"People in the neighborhood call it Casa Blanca," says contractor David Boyle of his four-level white house in Williamsburg, but there's something else besides the color of the home that makes it stand out from the others on the block. A labor of love between Boyle and his wife, architect and NYIT professor Michele Bertomen, the residence is made up of six shipping containers stacked atop one another, and is the first and only legal residence of its kind in Brooklyn. Bertomen and Boyle understand that the home may be unconventional, but for them, it's the perfect example of the American dream (not to mention a way they could afford a 1,600 sq. ft. property in the middle of NYC's priciest locales). We recently had a chance to visit this very special home on Keap St., and snapped photos of everything from the two amazing rooftop decks to the clever repurposed furniture to the house's furry mascot, Zero. Click through our gallery to take your own tour through this inspirational abode.
An open kitchen space leads out onto a balcony that was created by cutting away pieces of the shipping container.
So how does one come up with the idea of building a shipping container house in New York City? By 2008, the couple had already purchased a 20 by 40 foot plot of land on Keap Street, but were shocked to find out that it might cost upwards of $500,000 to erect a traditional house there. Then they started thinking about how Bertomen’s NYIT architecture students had used a shipping container as part of their building’s structure for their entry into the Solar Decathlon, a design competition held by the U.S. Department of Energy. The concept got the couple thinking about how they could create a cargotecture home of their own, but the process wasn’t quite as simple as they thought it would be.
The space between two shipping containers creates a staircase.
Pairing her architecture expertise with his construction experience, the couple purchased six shipping containers at $1,500 each and began building. But after an article about the house was published on the internet, the city took notice, and the project was slapped with a stop work order from the Department of Buildings. Since then, numerous changes were made to address the DOB’s seemingly endless complaints, and it wasn’t long before Bertomen and Boyle ran out of money to finance all of them. Faced with the frustration of not being able to move into their half-finished home, the couple was lucky enough to find a rental apartment in a neighboring building so that they could at least supervise the site. Another break came when they were finally able to secure a loan from Bethex Federal Credit Union after a long list of other vendors turned them away. Undaunted by the adversity they continued to face, Boyle and Bertomen trooped on with the help of friends, colleagues, and even new neighbors they’d met on their block until they finally addressed all of the DOB’s concerns and were able to secure a Final Certificate of Occupancy this year with a move-in date of February 28, 2013.
“It feels great and we’d like to empower other people to do this too,” said Bertomen of being able to finally move into her self-built home.
But just when they thought they could breathe a sigh of relief, the pair spotted a DOB official snapping photos of their container house once again. An article on the home had just been posted on DNAinfo, and though the reporter had been kind enough to honor his promise to wait until the certificate of occupancy had been obtained, Boyle and Bertomen couldn’t help but feel that the story had inadvertently tipped off the authorities once again. Luckily, that was the last they heard of from the DOB (thus far), and the two have been happily occupying their self-built abode ever since. Well, that is if you don’t count a warning from the Humane Police that happened to coincide with our visit. Apparently, a neighbor had called the authorities after seeing Zero lying on her reflective pad in the front yard, but the officers were relatively pleasant and simply advised Boyle to build a shelter for his dog if he wanted to avoid a write-up. “You need to come up here and see what they’re saying to me,” he said as he came to tell us what was going on upstairs at the front door. “You can’t make this stuff up.”
Photos © Yuka Yoneda