Our One Of A Kind Orchid Wall

About a year ago Armando and I built a planter wall so that Cynthia and I could have some orchids. We poured a sizable foundation to support the twelve-foot tall wall and embedded a few vertical pieces of rebar to also support the wall. We attached a piece of foam building panel to the rebars ~ I used this same foam stuff elsewhere in the house construction ~ it has a core of Styrofoam with a wire mesh on both sides. You plaster the panel with stucco. Of course we chose the wettest time of the year…

Looking out the kitchen window, waiting for the water to recede.

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Reserve Water Tank ~ Part II ~ And Our Art Studio Below

Part I of the water tank happened way back more than three years ago. Continuing on way back then, Armando, Alex, and I formed and poured the roof. We bent the vertical rebar in the walls at a 90-degree angle so that the roof and walls would be tied together to withstand the water pressure:

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Humans Need Not Apply

In this post I am going to tell you about a recent day that Cynthia and I had. It has nothing to do with our house. I’m going to make a political point at the end though, so fair warning.

A few weeks ago, Cynthia was in the States on family business. On the day she returned to Panama she got up at about 4:00 a.m. to make her flight. Here are some specific moments of her day: Continue reading

Art Show Today

Back in 2009 Cynthia and I had just bought this property. It was going to be a few months while she and I created the house plan and the architect did his work and got all the approval stamps. I was sitting in the house that we were renting and I was bored. I needed a hobby.

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We Love Our Home

Hi there. I bet you thought you would never hear from me again. Well I’m back with an update and possibly a reboot of this blog. For those who want more shipping container house building info, my future posts may be disappointing. The container part of the house build is done and it has been done for more than three years now. `

For the past three-and-a-half years, this shipping container/art house has been for sale. As in much of the world, the housing market here is absolutely flat. Only a couple of properties have sold here and they were priced well below what the sellers wanted and way below what we were asking.

Meanwhile, Cynthia and I have been living here. Real living and not just the five-year all-consuming exertion of creating and building this house. We’ve had time to be creative with our arts. We’ve had time to just sit and relax in the master bedroom porch and watch the birds. We’ve had time to know each other more deeply. As time passed, we explored other places to live when the house would potentially sell. Medellin, Colombia (we’ve been there five times now). Guanajuato, Mexico (wow, but stairs, stairs, and more stairs make it not a place for Cynthia with her new knee). Greenville, South Carolina (fair weather, progressive culture, health care, etc.) and Austin, Texas (Cynthia’s family).

But through all this time, two factors have become important priorities.

One factor is that we love the rich nature and relative seclusion of where we are. Every morning we wake to something we’ve never had before. Recently it has been a family of Aracaris (Toucan like birds). And the flock of wild parrots absolutely prevents sleeping in and missing these wonderful mornings. To start over somewhere else and miss a significant amount of time (years?) without just sitting and being has become a less inviting idea.

The second factor is really a matter of time and energy. We have created something here and it took a lot of energy and a lot of years: this custom house that is a joy to live in, a workshop that I have organized for the first time in my life, a new glass studio for Cynthia, a watercolor painting studio for me, and more is in the works. We want these things in our life and to start over with the diminished energy of age is looking more and more unlikely and un-enjoyable.

As an example of what I am doing when not building a house, here is a cabinet I built for my art supplies:

The wood is a tropical cedar with Purple Heart drawer fronts.
Diamond plate aluminum drawer bottoms save space and so far the termites don’t like it.

So with a substantial and significant amount of pondering, realizing, and talking, we have come to the “ah-ha!” decision to remove the house from the market. Not that it is selling anyway, but we have come to settle on all the good points of staying put.

Over the next while I will post Part II of the reserve water tank project, our studios, an orchid wall that I built, and a major project that is underway.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Fred

PHOTOS!

At long last, the house is what I am calling 99.9998% complete! I have a very short list of unfinished items, most of which I can do in a day or two. But yesterday and today Cynthia and I staged the house and took photos inside and out. Here is a video with 93 pictures. To save you from me imposing my music choice on you, there is no sound. You can make it full-screen if you like:

So that’s it. Five-and-a-half years and all I have to show for it is 93 lousy photos!

I still hope to make a nice video. Stay tuned.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Skirting Sinks And Dotting Windows

Working the punch list of unfinished projects, I finally had to deal with the underside of the bathroom sinks. I didn’t want to build cabinets (moisture, mold, termites), but I did want to hide the pipes:

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So I cut some of the aluminum that I had left over from making the kitchen drawer bottoms and bent them on my DIY sheetmetal brake. I drilled holes under the counter tops, inserted plastic anchors, and screwed the aluminum skirts up into place. Now the undersides of the sinks look finished. Here is the skirt in the half-bath under the stairs, ready to screw into place:

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Done:

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The master bathroom:

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A closeup:

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And the second bedroom bathroom:

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That’s one more of the few remaining items to scratch off of the list!

