In 2014, while recovering from a work-related injury, Denver-area firefighter Regan Foster started exploring the idea of shipping containers for a new house he was planning to build. Two years later, he and his wife, Libby, moved into a home made mostly of the giant metal bins, having done much of the work themselves. They share the residence with their year-old daughter, Evie, and Libby’s mother.

In 2014, while recovering from a work-related injury, Denver-area firefighter Regan Foster started exploring the idea of shipping containers for a new house he was planning to build. Two years later, he and his wife, Libby, moved into a home made mostly of the giant metal bins, having done much of the work themselves. They share the residence with their year-old daughter, Evie, and Libby’s mother.

But recycling the detritus of global shipping has its complications. Like how to turn corrugated steel boxes that measure an awkward eight feet wide and 40 feet long into something cozy enough to call home. Or how to keep their metal floors from vibrating when you walk on them, or prevent the chemicals they are treated with from being released into the air. Or, perhaps most important, how to assemble it all so it doesn’t look like you live in the storage yard of the local port authority.

The Fosters unwind in the soaring, 960-square-foot great room. The family wanted plenty of space for hosting friends and events, as well as lots of bedrooms so they can rent the house to groups on Airbnb if they like.

The Fosters unwind in the soaring, 960-square-foot great room. The family wanted plenty of space for hosting friends and events, as well as lots of bedrooms so they can rent the house to groups on Airbnb if they like.

Luckily, Regan Foster likes a challenge. He’s an extreme DIYer and, until recently, a firefighter, the kind of guy who is used to working 24-hour shifts and given to starting his day with a plunge into an outdoor ice bath. The house he designed and built with his wife, Libby, located just outside the Denver city line in Adams County, harnesses nine shipping containers into a 3,840-square-foot structure that’s meant to be shared with friends and neighbors. "We believe community and family are a strong part of living a life well-spent," Regan says.

Many of the corrugated metal walls are painted black and white, in shades by Benjamin Moore.

Many of the corrugated metal walls are painted black and white, in shades by Benjamin Moore.

In all, the house has seven bedrooms and five bathrooms, including an in-law suite with a separate entrance where Libby’s mother lives. Four of the containers are placed on the ground—side-by-side in pairs set 24 feet apart—to form the first floor. Another four are stacked above them, some shifted forward, to create a cantilevered second story. The ninth container sits perpendicular at the back of the second level to form a U-shape. The house is enclosed in front with a conventionally framed wall and on top with a flat roof supported by exposed joists.

The kitchen cabinets are from IKEA and the full refrigerator is by LG.

The kitchen cabinets are from IKEA and the full refrigerator is by LG.

In the voluminous great room, the ceiling rises to 25 feet. The space feels even larger thanks to a sliding glass wall that connects it to the back patio, which Regan outfitted with a grill, a prep countertop, and benches he built using chunks of concrete slab saved from the demolition of a small house that formerly stood on the lot.

The family dogs, Lola and Nina, hunt for scraps under a dining table that Regan made. The sliding door is by Milgard.

The family dogs, Lola and Nina, hunt for scraps under a dining table that Regan made. The sliding door is by Milgard.

Regan acted as general contractor and consulted with architect Joe Simmons of BlueSky Studio on the design. "When we first met, he gave me a diagram," says Simmons. "He pretty much had it all figured out." In fact, after the project ended and Regan earned his GC license, he retired from the fire department to pursue opportunities in real estate and construction. (The family also rents the house on Airbnb from time to time.)

For the master bedroom floor, Regan bought plywood panels from Home Depot and turned the wood distressing process into a family affair. "Libby and I were in there with protective headphones just banging away," he says. "We distressed it, stained it, and sanded it down." The bed is made out of a piece of wood Regan salvaged from an abandoned bridge.

For the master bedroom floor, Regan bought plywood panels from Home Depot and turned the wood distressing process into a family affair. "Libby and I were in there with protective headphones just banging away," he says. "We distressed it, stained it, and sanded it down." The bed is made out of a piece of wood Regan salvaged from an abandoned bridge.

Together, the pair solved structural questions. Although shipping containers stack easily and some can handle loads of more than of 50,000 pounds, Regan and Simmons had to reinforce theirs in places where they cut out windows and doors. They also reduced vibrations along the length of the containers by welding additional steel plates to the C-channel base structure to make them more rigid.

The tub has a tap by Delta Faucet.

The tub has a tap by Delta Faucet.

Regan, whose resumé includes furniture maker, did much of the interior himself. He laid the floors in hallways using various materials, including recycled barn wood and boards he fashioned from a catalpa tree a friend cut down. He turned a walnut slab into a sliding door and built a set of stairs from parallel strand lumber that leads to a cantilevered walkway that runs the length of the second floor.

Shop the Look
Flint and Tinder Flannel-lined Waxed Trucker Jacket in Coal
Flint and Tinder Flannel-lined Waxed Trucker Jacket in Coal
An icon of style, now flannel-lined for warmth and comfort. Tough, timeless, and made in the USA, this top-seller is constructed with a waxed and weather-resistant Martexin 7 oz. sailcloth, which like selvage denim or finely tanned leather, will only get better with age.
Andrew Neyer Goodnight Light
Andrew Neyer Goodnight Light
Short, sweet, and easy to use, the Andrew Neyer Goodnight Light brings comfortable light to your fingertips with an easy touch motion.
Loll Designs Adirondack Chair
Loll Designs Adirondack Chair
“We make outdoor furniture for the modern lollygagger,” explains Loll founder Greg Benson. “Our furniture is for people who are looking for fresh design that’s made in the U.S.A. with sustainable manufacturing practices.
Regan worked with architect Joe Simmons and several tradespeople on the home.

Regan worked with architect Joe Simmons and several tradespeople on the home.

To avoid any eventual off-gassing from the treated wood floors that came with the containers, Regan replaced them with stained, sealed plywood finish flooring and installed a heating system beneath.

"One of the great surprises is the acoustic environment," Simmons says. "These are all hard surfaces and you get a bit of reverberation, but the corrugated walls help to disburse sound, so you don’t really get an echo. It actually has a kind of warm sound."

"One of the great surprises is the acoustic environment," Simmons says. "These are all hard surfaces and you get a bit of reverberation, but the corrugated walls help to disburse sound, so you don’t really get an echo. It actually has a kind of warm sound."

"We believe community and family are a strong part of living a life well-spent." Regan Foster, resident

Gabion walls define the back patio.

Gabion walls define the back patio.

But he was careful not to ruin the industrial charm of the containers. The inside faces of the exterior walls are layered with insulation and drywall, but many of the interior walls and ceilings remain exposed, with the painted, corrugated metal showing the inevitable minor dents accrued during the boxes’ previous lives.

A fan by Big Ass Fans can be seen in the reflection of the bedroom mirror.

A fan by Big Ass Fans can be seen in the reflection of the bedroom mirror.

The house and yard are regularly the site of social gatherings, and the Fosters recently hosted an event for CrossPurpose, a nonprofit that supports career training for those in need.

A concrete patio wraps around the house.

A concrete patio wraps around the house.

"Every day a voice in my head says, ‘You have one life to live, how are you going to live it?’" Regan explains. "So this house is just another stepping stone in a life full of curiosity and adventure."  

Foster Residence floor plan.

Foster Residence floor plan.

Project Credits:

Architect: BlueSky Studio

Designer: Regan Foster