Ballard biz transforms old cargo containers into living spaces

SEATTLE -- Some may seen them as nothing more than old steel boxes. But for Kai Schwarz, they are perfect packages of opportunity.

"They're basically adult-sized Legos. You can stack 'em different ways. You can punch holes in them," says the Ballard businessman. "I see them basically as bricks that you can live inside of."

What Schwarz first envisioned years ago while working at Starbucks is now a reality. During those days, Schwarz would look out onto the Port of Seattle and fantasize about hiding away in a cargo container and hitching a ride to visit relatives in Germany.

About a decade later, the "Cargo Cottage" was born.

"I love that we are taking something out of the industrial waste stream and re-purposing it in a creative way," said Schwarz's business partner, Anne Corning. "The thing that people say most often when they see this is, 'Oh wow. This is so cute! I was thinking about a steel box.'"

Corning and Schwarz, co-owners of ShelterKraft Werks in Ballard, transform old cargo containers into living spaces by gutting the inside and renovating them into ultra-compact, earth-friendly homes.

On display at their Shilshole Avenue office is a container they affectionately call "Kermit:" a lime green, 20-foot cargo container remodeled into a 160-square foot living space.

"He's seen quite a lot of miles out on the open ocean. Who knows what kinds of cargo he carried, from tennis shoes to teddy bears?" Corning quipped. "He's got a few dings and dents on the outside, but now he's a nice cozy little space."

Inside, the container is outfitted with a refrigerator, stove top, couch, and kitchen table, in addition to a queen-sized bed. A shower and toilet share tight quarters (but don't worry; the toilet paper holder has been outfitted with a waterproof case). An energy-efficient toilet even uses runoff from the sink to reduce the amount of water per flush.

"Kermit" retails for about $35,000, with larger homes selling for up to about $65,000. Two similar homes are currently under construction for sites up on Whidbey Island.

Schwarz, an architect with 20 years of experience, says on-site set-up typically only takes about two to three hours once the container home is shipped.

"Your imagination is somewhat the limit when it comes to what you can do," added Corning.

So is home where the cargo once was for these two business partners?

"We have our little vision of our own little container house on a piece of land somewhere with a dock and a boat," Corning said, laughing. "That's where we're headed someday."
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