In other news, we have had more than our fair share of birds flying into our big windows. With 800 species of birds travelling through this area, something is always in the air. Apparently, the birds see trees reflected in the windows, fly toward the trees, and hit the invisible force field of the glass. We’ve been able to save most of them; we hold them cradled in our hands until they can shake off the stunned ?-what-?-just-?-happened-? look. I did some research and found a couple of solutions. One was to apply decals that look like birds-of-prey or other shapes.

Another option, the one we are going with, is rolls of 1/4-inch wide tape. The tape has 1/4-inch square dots every two-inches. You roll out the tape, rub the dots to adhere them to the glass, then peel back the tape leaving the dots on the windows. It is labor intensive! The dots add a modern look and you can barely see them from inside the house. The product is called Feather Friendly and is made by 3M. Here I am in the process of applying the dots — I had to take a break as it was about to rain and the humidity was too high and the dots wouldn’t stick:

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With the kitchen cabinets done, I no longer needed to work in the carport/bohio and it was time to clean the floor. Sawdust from the caoba (African Mahogany) didn’t stain the porcelain floor tiles, but it stuck like glue, and with the addition of some dog pee here and there (thanks very much Jabo), it made the floor difficult to clean. We tried soap, then bleach, then vinegar, then scouring powder, and a lot of elbow grease. Finally, Armando suggested that he clean with a water/muriatic acid solution. This did the trick in short order a couple of hours:

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And remember Ramiro who helped with welding and painting? He is between jobs so we brought him back to do some painting. Here he is sanding, wire brushing, two-primer coating, and two-finish coating the bars on the master bedroom bump out. He is a meticulous painter and this paint job should last a good number of years:

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Here it is all bright and shiny:

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And of course, Cynthia and I managed to sneak in a nine-day trip to the pueblos surrounding Medellin, Colombia to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Our gracious AirBnB hosts made us a fabulous celebratory dinner. El Retiro turned out to be our favorite pueblo in the area. It is located in a forested, mountainous area about a half-hour from Medellin’s airport in Rionegro. Much of the industry of the area relates to wood, with a plethora of furniture makers turning out excellent pieces. Thanks to some of our blog readers who came for our 25-cent house tour, for recommending the area!

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Birdbath 2.0 Plus Kitchen Wood Procured

This past two-weeks have been mostly a flurry of tiny, unphotogenic tasks, and I am often ticking off several orphan items per day. Touch up this paint, install this small piece of trim, grout this small area of tile, fabricate a foot-rail at the breakfast bar, install some kitchen ceiling trim, put plastic gliders the dining room chair legs, and on and on.

But two items stand out from the crowd.

First, our two garden globes and three homemade birdbaths, as nice as they are, were each sitting on top of a few round, rough concrete blocks. Cynthia and I decided to have Armando sculpt the stands to represent tree stumps with vines wrapping around them. I gave Armando very little direction, told him to be an artist and to have fun with it. We think he did a pretty good job. Here are some photos:

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Where’s Armando?

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Armando posing with his space alien friend. Cynthia calls it Bubble Brain.

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Bananas are almost ready to harvest. A volunteer papaya tree is growing in the foreground.

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Last Saturday, I decided to head out to find wood for the kitchen cabinets. As you drive down the mountain, there are several roadside woodworkers who make chairs and tables from local wood. Most of the furniture is very rustic and not to our taste. But I stopped at them anyway and asked where I could purchase wood. They all sent me to the woodworker in Coronado near the El Machetazo store. My order was for too much wood for him to sell me from his supply, but he gave me the name of a man, Marco, in Penonome’ who sells wood.

I called Marco and he suggested that we text via WhatsApp, which we did. He also suggested that he visit us on Sunday so that he could show us some samples. I thought that was above and beyond the call as it is about an hour-and-a-half to Penonome’. He arrived right on time, bringing his wife and daughter along for the ride. After a cup of tea, we talked and settled on Caoba wood (African Mahogany) as he promised easy working (like butter he said), and a rich, deep red finish with several coats of clear polyurethane. It would go well with our wood-grain ceramic floor tiles.

Marco said that he could deliver the wood on Wednesday or Thursday. I took his word with a grain of salt as he didn’t say which Wednesday or Thursday; he had a fair amount of work ahead of him. I told him that I would give him a nice tip if he came when he promised.

