Greetings from Portland! 🙂
Floor-to-ceiling double-pane wood windows and sliding glass doors offer plenty of light for visitors Zoe Simpson and dog Dottie. The corrugated awning over the front porch was salvaged from the original structure. Mike Corvi caught the cargo container bug about three years ago, after reading a magazine article about shipping containers being turned into housing for Aborigines in Australia’s northern territories.
He also thinks an early, enduring love of Erector sets may be part of his obsession. Corvi, a Southwest Portland businessman who makes a living selling high-end leather jackets, has little building or design experience. Undeterred, he set out to transform an 8-by-20-foot shipping container into something other people would want. He bought the gently used empty metal shell for $2,900 and then with the help of a couple of experienced builders, friends, and some sweat equity had a usable building within 6 weeks for a cost of $8,000.
“What I really loved was how excited he was about it,” says his wife, Marlene Corvi. “It was all-consuming.”
He spent two years researching potential building methods and designs, and then bought a container for $2,900 from a business in Northeast Portland. The nearly pristine metal box had made just two trips overseas before it was officially retired. “There’s so much steel available to use,” Corvi says. “It’s insane that we’re not using it.”
Corvi opens the heavy steel double doors to reveal an interior lined with birch plywood paneling. “I could not wait to get up in the morning and get out there,” he says. He hired a couple of skilled builders, including one with metal-welding experience, to start cutting out windows and doors. They added high-end dual-pane Jeld-Wen wood window and sliding glass door, carved out a small front porch with a corrugated metal roof and wired the entire structure for electricity, cable and heat.
Corvi’s brother-in-law, carpenter Steve Wantland, helped him design and build an interior wood frame separate from the outer metal shell, allowing for a crucial half-inch of air circulation. It is anchored in just one place on the roof and one on the floor. Wantland attached two inches of rigid foam insulation to the inside of the wood frame and finished the interior with birch plywood paneling. Corvi estimates that the insulation grade for the walls and ceiling is about R-20. The challenge with turning a metal box into housing, Wantland says, includes metal’s conductivity of heat and cold. Without insulation, inhabitants would bake in the summer and freeze in winter. Also, condensation is an issue, eliminating drywall as an option.
“This was our maiden voyage, but we came up with some pretty good solutions,” Wantland says of the structure they completed in six weeks. “I thought it turned out beautifully.”
Nieces Sarah and Issie Corvi and their mother, Stephanie Corvi, like to hang out in the refurbished steel box, which is wired for electricity, heat and cable. The container’s thick mahogany plywood floor is fastened down with solid brass screws, which Corvi covered with jute mats fitted together like carpet squares. They feel soft and springy underfoot, an earthy counterpoint to the ultra-modern aesthetic.
Corvi used salvaged hemlock for trimming out the doors and windows. The heavy steel doors — still with their original hardware — swing wide in summer or shut tight in winter. The generous floor-length windows and sliding glass doors frame views of the garden and provide a sense of space in the tight quarters. You could add more containers, Corvi says, to create an L-shape with a landscaped interior courtyard, or go double-decker, linked by a circular staircase. Inspired by the design, Corvi is hoping to start a business making containers for others. He is working on a prototype for a container plumbed for a kitchen and bathroom.
“With a few simple tools, you can actually create a box to live in,” says Dorothy Payton, a Portland Community College instructor and architect. “Mike has taken it to another level.”
So what do you think? Would you live here? 🙂
Photo Source: Oregon Live