For Zack and Brie Smithey, the smell of old tires will be forever associated with home. “It reminds me of the beginning stages of the construction here,” he said, in the couple’s dream home in St. Charles, Missouri. (Note: The house does not smell like tires.)
In 2016, the couple built their three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath, 3,000-square-foot, two-story structure made out of eight shipping containers, those big metal boxes you see transporting all manner of goods (including, sometimes, tires).
Those containers, manufactured in Shanghai, traveled around the world 12 times carrying goods before they landed in a yard in St. Louis, which is where the Smitheys went to inspect their future home.
Brie said, “It was still, like, kind of surreal to go to this container yard with thousands and thousands of shipping containers and think, ‘We’re going to live in this’?”
Malcolm McLean, an American trucker, first applied to parent the shipping container in 1954, and his invention has changed the way we live and trade. Today an estimated 90% of all goods pass through as many as 170 million shipping containers circulating around the world.
And increasingly, people are using them in ways their inventor could have never imagined. Houses, coffee shops, restaurants, offices, swimming pools, even a stadium for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, have been built out of shipping containers.
The Smitheys were attracted to shipping containers because they offered a chance to recycle, and to show off the couple’s unique style. But keeping the project on budget meant doing almost of all of the work themselves.
Zack said, “Many people have unrealistic expectations on how cheap a container home is going to be. They forget that the expensive parts, like kitchens and bathrooms and HVAC, electric and plumbing, are still there.”
The result of their work is a gorgeous home full of quirky and fun, upcycled details.
Another result? Zack has started a side business helping other people build container homes.
“We had no idea all the opportunity that has come to us since building this home,” Brie said. “It’s pretty crazy!
“I think that people see the way houses have been built all these years and they think that’s what they have to do. But you can express your own creativity however you want. And I think that this has been a way for us to do that.”
Proving, perhaps, that good things come to those that think inside the box.
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Story produced by Anthony Laudato and Aria Shavelson. Editor: Emanuele Secci.