When it comes to keeping Austin weird, the city’s architecture is no exception.
Words by Jess Hagemann Photos by Scott Gordon
You’ve seen Container Bar on Rainey Street; the logical next step was homes built from recycled shipping containers. Could these unconventional container homes help to alleviate Austin’s housing crisis?
Because the United States imports many more products and materials than it exports, used shipping containers may be found by the literal boatload around the country and can be had on the cheap—making container houses an economical as well as eco-friendly option. Austin designer Patrice Rios is at the forefront of this design trend in Austin. Ever since taking a course called Sustainable Design during her Masters in Architecture program at the University of Detroit, Rios has been committed to designing structures and interiors that are both beautiful and environmentally-responsible … even if a bit ‘weird.’
The first container unit that Rios built was a detached home studio for her own backyard. It attracted the attention of HGTV, which featured the studio on its premier episode of the popular show Container Homes. Shortly after completing that build, Rios’s newly-branded design company, Sige & Honey, purchased the lot at 2203 E. 51st Street. Two years later, it boasts a high-end traditional-build main house and a detached rear improvement constructed from—what else—shipping containers. As Scott Cooper Smith, the real estate agent who represents the property, says, “You know when you pop the top on a Fresca and all the little bubbles come up? That little fizz? This house has fizz!” The main house has two units, one designed in a more ‘masculine’ style, and one in a more ‘feminine’ style. Unit A includes quartz countertops and hand painted Mexican tiles; Unit B, a restaurant-esque kitchen and stained concrete floors.
While Rios has to-date specialized in luxury homes, she’s ready to capitalize on the affordable-living options that container homes also promise. Soon, Rios will begin designing 600 container-based affordable-housing units in Temple, Texas, a project she expects will take 6 years to complete. She would like to see the same initiative sponsored in Austin, as more affordable housing would allow “the artists and musicians who built this city, [to] stay here.” More container units would increase population density while keeping costs down. Plus, Rios adds, they just look cool. Shipping containers have a ‘boxy’ style that’s “like a subway tile: very classic. You can’t timestamp it.”
Full-time, Rios runs Troo Designs Kitchens Baths Interiors with three other individuals. Sige & Honey is the name of the container home sub-company that Rios operates with her dad, Jake. Recently, Sige & Honey’s work has made KVUE news, Austin Home Magazine, Dwell, and the Who’s Who of Austin Real Estate.
Detached container units are perfect for:
Creatives and entrepreneurs who want their own space. A 120 SF shipping container makes for a perfect studio or home office without the typical distractions of home. Outfitted with electricity and Wi-Fi, you can work away from the distractions of non-productive multi-tasking. (Bonus: it’s so much easier to deduct a home office from your taxes when the square footage is clearly delineated!)
Multi-generational living situations. Stage the container unit as a third bedroom for aging parents to keep them close (but not too close), or spruce it up for guests. Or rent it out as an additional dwelling unit (ADU) and put the extra money toward your mortgage payments!
Nomads. Averaging 8’x20’ and weighing roughly 5K pounds, container units are fully portable and may be transported like a vehicle on a flatbed trailer.
The spending-savvy. Container units are “totally recession-proof,” says Rios. Including appliances, cabinets, the bathroom with shower, walk-in closets…a container unit can be designed, built, and furnished for $65-$75/SF, earning them the ‘affordable living’ designation.
Containers are also extraordinarily easy to maintain! “[The] containers at 51st will be there in 100 years. They’re super durable. You won’t get termites or mold, or even rust because the industrial primer protects the exterior. Maintenance is limited to the air conditioner, and the condenser is on the outside so it’s easy to service.”