In 2014, Heather Stewart and Luke Iseman could no longer justify spending $2,200 a month on rent in San Francisco. Fed up with the housing market, they bought a shipping container online for $2,300, had it delivered to a vacant parking lot in the East Bay they leased, and converted it into a tiny house.
Their new home contained all the creature comforts of home in a 160-square-foot space, and cost next to nothing in utilities and maintenance.
Today, Stewart and Iseman have moved out of their original tiny home and act as the pseudo-landlords of Boxouse, a maker space where amateur builders and hobbyists can construct the tiny homes of their dreams. The couple also converts shipping containers into living spaces for outside buyers on the side.
They’re currently working on two new containers that will form their next home, living in the under-construction tiny homes in the warehouse while they do it. Let’s take a look inside.
Heather Stewart grew up running horse farms in almost every corner of the US. As an adult, she realised she still didn't know how to build anything.
'I was interested in alternative housing,' Stewart says. 'I don't want to be in debt for the next 60 years, and I also don't want to be in one place for the next 60 years.'
When she saw the shipping container turned home her now partner, Luke Iseman, built five years ago, she knew she wanted one of her own.
Shipping containers make for ideal tiny houses because the moment they arrive, they're watertight and indestructible. They're meant, of course, to stack atop ships.
In 2014, the couple left San Francisco's Mission District and rented a half-acre lot in West Oakland, where they planned to build their first container home.
Their first container looked like a college dorm room more than a classy tiny house, with its blue and orange IKEA furniture.
But the couple had bigger problems on their hands. They didn't file all the right permits to build and live on the lot, so the city eventually kicked them off it.
It was a blessing in disguise. They landed in a massive, sunlit warehouse in the East Bay where 18 containers and traditional tiny homes are now under construction. They build for themselves and buyers, and rent space to friends and other makers.
'We have a 3D printer and four forklifts,' Stewarts says, breaking into a smile. 'It's basically a building of toys.'
Stewart's newest container is for personal use. Stretching 20 feet long and 8 feet wide, it has insulated walls, solar-powered electricity, and lots of natural light.
She's in the process of installing bamboo flooring. When you're covering just 160 square feet, you can afford to splurge on materials.
Having a full-sized kitchen is the thing she misses most about living in a normal house, so Stewart is fashioning a kitchen counter out of redwood that she loves.
Eventually, the container will have a full bathroom with a shower and composting toilet. The basin currently doubles as a pantry for groceries and tools.
'Buying raw materials is generally more expensive than buying furniture from IKEA,' Stewart says. But it's worth it to have a space that reflects her style.
An electric movie-screen projector acts as a divider between the lofted bed and the rest of the container. Surround sound speakers hang on the wall.
Iseman, who advises hardware startups in the daytime, wrote code so he could issue commands to his Amazon Echo to turn the lights on and off.
The bathroom is a rather 'open concept' design. An RV toilet and metal basin (which will eventually be a shower) sit across from the kitchen.
Iseman says working with his hands has made him more creative at work. 'I don't have good ideas if I'm sitting behind my computer,' he says.
When I ask how the couple cooks meals while their new homes are under construction, Stewart laughs. 'The burrito truck,' she says.
Work on their homes has been delayed as they fill commission orders from other container buyers. 'The cobbler's son has no shoes, right?' Stewarts says.
Tiny houses are still illegal under county law, which bans living spaces under a certain square footage. Stewart and Iseman don't know where they will end up.
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