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Living Inside the Box


Here with us now is Flora Lichtman, our correspondent and managing editor for video. Flora, welcome.


FLATOW: What wonderful stuff do you have for us this week?

LICHTMAN: Well, from the less practical or the no practical application to the very practical in this week's Video Pick.


LICHTMAN: This week's Video Pick. Let me just tell you the story of Michele Bertomen and David Boyle. They are - they were property owners in Brooklyn, New York. They had this little lot, 20 by 40 feet, in Williamsburg. And they had the dream of building their own home. Now, Michele is an architect and David is a contractor, and they thought, well, let's build something conventional. You know, it's a small lot, but maybe we can make something sort of, you know, just a nice little home. And they sent out the plans and it came back at over $300,000. And this as more than they have.


LICHTMAN: You know, they thought it's small place, right?


LICHTMAN: But it turns out that the costs for building houses, at least in their experience, it wasn't the materials. It was the manpower, the insurance.

FLATOW: This is New York.

LICHTMAN: So they had another idea.


LICHTMAN: And that's this week's Video Pick. They decided to try building with shipping containers. You know what I'm talking about?

FLATOW: Those rectangular boxy things...

LICHTMAN: Yeah, the big metal boxes.

FLATOW: Big metal boxes.

LICHTMAN: You see them on cargo ships.

FLATOW: Right. They're stacked up like crazy.

LICHTMAN: They're stacked up, right. They can take a lot of weight.


LICHTMAN: I'm Flora Lichtman.

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow, talking about where we left off with the shipping containers.

LICHTMAN: Right. So people have done this before. But the amazing thing about this - so we took a tour of their home, and that's this week's video. The amazing thing about this is that Michele went to work in the morning and she came home and the building was up. And not only that, the reason why they chose shipping containers is because it was just a lot less expensive. So it was like $50,000 to get the building envelope with these recycled shipping containers, which, by the way, had been in service for 10 years shipping goods, versus the $300,000 for the envelope of the building that they had mapped out.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And so they saved a lot of money.

LICHTMAN: They saved - and they have a beautiful home.

FLATOW: It's our Video Pick of the Week. It's up there on our website, and it really is beautiful. You took - you got the 50 cent tour of the place.

LICHTMAN: Oh, I occupied them for hours.


LICHTMAN: I went through the drawers. I was in the bathrooms. I wanted to see it all. And it really was - one of the cool things is they have all these roof decks. So the way it's arranged, there are these - there are three shipping containers on one side stacked up.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: And then on the other, there are two. And in between, they constructed kind of a light passageway of the stairs and what have you. And so on top of one, they have two roof decks, basically, you know, really cool stuff. And one of the things that I learned about it that I didn't know is that it's a lot easier to use sort of up-cycled or recycled materials. Because the shipping containers are so easy to cut into, you can, for instance, build your house and then go look for your windows. And then you go to find recycled windows and they're in different shapes and you just cut out the hole for them.

FLATOW: Yeah, yeah. That's right. You can build it to order. And this is the first one in New York, right?

LICHTMAN: Yes. So they say they think it's the first one in New York. I'm still waiting on a callback from the building department.


FLATOW: Well, how easy is it to get the permits and go through all that paperwork?

LICHTMAN: You know, it sounded like it was a very trying experience. Michele Bertomen talks a lot about sort of bad memories. It took many years. They were stopped for months. And you know, ultimately I think it ended up being beautiful. But there were times during that process where they weren't sure that they were going to be able to do it. And they said that if they hadn't been architects and contractors and known sort of the ins and outs, they aren't even sure. But they sort of blazed trail


LICHTMAN: And it's kind of inspiring, I thought.

FLATOW: If you drive by, can you look at it and say that's a shipping container?

LICHTMAN: Yes. It's on Keep Street(ph) for you New Yorkers out there.


LICHTMAN: It's published. You can find it.

FLATOW: That's in Brooklyn, right?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. And they see people all the time will stop in front of their house and sort of start staring until they come out. And you know what, one - here's one other little tidbit that I thought was amazing. You know, there were some unexpected things about living in shipping containers, and one has to do with what it sounds like.


MICHELE BERTOMEN: David really likes the sound of the rain and the snow.

DAVID BOYLE: Hail is great. It's like ting, ting, ting, ting, ting, ting, ting, ting.

BERTOMEN: Yeah. It's really different.

BOYLE: It's not annoying.

BERTOMEN: It's very romantic.

LICHTMAN: Michele Bertomen and David Boyle talking about living in shipping containers.

FLATOW: And so if you're a New Yorker, there is still hope for you in those little spots between buildings.

LICHTMAN: That's right. This has been baking for 60 years.

FLATOW: Sixty years. And you can fit - how long - how wide is the container?

LICHTMAN: I think they're - I'm not exactly sure.

FLATOW: Ten, 12 feet, something like that?

LICHTMAN: Yeah, something like that, and 40 feet long.

FLATOW: OK. There's a spot for you. There are plenty of those spots in Brooklyn.

LICHTMAN: And the shipping containers run 1,500 to 2,500 recycled. You can go to New Jersey and get them. Apparently there are many.


FLATOW: Yeah. I know a guy.



FLATOW: Thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: That's about all the time we have for today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.