JUPITER FARMS, Fla. — The white, two-story house looks like a rustic steel cabin.
It measures 1,200 square feet and has four bedrooms and two bathrooms in Jupiter Farms in Palm Beach County.
But this isn’t just any house. It’s an “upcycled eco retreat,” created out of three large shipping containers and offered to the public as an Airbnb rental.
“I call it ‘upcycled’ because we are taking a container and repurposing it by bringing new life to it,” said Jupiter real estate agent Rick Clegg.
He is among those thinking inside and outside the box — and finding new uses for shipyard containers as homes and businesses throughout South Florida.
The structures are gaining a following as part of the tiny home movement, where people live in smaller spaces that are typically more affordable than traditional houses. There’s even a show on HGTV called “Container Homes,” which pairs potential homebuyers with builders who can create the boxy home of their dreams.
Hollywood-based builder The Container House recently built such a home in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, outside Miami Shores, for an out-of-town client. It was the company’s first custom-built cargo home.
“It looks like a regular house. You won’t see the containers. You can’t tell,” said the company’s owner, Rodrigo Bernstein, as he stood outside the home. “It’s different, something that is not conventional.”
Constructed from three shipping containers, the two-bedroom, two-bathroom house has 1,000 square feet. Stucco and gray paint bedeck the exterior. The interior flooring features beige tile.
He said the average cost for these modular homes runs between $80 and $120 per square foot, in addition to costs for items such as permits and planning. He said he only builds homes in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
“It has to be built locally. I cannot build and ship it. It has to pass all the inspections on-site. It’s the same process as a traditional house,” said Bernstein, who built the house for a client who wanted it as an investment property. It’s listed for $230,000, he said.
In North Miami Beach, real estate agent Mariano Bogani has two container home duplexes under construction, made out of former ocean cargo holders.
In Miami, Little River Box Co. specializes in converting shipping containers into temporary or permanent businesses such as barbershops and bars.
One of the company’s projects involves using 10 containers to build a proposed mixed-use development in the 1400 block of Northeast Fourth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. Restaurants and retail would be on the ground floor, with offices above.
The company also is behind the new restaurant in Wynwood Yard called Charcoal Garden Bar + Grill, which was made from six containers.
“Between the modularity and the shippability [of the containers], the sky is the limit,” said Little River Box Co. co-founder Gayle Zalduondo.
Also in Wynwood, a company called Wyn-Box unveiled a container home as its showroom model last November. Constructed from two used cargo containers, the 640-square-foot, one-bedroom showroom has porcelain gray tile, a stainless steel kitchen and one bathroom.
“There is a lot versatility and possibilities for creativity and innovation for using containers in the construction industry,” said Ryan Anderson, a Fort Lauderdale business developer who co-founded the Wyn-Box with Miami architects Ruslanas Byckovas and Ethan Royal. Their company also offers the modular structures for businesses.
Visitors can find the gray home while exploring the artsy Wynwood district or by following the hashtag #containerhome or #containerhouse on social media.
“When you tell somebody that you want to build a home out of a shipping container, and you’ve never seen one, it can sound unappealing,” Anderson said. “When someone sees a well-done project, they open their minds to the possibility … This is for someone who wants to live in something more unique and creative. This makes a little more of a statement.”
Builders buy used shipping containers from local ports, wholesalers or online, paying anywhere from $1,000 to $4,500 each.
“Anywhere there is a port, whether it’s PortMiami, Port of Palm Beach or Jacksonville, you can buy containers,” said Clegg, who built the eco-home along the Loxahatchee River in Palm Beach County’s Jupiter Farms community.
Clegg said he has owned the property since 1997 but began exploring the cargo home idea about four years ago and bought three containers once used at PortMiami. He always wanted to do something with it that “accomplished my goal of recycling, repurposing and building something sustainable to go with my values,” he said.
It took about two years to get the county planning and zoning permits and to construct the structure, he added.
Each container is 40 feet long and about 9 feet wide. The first floor has two bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom. The second floor has two bedrooms and a bathroom. The home has hurricane-impact windows, and the ground-floor containers are welded to a cement foundation.
“I always say that when the next hurricane comes through Palm Beach County, this is where I’m staying,” he said.
On the grounds are kayaks, canoes, and bicycles that are available to all guests. Clegg said about 100 families have stayed in the cargo home since it opened two years ago. He charges guests between $225 to $285 a night, depending on the time of year.
So far, the reviews have been positive. Wrote one guest: “Beautiful! The feeling of camping and wild nature with the benefits and commodities of a house.”
Joyce Ryan, 77 of, Harvard, Ill., stayed at the eco-house last Christmas with her granddaughter and great-granddaughter.
“It was unique that it was a former container, but once you’re inside, you don’t have that feeling,” said Ryan, a home care nurse. “It feels like any other conventional accommodation. I see these containers on the road, and to see what was done with it, I just thought it was very creative and innovative.”
Would she ever live in one?
“Yes, in a heartbeat!” she said. “They are very livable, they are very comfortable, and they are just like being in any other home.”