An outside-the-box home

Grafton couple takes an innovative approach to building their dream home: use shipping containers

AMY AND KEVIN PLATO are building a storage-container home on Green Bay Road in the Town of Grafton. The couple said they were considering a more traditional-style house but decided to go for a more industrial, modern look. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press Staff

When Amy and Kevin Plato looked at designs for their Town of Grafton house, nothing excited them — so they decided to think outside the box.

“When you tell people you have a shipping-container house, they think it’s a metal box, but when you come here, it’s not. It’s kind of a mobile home on steroids,” Kevin said.

“Once the windows and drywall are in, it’s going to look really nice.”

The Platos currently reside in the Village of Grafton. They bought the property in the town five years ago intending to raze the existing house and build a new structure to live in. 

“We were talking to a couple builders but there wasn’t anything we saw that we fell in love with,” Amy said. 

The couple came across the innovative concept while visiting the West Coast, where container houses are a popular trend.

They said they were drawn to the idea of a storage-container home because of its modern, industrial feel.

“We want to have a nice open space with nice finishes and fixtures. We’re going for an industrial look with the ductwork exposed,” Amy said.

They hired builder Justin Kuehl, of Appleton-based Factotum Fabricor, which has designed and built four other storage-container homes in the Appleton area, Door County and Green Bay. 

Kuehl said people are considering options beyond “cookie-cutter” homes because of the nation-wide housing shortage, adding storage-container homes appeal to retirees and growing families because they last a long time without much maintenance. 

“The people who are looking for the product we make want something different,” Kuehl said. “Everything that pops up in a subdivision, outside of the shutters and doors, looks the same. While that’s fine with a lot of people, there are some who want something that stands out and they can call their own.” 

A typical custom home, Kuehl said, starts at $750,000 to build, while a storage-container house costs $230 to $260 per square foot. The Plato house is 1,760 square feet and will cost about $450,000. 

“What you save on the structure, you spend on fixtures and other things like that so it ends up being a similar price as a traditional home,” Kevin said. 

Amy said it took about a year to figure out the building plans. Demolition of the existing house at 1668 N. Green Bay Rd. began May 30, and the containers were set up June 18. 

The house consists of six 8-by-40-foot containers that are nine feet tall. 

Kevin said the central feature will be a vertical-container tower that will serve as a staircase from the basement to the second floor, where there will be two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

“When people drive by, I think it will be the biggest feature they’ll notice,” Amy said. 

So far, the Platos said, the house has been well received by neighbors and passers-by. Town Chairman Lester Bartel said he has not heard any complaints about the home, adding the house is out of the sight of nearby residents. 

“Obviously, there will be varying opinions. There’s a lot of people who like it and there’s a few who might not be too crazy about it,” Kevin said.

“It’s not a traditional (house) and it’s not for everyone’s taste.”

The house is along the Milwaukee River and Mole Creek, which posed a structural challenge because the Platos wanted to build on the house’s original foundation. To avoid potential flooding, they had the basement raised a couple of inches.

“It’s a special spot, and we thought it deserved something unique,” Kevin said.

The containers were built to transport goods across the ocean, so rusting shouldn’t be an issue, Kevin said. If rust forms on the exterior, a seal will form to prevent further corrosion to the interior. 

Amy added the containers were used for shipping once. Each one has a serial number that will allow the couple to look up what they were used to transport.

“If these walls could talk, I wonder what they would have to say about their previous life on the sea,” Kevin said, laughing.

They said the house should be completed by the end of September.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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