I was amazed when he drove up to the house on Wednesday morning! I told him to back his truck into the driveway, but he wagged his index finger back and forth (the Panamanian word for no, no, no). He drove straight in.

We unloaded what looked like the right amount of wood. I started to pay him, but he directed me to the “Secretary and Treasurer” (his wife) and I paid her the $3 per board foot that he had quoted me. (I got independent estimates of $2 to $3 per foot; I thought the $3 was at the high end, but he did make two trips here and delivered as promised.) I joked that damn, he came when he promised and now I would have to give a nice tip! The Secretary and Treasurer smiled and gave me a thumbs-up; Cynthia and I suspect that she is also the Project Manager in their family.

We said our goodbyes, and then Armando and I pushed him out of the driveway as his reverse gear had been broken for years! The wood is rough sawn and I will need to plane it to the thickness that I want. I can’t wait to start working with it. My thickness planer had rusted from lack of use and I have ordered a new thickness-adjusting-gear from the States. It should arrive just about the time that the wood is ready to size.

Here are some photos of the wood, starting with the photo that Marco sent to me via WhatsApp:

Caoba Logs From Marco

Marco arrives with the wood:

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Smells good!

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Marco said that he used to be a policeman, but now he is retired and cuts wood.

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Here is the wood freshly cut from the logs. As it dries, it turns a deep red color. Marco suggested that I let the wood set for about ten days before I cut it to the finished sizes.

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Can you see the dovetailed drawers hiding in this stack of wood?

P1030030-001In other news, here are a couple of bonus photos:

I finally painted my shop door!

P1030045-001A while back we planted four of these plants/trees. The humming birds will love them:

P1030044-001Here’s a photo of the path to the back yard (taken from the gardener’s gate):

P1030043-001Jabo on the stairs at night:

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I wouldn’t want to walk past him in a dark alley…

And Jabo solarizing on the front steps:

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I took Jabo to the vet the other day. His toenails were long and he click, click, clicked when he walked across the tile floor. Three bucks. He was the perfect patient.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

The Last Bathroom

It has been some time since my last post. But in there was a cold that put me down for a week, plus a trip to Medellin, Colombia. And our very poor Internet service hasn’t helped; I attempted to write all last week, but although we are paying $110 a month for 3 megs, the best we could get was 0.33 megs or so. Uggh. But now we have a new provider, 5 megs/$38 per month, and we are getting a good, solid, better-than-four megs, depending. I’ll call it a success!

A while back we tiled the floor in the half-bath between the living room and the master bedroom. Since then, I have tiled the counter, painted the walls, installed the sink and faucet and the toilet, hung the door, and painted the walls a light, warm gray.

I started off with a problem. A few years ago when I poured the concrete counter, I failed to make provisions for the counter to be thinner at the faucet and drain so that I could install the fasteners from below. I just didn’t know. So using a concrete drill and a hammer and chisel, I cut out two holes:

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Then using slices of PVC pipe as forms, I made two, 1-inch-thick concrete doughnuts:

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When the doughnuts cured, I stuck them in place with some bondo:

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Later, when I tiled the counter, I filled in the gaps with mortar. Here I am starting the tile job:

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We chose an iridescent blue-gray glass tile. I got lucky-as-could-be in that I didn’t have to cut a single tile! Here is the counter, the pedestal that I made out of a concrete culvert, and the rest of the bathroom all done:

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One mirror above the sink and another above the toilet makes an interesting effect. A hole in the back of the pedestal allowed me to plumb the sink drain.

Here are some more bathroom photos:

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We had one extra photo, a banana flower, left over from the living room; it fit well here.

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It wasn’t easy to photograph a 4’x8′ bathroom without catching myself in the mirrors!

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We bought the sink a long time ago on Overstock.com.

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We’re good and happy to have this last really raw area of the house done!

In other news, now that the driveway is free of piles of sand and gravel, we spread an additional eight-yards of crushed gravel. Here’s Armando chipping away at one of the piles:

P1020869-001While Armando spread the gravel, I tackled a long-nagging project; I hung light fixtures on the columns at the front gate. Nothing fancy, but they do look good with the gate:

P1020935-001Another day, I welded together some rebar to make an arbor at the front of the carport/bohio. It will look great when the vines with red flowers grow up the column and across the roof:

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This plant seems to have tough vines. We haven’t seen the flowers, but the guy at the nursery said that they would be red and that the hummingbirds would love them.

