While we (continue to) wait for the surveyor, Cynthia and I have been talking about what the inside of the house will look like.

Shipping containers are just big empty metal boxes. As is, out of the box, or in the box I should say, they lend themselves to an interior design style similar to that of a warehouse that has been converted to loft living space. Structural elements such as beams, wiring conduits, and air ducts are not covered up, but simply left as they are with no apology. The structural elements enhance the look and become integral to the style.

Most climates would call for insulation, and to cover that insulation one might need drywall. At that point, one could decorate the space any way one wanted, Country Style, even, and bring on the Ethan Allen furniture!

We really like the clean, crisp, modern lines of the containers, and we don’t need insulation here (except on the roof) in our mountain location. Drywall can go moldy on its paper backside, and if not well supported it can sag from the humidity. In my opinion, drywall is not a good choice for the tropics.

Our plan is to be quite minimalist in our furnishings; we don’t enjoy living in clutter. Also,  the humidity is rough on wood, fabric, and especially things like pillows or overstuffed furniture. Stuff like this is what I call Purina Mold Chow.

So here is the plan for the interior spaces:

  • The wall and ceiling metal corrugations will show as they are except where we plan to have tile in bathrooms. The corrugated ceilings will be a satin finish white enamel. The walls will be painted satin finish white or a light gray. We want color, but it will come from fabrics and furnishings.
  • The containers come with wood floors; the older ones are teak, and the newer ones are plywood. It would be nice if we get containers with teak floors, but I am not counting on it as those containers tend to be beaten up a lot more than the newer ones. That leaves plywood, and that means Purina Mold Chow. So we will remove the plywood and pour a concrete floor throughout. Concrete is beautiful and it will be a lot easier on our budget than installing ceramic tile. I’ll probably advertise the plywood for sale on CraigsList.
  • Counter tops: concrete
  • Kitchen cabinets: Our experience over the past three years here in Panama has led us to like metal cabinets without doors, and shelving made of expanded metal mesh. Bugs get into cabinets whether or not there are doors, and bugs die in cabinets. The expanded metal mesh allows most of the bugs to drop through to the floor. And air can circulate through the shelving, thereby reducing mold and mildew potential. In our current rental house I made concrete counters (I tiled them) supported on the walls, with metal cabinets on wheels below the counters. It is very easy to pull the cabinets out and sweep and mop the floor below. At first we had nice curtains that Cynthia made for the base cabinets. But they grew mildew, so now it is just the open cabinets. My rule of thumb for building in the tropics: no dark or closed in corners for mold and bugs. We did a lot of remodeling here in this rental house in exchange for a greatly reduced rental price. The house was a pit beforehand, and the work was worth it.
  • Bathroom shower walls: I plan to weld metal 2″x4″s to the container walls, then screw tile backer board to the 2″x4″s. Tile goes over the tile backer board.
  • Electrical: I’ll run electrical conduit right on the walls and ceilings. I can weld on brackets to hold the conduit in place, and electrical boxes can be welded to the walls and ceilings as well. All the conduit and electrical boxes will get painted when I spray the walls and ceilings to make them less prominent.

As I said, we like the modern, clean look. We have numerous books on modern design and refer to them often. But here’s the thing: most of modern design is just too cold and impersonal looking for our tastes. Our plan is to include small elements that will warm the spaces, make them feel more human if you will. Curves are always good, as are unexpected surprises of form and or color.

Which brings me to the reason for writing this post. I have just finished building a floor lamp for our new living room. It is made of pieces of square metal tubing welded together, and the shades/globes are made from green margarita mix bottles. I cut the bottoms off with a diamond tile cutting saw, and Cynthia made them frosty by applying glass etching cream. Below are some photos, and if you can envision this lamp in the proper setting, then you will understand what we have in mind for this house.

(Remember: click for larger photo, back button for back here.) (Try as I might, I can’t get this software, WordPress, to rotate the photos correctly in the enlarged view. You may have to turn your head 90 degrees counterclockwise. Bummer. The authors of this blog assume no responsibility for neck injuries.) (You can also view the photos here on Picassa, all rotated as they should be.)

Front view: I designed this lamp to look organic, like a tree. Later, well into the plan, I noticed a resemblance to the Art Deco style, which I have always liked.

Right oblique view: The lamp is just under seven feet tall. The base is heavily weighted to prevent tip over.

I used long, straight fluorescent bulbs in the globes. I made the bends in the tubing by cutting almost all the way through the tube numerous times, bending the tube, then welding it back together. I wrapped the bends with a polyethylene string to make the bend look bendable.

Right oblique view.

This was a fun project to build, but it sure took a lot of hours. I can’t wait to see it in our new house.

That’s all for now.

6 thoughts on “Style

  1. Wow! Your home is beautiful. I’m planning to build a ship container home for my mom. We live in the tropics and it gets really hot during the day. How do you keep your home from getting overheated? Any advice is really appreciated.

    • Hi Mel,

      Thank you very much for your comment and kind compliment. Yes, we are in the tropics, but we are several thousand feet up in the mountains where we need blankets at night. We have windows open year round, no need for heating or air conditioning. Our exposed roofs have an inch of foam with about four-inches of concrete on top and tile on top of that. So insulation really isn’t the issue that it would be, say, down at the Panamanian beaches. Insulation is perhaps your biggest thing to get right when you are in the real heat of the tropics. Investigate two-part spray foam. Think about building a roof that is suspended a couple feet above the container roof to let air blow and flow between the two. Big overhangs (there are sun-angle calculators online to help calculate the amount of overhang) to keep the sun off of the side walls. With the sun kept off of the container surfaces and good insulation either inside or out, it should be easy to then air condition your space if you need to. I would think that it would depend on your prevailing breezes to keep the house cool. Good luck and have fun! Fred

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