ReContained tailgate concept
As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
Nowhere is that more evident than at ReContained, a Lexington-based construction firm that specializes in transforming surplus shipping containers into homes and offices. The company has six projects under its belt — including both residential and commercial projects — and more are in the works.
Co-directors Bob Eidson and Matt Hovekamp founded the company as an offshoot of Emerge Contracting, a construction company they own specializing in single- and multifamily homes.
The two were looking for a new product that would stand out and also address the need for affordable, quality housing in Lexington. That is when they started looking at repurposing shipping containers.
“We started looking into different things and we just kept coming back to shipping containers,” Eidson said. “The more we got into studying how it is done and what the cost would be, the more it seemed like a good idea. We also thought it would be something unique to the region, which was very attractive to us.”
The repurposing of containers for housing and office space has been popular in Europe and other parts of the United States for years, but the trend is a novelty for Lexington. The use of containers as a building structure coincided with the rise of economy in China. With China now making most of its own containers, the United States was left with an inventory of about 700,000 to 1 million surplus containers.
That led entrepreneurs like Eidson and Hovekamp to acquire the steel containers at a premium for use in the construction arena.
“We saw a lot of this going on in places on the West Coast like Seattle and Portland, but we knew we had to Kentucky-ize the product a little bit,” Eidson. “We are still learning about what the people want. But the exciting thing is that is there is really no limit to what you can do with these containers.”
Hovekamp said one of the areas where ReContained is well positioned to make an impact is single-family homes.
“Right now the country has an aging housing stock that has created the need for sustainable and affordable replacements,” Hovekamp said “We think containers are a great way to address the problem.”
Last year ReContained built a one-bedroom, one-bathroom, 640-square-foot home on York Street out of two shipping containers acquired from a port in Louisville. The home – which ReContained dubbed its Elkhorn model – is part of the new LuigART Makers project, a live-work artist community developed by the North Limestone Community Development Corp.
Eidson said the company’s baseline single-family unit would be similar to the Elkhorn and would run about $120,000.
“I think some people have the idea that container homes are cheaper than a normal home, but that just isn’t the case. The container isn’t so much a building as it is a building material and a lot of work still has to be performed on the container to make it into a home or office,” Eidson said. “But what is great about a container home is it is going to last 100 years or more if you take care of it. You can’t say that about most manufactured homes.”
Hovekamp agreed, saying it is a popular misconception is that it is always cheaper to build with containers than it is with more traditional building materials. Insulation, electric and windows all need to be incorporated into the container frame using skilled labor, Hovekamp said.
“There is a lack of public knowledge about these container projects, I think just because it is so new to the area,” Hovekamp said. “All of our projects have to comply with building codes. There is a lot of work that goes into transforming a container into something in which a person can live or work.”
Eidson said one ReContained project stands out above the rest: The recently completed office complex for Breakout Games, a Lexington-based company that creates games in which participants must devise plans for escaping from various themed rooms.
Breakout Games, which already has operations in more than 30 cities nationwide, wanted a design that was unique, could provide adequate space for employees and would allow room for expansion for the fast-growing company.
ReContained used four containers to build the two-story unit for Breakout Games, which includes a conference room, work stations and offices.
Eidson said the project, which he described as a “matrix style” structure, shows there is plenty of space for creativity in the realm of container projects.
“It has been by far our most ambitious project,” Eidson said of the Breakout Games facility. “It is really is like a hive for a small but rapidly growing company. They need to be able to adapt at a moment’s notice and our design allows them to do that.”
Eidson and Hovekamp are hoping that as the company builds a portfolio of completed projects and gets its name out in public that more ideas will materialize, both from within the company and from clients.
ReContained just started marketing two potential projects geared toward the Kentucky market. One is a hunting cabin that they are hoping to sell for less than $15,000. The other is a tailgate concept for use at football games and sporting events, complete with a bar and large-screen television, which Eidson said will cost about $19,000.
Eidson said the company in the future also will look at possibly using multiple containers to create a mall where each container houses different retailers.
“The retail mall is a concept that has worked pretty well in some other cities, and Lexington has a real shortage of walkable retail,” Eidson said. “We have a lot of ideas, but since this is all new we’re going to see where the demand is and go from there.”