Sunday, October 31, 2010

Recent Upgrades and Changes

It took a while for me to find the motivation to do more work on the container and surrounding yard, but I finally found the strength to get back to it. While the container is certainly usable and finished, the yard wasn't. It had overgrown weeds and simply no proper walkway or path leading to the massive door.

With help from my friend Stefan, I built edging from steel and dug up the grass. We laid down old carpet to keep the weed and grass out and then carted in almost 10,000 lbs. of crushed glass by hand. The city of Austin gives the stuff away if you haul it yourself. We realized after hauling it all that it actually weighed more than the container did when I moved it in. (I'd guess the container is closer to 15,000 lbs. now) I think the crushed glass carries on the theme of recycled goods quite well. It also blends perfectly with the bottles that Margot used to line the landscaping.

We ended up using an old Vietnam-era parachute to drape between the house and the container and were pleasantly surprised with how much more of a comfy feeling it added. It makes the entire yard feel more warm and inviting.

November 13th,14th, 20th & 21st we're studio stop in the E.A.S.T tour of Austin. That's the "East Austin Studio Tour" that showcases local artists and their studios. Stop by if you're in town.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A final STUDIO!

After months of hard labor and work we finally have a finished product. Please follow the link on the right of this page to see the final images.

Although I do plan to make changes and additions to the overall design, I can say that the project is up and running. It is currently being used as an artist studio by my girlfriend and she is loving it.

My last update was completed while the insulation was being blown in. I then went about collecting the final wall materials. The plywood install was fairly straightforward, but that didn't stop me from making a few mis-cuts and making it necessary to use most all of my "extra" material. The plywood on the ceiling and walls is a basic BC sanded material that was given a light finish sand and a clear polyurethane coat or two to make it more resistant to scuffs and wear. The recycled paper panels called "Homasote" were cut to fit and then removed and covered in a high quality burlap fabric. They were then installed pretty easily. The final touches were rough sanding the floors and then sealing them with a floor oil-based sealant. I was extremely happy with the finish and couldn't believe how big of a difference the darker floors made to the overall feel of the room.

Hanging the box lights I made was also a pretty satisfying chore. It took two people to accomplish because they are so heavy, but it was easy to simply screw them into the ceiling. I generally detest simple overhead lighting, but the use of low-output halogens seems to give off exactly the light I was looking for with a custom high-end feel.

Once the lights and walls were hung I simply hung the vintage porcelain lamp given to me by my neighbor bill on the outside near the door and it was surprisingly ready for business. That night we had a small party and truly just celebrated it finally being over. I put in countless hours and many of my friends pitched in big to make this small dream of mine a reality. Now I feel I have the bug. I have requests coming in to build more, but I've yet to do any estimates for a definitive project. Simply conceiving, designing and building this project has opened so many doors to my inner creativeness that I'm not even sure of exactly where to point it. My internal sketchbook is filling at a rapid pace and I feel it's mainly because I was able to build what I imagined every time and of course I was only limited by my imagination. The annex 20' container I bought to store my vintage car is about to get a makeover as well simply because I can't just leave it alone and I keep finding all sorts of recycled materials that will make great additions to it as a garage.

Anyway.....thanks to anyone who read this. I truly appreciate everyone's support (ahem Keeley, Bill, Jeff, Margot and Chris) and I'm very interested in communication with any like-minded builders or potential clients alike. Feel free to email me at with any and all feedback or questions. Thank YOU!

(UDATE: Due to the overwhelmingly positive response I've gotten to this 'final' product, I decided today that I will begin considering orders for build-to-order containers and will soon begin a spec container to be sold soon. A visual plan for various designs is burning up in my head. Plans and updates to follow here. Subscribe to this blog if you are interested. Thanks everyone for reading!)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Nearing the end....errrr completion.

So once again I've put off a blog update as things have progressed. Today was a hallmark day, but more on that in a minute.

Since my last update there has been a lot of tedious work completed. I ended up with 74 separate pieces that were needed to fill the corrugation gaps on top of all the openings. This was no simple job! All were then tack-welded in and sealed up with roof sealant. The water is no longer pouring in and I'm thankful that part is over. I still have some minor sealing to do around the two opening windows and the giant door....but nothing a little creative design can't solve.

I also built window sill/surrounds around the inside edges of each window. This again was no small task and took some careful measuring to get right. These follow the design cues of the door and it should all be quite cohesive and look consistent with the rest of the project. All the bare metal of the windows and door are now scrubbed, cleaned and clear-coated. The matte-finish clear coat allows the color and patina of the metal to be seen in all its glory and I really like the affect. I have a feeling that the punishing weather will have the outside metal needing some maintenance as the years go by. No worries seems unlikely that rust will cause any real issues.

