As Brian and Joni Buzarde closed in on their 30s, they were eager to settle down in a place of their own. But there was a problem: Neither knew where their fledgling careers would take them. So they devised a solution that was unorthodox but practical, and they built a house that could go with them no matter where they ended up.
Their 236-square-foot trailer—which Brian’s brother, Brandon, nicknamed Woody—has made upward mobility possible, having moved with them from Austin, Texas, to the Rocky Mountains hamlet of Marble, Colorado. Before finding its current mooring, this modern backcountry cabin on wheels was nestled in a trailer park not far from cattle ranches and wilderness trails, where the couple’s home stood apart from the clunky double-wides and anchored Airstreams that surrounded it.
Altogether, Woody cost about $50,000 to build. The couple put Brian’s skills as a recent architecture school graduate to the test by designing it themselves. They decided early on that they would take on all of the construction work, too, even though they had no experience. “Just doing it was a leap of faith,” Brian says. “We maxed out all the assets we had. Most of our family members thought we were crazy.”
Mike McConkey, a superintendent for a general contractor, tasked Chris Bittner of OBR Architecture with designing an environmentally sensitive home for he and his wife in San Diego County. Utilizing three shipping containers and a bevy of cost-effective appliances, they managed to limit the budget to $160,000.
The 800-square-foot house is among the first shipping container residences in San Diego County, according to Mike. He hopes it will soon by joined by a larger container home on the property, at which point it will become the guesthouse.
Shane Michael Pavonetti, an Austin-based architect and contractor, and his wife, Holly, built their eco-friendly home on a lean budget of $175,000. They opted for an industrial, untreated finish with an exposed steel frame, concrete floors, and bare decking upstairs. Coupled with finds from Ikea, Home Depot, and Cost Plus World Market for the interiors, they were able to keep costs down for their new, 1,600-square-foot home in East Austin. “The design vision was one of a vernacular influenced by modernism that highlights the process and details of construction,” Pavonetti says.
After living in Jackson, Wyoming, for nearly two decades, writer and athlete Dina Mishev was ready to build her dream home. She invited her friends at Carney Logan Burke Architects to design an inexpensive residence that made strategic use of her landlocked, view-challenged property. The project’s tight budget (approximately $500,000 to build and furnish) prompted a simple rectangular frame. “We asked ourselves, 'How do we make this box a beautiful box?'” principal Eric Logan says. They carved away corners and added rhythmic glazing to provide maximum views and natural light. In response to the site’s limited buildable area, Logan’s team ingeniously pushed the living areas up to the second floor, creating an upside-down version of a traditional home. A garage and two bedrooms comprise the lower level, with an open kitchen and living room on the top floor with the master suite. Features like standard-sized windows, drywall ceilings, and exposed concrete floors kept costs down. A climbing wall, Mishev’s idea, provides roof access from one side of the house.
Gabriela Calvo and Marca Peralta had a dream: to live debt-free on their property near San Jose, Costa Rica, surrounded by their horses and the natural landscape. The couple considered building with shipping containers—but were terrified of living inside a tin can. They presented their conundrum to architect Benjamin Garcia Saxe, who cleverly transformed two austere, 40-foot-long metal boxes into a home. The strikingly simple residence, named Containers of Hope, covers 1,075 square feet and cost just $40,000—less than the price of social housing provided for the country’s poorest residents. In developing the design, Saxe focused on rethinking comfort in a compact space. “The key factor was cost, which allowed them to take the risk without putting everything on the line,” Saxe says. “Once they realized size wasn’t what gave them happiness—location was more important—it was easy to move forward.”