Susan Bady has been writing about the housing industry for 25 years. She most recently served as senior editor of design for Professional Builder and Custom Builder magazines, and is now a contributing editor to those publications as well as the portal Web site HousingZone.com. Bady has also written for such consumer magazines as Cabin Life and Better Homes and Gardens’ Home Plan Ideas. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dwell magazine recently featured a Pittsburgh home made of recycled glass and steel that stands apart in a neighborhood filled with opulent mansions and brick cottages. The owner purchased (sight unseen) a 140-year-old farmhouse on the site, but decided to tear it down after discovering it was riddled with dry rot and mold.
What now stands on the site is about the same size as the original farmhouse (1,200 square feet), but couldn’t be more different. It’s a two-story cube constructed from a metal prefab kit. An industrial garage door can be rolled up to allow breezes to permeate the interior. Large windows capture views in three directions. The interior, consequently, is bright and welcoming in contrast with the somber gray exterior.
This particular home bears a strong resemblance to a repurposed shipping container, which it isn’t. But there continues to be a movement toward the reuse of such containers for housing, from affordable to luxury. Ecotech West, for example, has designed and built upscale residences with multiple shipping containers, including an 8-acre live/work complex in the Mojave Desert.
Shipping-container homes and prefab metal homes are obviously not for everybody. At first glance, the Pittsburgh home looks like a self-storage warehouse, only with nicer windows. But that’s bound to happen when traditional perceptions of “home” bump up against unconventional interpretations. It works for this particular homeowner, and that’s all that really matters.