Today was great because the spray-in insulation was finally laid in. I decided to use a soy-based bio foam that is biodegradable and will offer a much better seal and R factor than standard use fiberglass. It took about 5 hours and wasn't cheap, but the affect is dramatic. It's SO quiet inside now and it's starting to look more like a real room. Pics on Flickr give a better idea of what I mean. I even posted a video to show the process.

Next week I'm picking up the wall material which will be part finish plywood, part recycled paper fiber board called Homasote and part flat metal. The metal will be installed along the bottom kick panel to house the power outlets and generally protect the wall from damage. My plan is to cover the Homasote with burlap and to seal the plywood for a very tough surface that is still warm and useable.

My favorite part left to build is the lighting fixtures. Those that know me will realize that I'm sort of a lighting snob. I typically focus on lighting and how it shapes everything in a space. Very few rooms seem to have what I consider to be appropriate fixtures and light levels. I'm finally taking a stab at building my own fixtures and getting it 'just right' on this project. Dimmers will of course be standard and my neighbor Bill donated some vintage porcelain-covered lamps that I plan to refit for the project. They will be perhaps the ONLY pre-fab part of this project, but will be rebuilt and fashioned in a way that makes them consistent with the recycled, clean and modern theme I've applied to the everything else.

I intend to work on the walls, power, air conditioning and door finish-work in the next two weeks. Wish me luck.....I'll need it! I'm pushing for a May 17th move in!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Two months of progress without a word....

Here it is two months later and I've not written a single word about the hard work completed. I posted pics at the end of last month, but failed to discuss what had happened while they were taken. Since then much has been accomplished, but it doesn't look much different. In my last written update I discussed the window holes all being cut and glass and frames had been mounted. I was working on the big glass door and it really ended up taking almost a month to build and mount it. was mounted once, then taken down and remounted twice more. The bearing system proved to be a serious challenge. The immense weight and tolerances of the door complicated things and I learned a thing or two about bearing load and directional forces. Regardless, the pic and videos loaded on Flickr show just how easily the door now moves and rolls. It is WAY heavy, but impressive to stand next to and amazing to see it roll out of the way. I'm glad I took the route to build it myself, but it definitely pushed back my aggressive goal of being done early.

The container now has a strange open feel to it and is surprisingly airy. The once dark cavern that sat in my driveway has been suddenly transformed into a sun-filled cozy space with lots of potential. Even my somewhat traditionally-inspired mother came by this week to see the project and suddenly found herself envisioning where she'd put HER furniture in it as a living space. Surprising that someone that lives in such a big house would want to live in my tiny glorified trailer home. :) I think small spaces are THE way to go, though I'll admit that standing in the studio, it now seems anything but small!

Now that all the openings are done and filled with glass, I've been working steadily on sealing up all the cracks and crevices. The corrugation has proved to be a bit of a pain and I chose to cut out about 40 individual filler pieces that are 1.5"x6" with the plasma cutter. It was nothing less than a miracle to me that after 3 attempts I was able to get a somewhat consistent cutting pattern down. It's becoming quite the piece of custom metal. These pieces were used to fill the gap on the top side of the windows and doors, but once welded into place I also had to go back and silicone seal up the tiny gaps to insure a water-tight seal.'s taken a LOT of time to do this final external work. I'd hoped to be on to the internal wall framing and electrical install, but water-tight comes first and the coming rain tonight should be a nice test.

If all goes well in the next few days then I'll balance time in my motorcycle shop getting out customer bikes with attempting to put the internal wall structure up. Pics should follow sooner rather than later this time. Thanks for checking in!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Difficult Design

In my effort to personally conceive, design and build this project, I seem to have grossly underestimated my tendency to take on a bit more than my skill has set a precedent for. At first I thought I'd be quickly cutting holes, putting in windows and slapping together inner walls and power. WRONG.

As I tend to do, I came up with a simple plan and complicated it quickly by deciding to fabricate everything that could be bought pre-fab/off-the-shelf. In my head I fabricated windows quickly and efficiently and got them perfect the first time. In reality multiple attempts have been required to complete my "no compromises"approach to almost everything. Buying ready-made hung doors and windows would have made this project almost a snap by comparison. Having said all that, it seems that my fabrication skills are improving and I'm certain that a second attempt at a shipping container space would be significantly easier and likely go together much quicker.....but isn't it that way with everything?

In the past few weeks I made decisions about the main door that I'm installing on the face of the studio. I decided that a standard sliding glass door was definitely out for cost reasons and simply because it seemed boring. Then I decided that I'd build my own heavy 9'x9' glass door and mount it 'barn-door" style on the outside of the container to make a huge opening. This is NO SMALL TASK. The door is made from two huge used commercial glass panes that I'm framing in sheet steel. I then decided that it wasn't enough to buy a pre-made barn-door trolley roller system and have gone about designing and building my own ball-bearing roller system. The plan is set, but damn is it getting complicated and HEAVY fast! Since the decision was made, I managed to build a HUGE table to fab up the door using my neighbor Bill's stash of heavy duty square tubing and metal saw horses. I'm guessing the table weighs 300 pounds and the door should weigh around 600 pounds! I'll soon be calling on all my strong friends to lend a hand mounting it. It's either going to be fantastic or a huge failure. I'm obviously hoping for the former.