After a year away from her glass bead studio, Cynthia is turning out some lovely beads. Here she is working on one at her torch:

P1020950-001The plants are looking good. Here are a couple garden shots:

P1020963-001P1020939-001P1020940-001One day I caught Bob in a big yawn:

P1020859-001Our Medellin trip was only for five days, but here are a couple highlights — Every morning we had breakfast at a small natural food store/restaurant called Salud Pan (healthy bread). The two pictures in the next photo are hanging on their wall:P1020871-001We met up with my girl cousin from Massachusetts for the trip. Even after all these years, I still can’t help but pull her pigtail. Here we are at Jardin Botanico (Edit — actually, the next two photos are out of order — we are really at Parque Arvi, higher up in the mountains, hence Cynthia wearing a jacket in the cool air) :

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And Cynthia and me:

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Some flowers and plants at the botanical garden:

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The garden isn’t just about the plants. There are lots of birds and other critters, including this gargantuan iguana (taken with a telephoto as you don’t want to get too close — these critters aren’t afraid to run at you full tilt)!

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Luckily they weren’t just sunning but were kind of active. Here’s a short video:

We went to Plaza Botero again on this trip, always fun to see Botero’s work. Here is Cynthia with the cat:

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Another view is like something out of a 1930’s earth invaders sci-fi movie:

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It was quite warm in the plaza, so we took refuge in the air conditioned museum. I have to stop eating all those arepas!

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I guess that you could call this the Botero-effect mirror.

So that’s all for now. Now Cynthia and I are pulling the last of the wiring for the master bedroom and bathroom and a few other spots. Thanks for stopping by.

Five Years In The Making, My 200th Post

This blog entry marks my 200th post on PanamaShippingContainerHouse.com. Cynthia and I began this house-building project on June 6th, 2010, just two-weeks away from five-years ago. And now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Tackling much of this Big-Person’s Erector Set myself, I’ve had to push pretty hard, and keep on pushing pretty hard, if I ever want to see the project completed. As such, there has been a never-ending stream of items-become-reality.

I have become conditioned to frequently having something new to enjoy, appreciate, be frustrated by, and be proud of. As an artist, I like the creative process. It feeds me. It stimulates my brain.

This is not to say that it hasn’t been exhausting and that I haven’t wanted to walk away. Many times. The size of the project, the learning curve of creating a unique, owner-designed and owner-built shipping container house, the new skills that I have had to learn, plus the general decrapitude of my age (I can see 70 from my house), have been daunting.

But artists wouldn’t have it any other way, would they?

I know that the house isn’t done yet, however several readers have asked me if I would do it again — If I knew then what I know now, would I do it again. It’s a hard question to answer (indeed even some of our political elite have fallen into the trap and bungled the answer). And like a politician, I’d like to dodge the question and ask a different one.

Are we glad that we built this shipping container house? The answer, from both Cynthia and myself, is a resounding, “Yes!”

Would we do it again? (Ah, you still want me to answer that question…) “NO!” But not for the reason that you think. We think that building anything from shipping containers is a cool idea. We think that this has been a worthwhile exercise. We have learned a lot. We can’t identify any major mistakes along the way that have made this a stupid idea. We love the way that it is turning out.

But we wouldn’t do it again because we are more artists than builders. A builder can replicate the same house a thousand times, maybe flipping the floor plan every other time. But an artist — an artist is in it for the creation of new ideas, new expressions, new processes, new enlightening. So no, we wouldn’t do it again.

The house “works” for us in its design and materials. The containers provide a modular design grid that allows for a very fluid and usable living space. The large spaces, such as the 16’x40′ kitchen/family area, work well here in the tropics where airflow and ventilation is everything.

The still-somewhat-uniqueness of using shipping containers has enlivened the project, even more so than if we had built a good design from the standard concrete block method. We’ve enjoyed knowing that we’ve taken four containers out of the junk pile and up-purposed them into a home that has a lot of living potential.

Lastly, Cynthia and I have created this design from the ground up. We didn’t buy plans on the Internet, and we didn’t hire out any of the creativity. We’ve worked well together to solve really-difficult issues. Often Cynthia won’t like my ideas or I won’t like her’s.

But our philosophy around this is that if one of us doesn’t like the other’s idea, we look for a third option. We’ve discovered that the third option is never a compromise. Neither of us has had to give up anything along the way. The Third (or Fourth — or Seventh) Option that we find is always better than what either of us has thought of individually.

To everyone who has followed along, subscribed, or commented, thanks very much. I haven’t “monetized” this site because I like it the way it is. I’m not even selling the idea. This blog is my diary, and I’ve enjoyed making it public. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.