Meet Emily and Seth Britt, owners of the Box Hop, a shipping container home that’s making waves just outside Columbus, Ohio. An imaginative design using three containers (two to form the base, one across the top), it’s pushing the boundaries of what a container home can look like and creating a real buzz on social media.
It has been Seth’s dream to build a home from containers for over a decade, and the couple somehow brought it to life last year in a wooded clearing near Hocking Hills State Park, while working full-time (as a realtor and a logistics manager), raising two small children, and getting ready for the third. Building a stylish eco-home in the woods was an exciting — and at times nerve-racking — adventure, as we found out when we caught up with Emily and Seth.
First of all, what’s a Box Hop?
Emily: “Box is the shape of the containers, and a hop is another word for a short stay.”
Seth: “We tossed around a bunch of ideas for names, but Emily’s won out!”
So, how did your shipping container dream start?
Seth: “I came up with the idea while I was going to college at Ohio State. I worked for Fedex at the time and was loading trucks and shipping containers. One day, it was raining and I was loading into a shipping container. You could hear all the rain outside and all the pitter patter hitting it, but the thing was sound and waterproof and sealed tight. It kind of hit me that you could fit 2,000 packages in this things, and that’s a lot of space. I had the idea of building a house, then we just sat on it and dreamt on it for a couple of years.”
There is an increasing number of shipping container structures out there. How do you build something that stands out?
Emily: “A lot of people asked us, ‘How long did you research it? How long did you spend looking at other houses?’ We didn’t really get caught up in the market. One of the attributes that Seth and I share is having a dream and going for it, not needing to piggyback off anything else, and having the gumption to go for it and do what we feel in our heads.
“I didn’t want it to feel like a double wide manufactured home. I didn’t want it to have that feel in any way, shape or form. I decided to offset the lower containers just slightly, which created a dimension for an entryway so it wasn’t just a flat surface. It showed off the fact that it was three different containers rather than all three mushed together.”
What were your interior design inspirations?
Emily: “The biggest thing was keeping it simple and not taking away from the uniqueness of the space. Given the size of the home and the nature of the surrounding area, I wanted as many windows as possible. The really long 15ft glass sliding door let a lot of the natural light and nature come inside. I wanted a touch of modern edginess to it. A lot of the spaces down there have a more rustic, country feel, and I didn’t want that for this house.”
You’ve described the experience as “seven months of blood, sweat and tears”. What were the biggest challenges?
Seth: “It was a lot of late nights, a lot of long weekends. I work 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. The Box Hop is about 45 minutes from where we live in the city of Columbus, in a state park to the southeast. I would load up my tools early in the morning, leave them in my trunk, go to work, then as soon as I got off work I’d go straight to Hocking Hills and do whatever was on the list for that day. Then I’d drive home, sleep and start the process again.
“There were a lot of times when things didn’t go the way we wanted them to. Last Memorial Day, I was digging a trench for the electric line (I’d never run an excavator before, so it was trial and error. I was like a bull in a china shop!), and we were staying in a camper at the bottom of the hill, where the container was. Emily woke me up at two in the morning, just terrified. She said, ‘You’ve got to look outside.’ I took the flashlight and looked out. There was water all around us. There was a flash flood, and it actually took one of our containers and moved it about 300 feet into our neighbor’s yard. It weighs 9,600 pounds, and it floated right away. We were evacuated by the fire department at about three in the morning. It was terrifying. But that’s how I met my neighbors. I knocked on their door and said, ‘Hey, that’s my container, sorry.’
“And that was the first night we ever tried to spend on the property. It took a couple weeks to dry out, then we hooked it up to an excavator and started dragging it up the hill. Over the next six months, we got a lot of busted fingers, bumped knees, bruises and scars.”
Did you have to remove trees?
Emily: “Not many. It was made to be a recreational hunting plot originally so everything was entirely wooded, but there was a dry path, with a good chunk cleared to be used as a feeding ground for the animals. So we utilized what was already cleared out. We just had to widen the trail and grade the clearing slightly.”
Seth: “Emily would have saved all the trees and bent the containers around them so we didn’t have to cut any of them! When we got the containers in place, there was one tree so close to the house that it bumped our gutter. My dad talked to some arborists and found out how to anchor that tree away from the house so that it wouldn’t hit the house or put out a window. It was a lot more work to make sure that we cut down as few trees as possible but, when you go there, you’re surrounded by these 100-foot pine trees that are just swaying. It’s very peaceful.”
Did you cut all the windows and doors on site?
Seth: “Yes, over the Fourth of July last year. Emily marked out where all the windows would go and where everything needed to be. Anywhere that had tape on it, I used a grinder and started cutting away. It took a couple of days. It wasn’t easy. A plasma cutter would have been well worth the investment!”
Why did you chose to build where you did?
Emily: “We grew up going to Hocking Hills. When you go down there, there isn’t anything unique or modern, a lot of it was saturated with just the typical cabins. Everything looked the same, and nothing stood out as being different. When we were doing our research, we discovered that it’s the most visited state park in Ohio, and more visitors see Hocking Hills than Yellowstone National Park. So it’s a great place, and it’s close enough to the city to get there quickly.”
Now that it’s finished, do you spend a lot of time there yourselves?
Emily: “We get down there whenever we can. We’ve blocked out some dates, and if there are any last-minute cancellations we sometimes keep it for ourselves. There’s so much to do. There’s canoeing trips, which is our favorite thing to do. There’s ziplining, you can do rock climbing or rock repelling, horse riding, ATV trails… The local winery is one exit away from us, the local brewery is one exit from us. They have farmers’ markets every weekend, and a lot of antique shops. Then there’s the state park, with endless trails, hiking and waterfalls.”
What’s the weather like?
Emily: “Ohio is one of the few states that see all four seasons. We get up to the 80s in the summer, and everyone’s favorite time to come is the Fall, from September into November. The colors of the leaves change, and everything gets so beautiful. We were there in January and we had about 10 inches of snow, but we have a local guy who comes and takes care of that.”
Do you have any advice for people wanting to build their own Box Hop?
Emily: “Twice the time and twice the money! When you’re trying to be sustainable and reuse something, you would expect it to cost less because the outside of your home is already there. It did cost somewhat less, but it depends on what you put in it – that determines the cost.”
Seth: “The trickiest thing on my end was HVAC installation and plumbing installation. The walls and ceilings are steel ribs. With regular houses, if you want to add a vent, you just cut a hole in the wood. Here, I cut through the wood and hacked away at the metal until I got a hole! It’s a lot more work than I anticipated. But I like the idea of using something that someone else has determined is at the end of its life, and for us to bring new life to it. To me, that’s invaluable. People ask, ‘Would you do it again?’ My answer is, ‘I would love to. We’re working on that now.’”
We’ll keep you posted on Emily and Seth’s further adventures. To stay at the Box Hop, click here.