The air conditioner has arrived and taken its space in "The Annex" as we are now calling the second storage container. I've also purchased most of the appropriate electrical supplies and tomorrow I intend to get the wall frame lumber needed and a huge load of finish plywood to be ready when the framing is done. Electrical and insulation will then come and I imagine lots of inner trim work will be required to finish out the wall-to-window gaps. Ugh....lots of work left.

That's all for this update. A few update pics are loaded up in Flickr and hopefully a lot of new ones will be taken this coming week.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It comes in spurts

Amazingly it's been over a month since I updated this. Some days I feel like almost nothing has happened since then, but a lot has taken place. On a plane headed back from Minneapolis a few months ago, I began with a basic idea of how I wanted to layout windows and a floor plan. I scribbled down a rough sketch and let the visual aesthetic settle for a while. I knew that I wanted to use as many recycled materials as possible, so I was open to the design changing organically as I found suitable materials.

Shortly before the container was delivered I bought a set of old office cubicle walls that had thick tempered 6 foot tall glass in them. Perfect. A little bit of disassembly was required, but this got me the long rectangular shaped glass I was looking for at a fraction of the cost of custom built commercial windows. Even custom commercial units would need reinforced angle iron to frame them into the container walls. Instead, I decided to make the angle iron the entire window frame to keep it simple and functional and give it a more utilitarian feel. I'm not out to make a standard house with standard windows.

To help retain the strength of the structural walls I used thick angle iron and a band saw to cut out appropriate frames for my new windows. After much debate and thought between Margot and I, we came up with an updated layout that was surprisingly similar to the scribbles I put down on paper during our trip.

My welding skills are improving, but it's a slow process. Some of the windows I've built are fixed and will not be opened and some swing out to open from a top pivot point. The opening ones took three rounds of development, but I'm pleased with how they are turning out. We'll have seven windows and one large sliding glass door when finished and I've officially built and installed four of the seven with the other frames already assembled and waiting for holes.

I found the plasma cutter to be the easiest solution to cutting into the container and the band saw is definitely the most precise tool for cutting my window frames. It's fun and a little scary to hear and feel the container expand and contract as you cut out sections and then see and feel it tighten back up as the super strong frames are welded in place.

I also did some creative trading and managed to come up with two large commercial sliding doors that I plan to combine into one big heavy barn-door style hanging door. Wish me luck on that one.

We've also determined that a grass roof is definitely in the future plan for energy efficiency and aesthetic appeal, so I plan to put in roof reinforcements that will be hidden in the walls. This will take a bit of work this week as I finish the last of the windows and also begin the task of getting the big door together.

I'm ordering the air conditioner/heater this week and have decided to buy a mini-split unit for its efficiency, low-noise output and unobtrusive ventless output. I also need to buy the electrical materials this week and get it wired up soon. I ordered a bio-based spray foam insulation to spray on the walls to insulate and seal up the structure. I look forward to installing that as it means I'm nearing completion or at least a usable point of the project. The plans for the wall surface are changing as I discover new materials. Standard sheetrock is out and finish plywood is simply too expensive and certainly not that eco-friendly. Anyone got any recommendations? This will develop soon I'm sure.

I'll try to update this more often as there are finally interesting things to see that are developing quickly.

For now, the rest of the story can be told by the photos on the flickr page here:


Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Be careful what you wish for.

After over a month of research and planning, I took the step of buying an actual container. I chose what they call a "high container". It's 9'6" tall vs. the standard 8'6". I think the higher ceiling would work out nicely. We set up delivery and awaited the fun. It arrived and suddenly the true scope and physical size of this project occurred to Margot and I both. HUGE and HEAVY.

This thing is big and simply walking around, over and into it puts things into perspective. Did I mention that it's heavy too?

I pondered renting a forklift until I found out it was $500 to do so. We decided to take our chances with some 4" PVC pipe designed for sewer systems, a floor jack, bumper jack, shovel, 40' of chain and the Jeep. We waited for the mud in the yard to dry up and Chris was gracious enough to come over on his day off to lend a hand. On Friday, the fun began.

It took about 5 hours of digging, jacking ramming and cursing to get it into place. Getting it in the air was surprisingly easy, but pushing it around was not. Let's just say we were all impressed that the Jeep or one of us wasn't damaged.

Margot watched and spotted anxiously while shooting pics and cheering us on. We even gave her a shot at the floor jack and she quickly figured out why we were sweating. It's finally in place and ready for the real work to begin. I've gathered up a rough sketch of the plan, a welder, a torch, a grinder and more than a few materials and I look forward to getting a jump on it this week. Updates to follow....