The white, two-storey house looks like a rustic steel cabin.

It measures slightly over 100sq m and has four bedrooms and two bathrooms; and it sits in Jupiter Farms in Palm Beach County, Florida.

But this isn’t just any house. It’s an “upcycled ecoretreat”, 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,” says 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.

Rick Clegg inside the container home. This is the ground floor.

Hollywood-based builder The Container House recently built such a home in Florida 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,” says the company’s owner, Rodrigo Bernstein, as he stands outside the home. “It’s different, something that is not conventional.”

Constructed from three shipping containers, the two-bedroom, two-bathroom house has 93sq m. Stucco and grey paint bedeck the exterior. The interior flooring features beige tile.

He says the average cost for these modular homes runs between US$80 and US$120 (RM355 and RM533) per square foot, in addition to costs for items such as permits and planning.

“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,” says Bernstein, who built the house for a client who wanted it as an investment property. It’s listed for $230,000 (RM1mil), he says.

Nearby, real estate agent Mariano Bogani has two container home duplexes under construction, made out of former ocean cargo holders.

The upper deck. Since the home has outside access to the first floor, the two spaces can be rented out separately.

The upper deck. Since the home has outside access to the first floor, the two spaces can be rented out separately.

In Miami, Little River Box Co specialises 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, Florida. 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,” says Little River Box Co cofounder Gayle Zalduondo.

Wyn-Box opened a year and half ago to build homes, offices and commercial space from former shipping containers. Its show home (above) has porcelain grey tile floors, and a stainless steel kitchen and bathroom.

Wyn-Box opened a year and half ago to build homes, offices and commercial space from former shipping containers. Its show home (above) has porcelain grey tile floors, and a stainless steel kitchen and bathroom.

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 59sq m-one-bedroom showroom has porcelain grey 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,” says Ryan Anderson, a Fort Lauderdale business developer who cofounded the Wyn-Box with Miami architects Ruslanas Byckovas and Ethan Royal. Their company also offers the modular structures for businesses.

Visitors can find the grey 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 says. “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.”

Wyn-Box's show home has porcelain grey tile floors, and a stainless steel kitchen and bathroom.

Wyn-Box’s show home has porcelain grey tile floors, and a stainless steel kitchen and bathroom.

Builders buy used shipping containers from local ports, wholesalers or online, paying anywhere from US$1,000 to US$4,500 each (RM4,400 to RM20,000).

“Anywhere there is a port, whether it’s Port Miami, Port of Palm Beach or Jacksonville, you can buy containers,” says Clegg, who built the ecohome along the Loxahatchee River in Palm Beach County’s Jupiter Farms community.

Clegg says he has owned the property since 1997 but only began exploring the cargo home idea about four years ago and bought three containers once used at Port Miami. 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 says.

It took about two years to get the county planning and zoning permits and to construct the structure, he adds.

Each container is 12m long and about 3m wide. The ground floor has two bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom. The first 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 says.

On the grounds are kayaks, canoes, and bicycles that are available to all guests. Clegg says about 100 families have stayed in the cargo home since it opened two years ago. He charges guests between US$225 and US$285 (RM1,000 and RM1,200) 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.”

We contacted Joyce Ryan, 77 of, Harvard, Illinois, who stayed at the ecohouse 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,” says 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 says.

“They are very livable, they are very comfortable, and they are just like being in any other home.” – Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service/Johnny Diaz