Over two decades as a restaurateur, Joe Carroll has incorporated odds and ends from salvage yards into his Brooklyn eateries.
In beloved steakhouse St. Anselm, for example, he used decorative molding from the 1940s on the ceiling.
But Carroll, a 47-year-old New Jersey native whose popular restaurants and nightspots include barbecue joint Fette Sau and beer bar Spuyten Duyvil, didn’t think about crafting his own house from upcycled building blocks until the early 2000s, when he read about area houses made from decommissioned shipping containers.
His partner in business and life, Kim Barbour, 43, got on board for what turned out to be a 15-year journey to homeownership.
Since they moved into their shipping container house — which is located near their restaurants in Williamsburg — with 9-year-old twins Susannah and Dante last year, the design elite have taken notice. Architecture buffs fawn over the project’s pioneering use of materials and edgy silhouette.
“We wanted to have a rough-and-tumble kind of space, but still cozy and homey,” Carroll says. “Not too elegant or highbrow, because that doesn’t suit who we are — we wanted something funkier and less precious.”
The angular structure is more than a showpiece. Beyond aesthetics and environmental consciousness, the couple wanted a true home for their family and a venue ideal for entertaining. It’s all worked out famously: After moving in six days before Thanksgiving 2016, the Carrolls hosted relatives for that holiday, Christmas and New Year’s.
Though shipping containers have been used in New York City for commercial spaces as well as additions or components of residential projects, the Carrolls’ home on Street is the first architecturally significant New York City single-family home that solely uses them as its raw material.
True, another shipping container home stands on Keap Street, a 10-minute walk away. In 2013, the husband-and-wife team of contractor David Boyle and architect Michele Bertomen stacked a few containers and painted them white. But the Carroll House, as it’s known, is larger and more ambitious.
It all started in 2009, when Carroll and Barbour discovered a lot on Monitor’s corner with Richardson Street. They closed on it in 2010 for $699,999. The following year, they tore down the single-family house and low-slung garage on the 25-by-100 property and, another year later, began putting in the foundation and necessary utilities.
During this prolonged process, the family of four shacked up in a South Williamsburg apartment measuring 1,200 square feet. Now they’re luxuriating in a 5,000-square-foot residence with five bedrooms. There are terraces at the back of every floor, totaling 2,500 square feet of outdoor space, which were created by slicing off the back of the container stack at a diagonal.
After interviewing several architects, the couple found kindred spirits in Ada Tolle and Giuseppe Lignano, partners at Lower East Side- and Naples, Italy-based LOT-EK. Pronounced “low-tech,” the firm specializes in repurposing found materials, from wooden crates to airplane fuselages.
“We are interested in the practice of upcycling and using existing objects and systems that are already around us — from a sustainable standpoint but also from a creative standpoint,” Tolle says. “We like the creativity that constraint dictates.”
Tolle and Lignano tried to take advantage of having an entire side of the house open to the street while still ensuring the family’s privacy. LOT-EK only installed slender windows on that corrugated facade. (Carroll and Barbour later had them frosted to deter lookie-loos from peering into the intriguing building.)
The architects intentionally left the nicks and dents acquired during the containers’ world travels. “Some of the scars of their previous history are very welcome,” Tolle says. “You see the different blues and red of the original containers [on the facade]. We wanted to leave those layers, but we painted some of it brown — a play on a brownstone.”
The odyssey from corner lot to shipping container house took seven full years, in part because financing was hard to come by for an ambitious construction project that wasn’t backed by a traditional real estate developer. (Ultimately, Carroll and Barbour paid out of pocket, without loans.) Finally, in 2013, 18 containers — some $3,000 apiece — traveled from Port Elizabeth, NJ, via flatbed truck and were stacked on the site over just four days. Construction costs were $4 million.
Designed with parties in mind, the kitchen is decked out with stainless steel appliances, including a deep fryer, from the Bowery’s restaurant supply stores. During gatherings, guests gather around a makeshift dining room table crafted out of three blue-painted planks set on A-frames, which sits beneath lights made from rotary fans.
A 2,000-bottle wine cellar occupies part of the basement.
Upstairs, the twins’ mirror-image rooms are separated by a movable wall, while Carroll and Barbour’s master suite one floor up features an enormous gold-tiled tub with views of industrial Brooklyn. A multitude of staircases connects all the levels. (“My Fitbit loves me,” says Barbour, who was raised in Atlanta and Munich, Germany. “I get an average of 30 flights a day.”)
The wood floors are actually original. “People don’t realize shipping containers have hardwood floors,” Carroll says. “You can spill stuff on them, bang them up — and they still look great.”
But the vibe is far from austere. The fireplace is lined with rock samples collected during a summer road trip through South Dakota and Montana.
A dolphin ride, the kind chained outside grocery stores, sits on a second-floor landing that will eventually serve as a library. The vintage attraction, purchased in Beacon, NY, still works if you feed it enough quarters. Cats Clementine and Oliver, promised to the twins when the new house was ready, have free reign.
Every member of the family has a favorite part. The parents take advantage of the gleaming cooktop, ample storage and wall space to display prized works. “Our bartenders and staffers are also artists, so we like to be able to show that off,” Barbour says. “I’m German, so I hate clutter. Now everything can get put away.”
(She is considering installing a chicken coop in the spring.)
Let’s face it: The shipping container house is probably the most fun for the kids, who relish its nooks and crannies for epic hide-and-seek games. “Once we were hiding for hours in the shower,” reports Susannah.
“Whenever I have Nerf gun fights, there’s a lot of places I can be a sniper from,” adds Dante, crawling into a gap above the mantel. Susannah, an enthusiastic gymnast, chimes in again: “I can do cartwheels and flips without hitting my foot on the wall.” The screening room and its tiered seating, padded with Yogibo beanbags, are a hit among the elementary-school set. “My friends were begging to see the house,” Susannah says. “After we moved in, we had a massive play date with my whole class.
“They were amazed.”
There is one downside to a house made largely of steel: The floors can be cold to bare feet. Plus, it attracts attention from passersby and design aficionados who make the trek to ogle the facade. “Architects, students or people who are interested in building with containers come by a couple times a week,” says Carroll. “Sometimes I let them in.”
Over the last year, the family of four has also learned how much space they truly need. They used to pile into Carroll and Barbour’s bed to watch films together. Even now, with the media room’s astounding 80-inch television mere staircases away, they still cuddle in the same bed for movie nights.
As the couple’s culinary mini-empire continues to expand — a St. Anselm outpost in Washington, DC, is slated to open in March — the family continues to settle in, adding touches like a metal cooking accessory for the living room fireplace.
“We’ll be hosting Christmas dinner here,” Carroll says. “I’m hoping to make a few suckling pigs on the rotisserie in the fire.”
Source: NY Post