Robert DePiazza lived in his home for over three decades before Hurricane Irma destroyed it in 2017. But the Florida resident made lemonade out of the lemons life threw at him; Robert turned the loss into a chance to build a dreamy container home.
The DePiazza Fam
"People will drive by every weekend or during the week just to see what's going on," Robert DiPiazza described of the time when his home was still under construction. So what made the property such a tourist attraction?
DiPiazza's project was (and is) far from ordinary: he built a dreamy home for his family out of nine steel shipping containers. But this story begins way before the unique piece of architecture was complete. In fact, it starts in another house altogether.
Hit by Hurricane Irma
The DePiazza family lived a happy life in St. Augustine, Florida. And then, a natural disaster seemed to turn their lives upside down overnight. Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Cuba before hitting Florida.
According to state statistics, St. Augustine reported about $8 million in damage from the natural disaster, with around half of the destruction being found in the municipal marine. Hurricane Irma damaged hundreds of homes in the county. Sadly, Robert DePiazza's house was one of the victims.
"The Worst Thing That Could Happen"
Hurricane Irma caused plenty of chaos in the Sunshine State. In St. Johns County, home to St. Augustine, tens of thousands of residents were left with no electricity for quite some time. Heavy rainfalls, up to 10 inches, caused flooding and significant rises in rivers and creeks.
But what brought extensive damage to Robert's home wasn't the flooding or the lack of electricity: it was the falling of a tree. "Well, the worst thing that could happen has happened," DePiazza sadly said as he recorded the post-hurricane damage in 2017.
Insurance Didn't Cover It
Having a tree destroy much of their beloved home was heartbreaking. "We actually stayed in the house for Irma because I felt comfortable with the tree not coming down," Robert explained. But, unfortunately, he was wrong. "And then, at like 5 in the morning, it fell," DePiazza added.
Like many victims of Hurricane Irma's strong winds, Robert desperately wanted to have a comfortable home for his family once more. But they had issues getting the property fixed. "My biggest problem was insurance," DePiazza said. "As it worked out, I didn't have enough coverage."
Leaving After 3 Decades
As Robert fought and fought for his home to be brought back to its former glory, it became clear that the DePiazza family was running out of options. They couldn't live in the dilapidated house, and they were one of the tons of people being rejected by insurance companies.
"I lived in the house that was destroyed by Irma for 31 years," Robert shared. Sadly, after the structural damage, the Florida-based family left their home and moved to another lovely house not too far away. But that turned out to only be temporary...
Constructing a New Home
But Robert wasn't ready to give up on the family's decades-old home. Or at least not on the lovely piece of land it was located on. The DePiazza's had grown to love their little piece of St. Augustine. So the creative had an idea for a new house on the same property as the old structure.
After a visit to Zurich, Switzerland, a few years before, Robert had come back inspired. He saw a sustainable backpack company's headquarters constructed from a less traditional material: steel shipping containers. Since then, DePiazza became determined to build his own container project.
And so, when Hurricane Irma destroyed their home, Robert realized this was actually the perfect opportunity to make a years-long dream come true. The family moved into a temporary place but still owned the land where their former home was located. So the DePiazza's got started.
With the help of a crew, they first tore down what remained of the decades-old house. It was a bittersweet goodbye, but Robert stayed focused on what the future held: his dream container home. The Florida dad could start from scratch and make it however he wanted to.
Laying the Foundation
Saying goodbye was sad, but the DePiazza's soon had their minds elsewhere as construction quickly got underway for the future container structure. With the help of friends and professionals, Robert built the house's foundation and poured in the backfill.
It might've been the least fun part of the build, but it was arguably one of the most important. "In container house construction, the foundation is crucial," Robert commented. So once that part of the project was complete, they brought in the containers.
The First Pieces
With the foundation securely built, it was time to bring in the puzzle pieces of the future home. So, where exactly did Robert find what he needed for his unique house? DePiazza made a trip to Con Global Industries, "North America's largest provider" of depot services, per their website.
After a tour of the company and seeing tons of shipping containers, Robert chose which ones were the best for his dream home. The shot below shows the lot after two of the structures arrived. But there were a bunch more containers on their way to the St. Augustine property.
The Story of Irma
Being a fan of the arts, it made sense that Robert would design a home with out-of-the-box architecture. And adding to the property's creative aesthetic was a mural that DePiazza had custom-made on one of the containers that was later joined to the rest of the house.
Robert asked his good friend and artist Riccardo Nannini to paint a one-of-a-kind mural on the container pictured above. The final result? An ode to the past in the form of a brightly colored painting that tells the story of how the DePiazza's lost their home in Hurricane Irma.
In addition to the first two containers and the third one containing the artistic mural, six more steel structures were brought onto the property. Unlike traditionally-built homes that take time to come together, this house came together rather quickly, thanks to the premade boxes.
"So there are nine containers in total," Robert shared. "Two that are on the ground that are like workshop space. The living space is five containers, so it's 1600 square feet. I added another container on top to get the volume." The outside might've looked nearly done, but the interior showed a different reality.
Inside, there was still much to be done. Actually, pretty much everything had to be given some touch or upgrade before the nine shipping containers would truly make a home. And so Robert and his crew got started on turning this place into a functional house.
But DePiazza didn't just want something comfortable and pretty. After having his home of over 30 years destroyed, Robert sought something durable, too. And while the steel containers were a good start, they needed some fixing. The shot above shows the ceiling after a "low spot" was removed to prevent standing water on the roof.
Framing the Walls
Once the original steel walls and ceilings got all of the patching up they needed, it was time to frame the walls. Robert initially intended to use InSoFast panels for this step of the construction, which are "continuous insulation panels [that] can be applied universally to any interior wall," per their official website.
But in the end, DePiazza altered the plans and used lumber instead. "Long story short and $6k later, we opted for wood framing because it's more relatable to the... plumber [and] electrician," he explained. Thanks to the dedicated crew's work, the house was underway.
Building the Interior Walls
Not only did the construction crew frame the steel walls, but they also cut windows into the container and had to frame those, too. This step turned out to be far from easy. "Constructing around an atypical structure poses many challenges," Robert explained.
Surrounding the new windows was particularly hard. DePiazza continued, "Especially framing the window openings and other areas that require anchoring wood to steel." But lots of sweat (and maybe some tears) later, the extensive framing was finally complete.
Leaving Some Walls & Floor Exposed
After framing, the construction crew built the new walls. But not all of the original steel was covered; Robert left some of it exposed. "You know it's like a patina of history, of how these have been utilized, and I just feel like it's such a part of their character," he said.
And certain walls weren't the only thing left intact. The containers' original plywood floors were also left to celebrate the authenticity of the project. "You know all the scuffs and all the gauges and the patches and things, we embrace it," DePiazza explained.
Those Florida Views
As detailed earlier, the container home contained three stories: the second floor would be the living space, and the third floor would contain bedrooms. But Robert decided to use one of the third-floor containers not as a room but to enlarge the living space with a high ceiling.
After gutting the container's floor, the house was left with a tall ceiling that created an open space between the future third-floor reading nook and the open second-story living room. The large windows would flood light into the property and some gorgeous views from all around.
The Septic System
Naturally, not everything is fun and games when it comes to construction. Builders have to think of the less exciting stuff, such as what happens when people go to the bathroom in the container home. So, Robert had a local company install a septic system on the property.
The unique house was well on its way to becoming functional. But there was one big roadblock Robert faced: home insurance. "I'm having trouble getting insurance, partly because of all the storms," he explained. But still, the crew pushed forward. And over two years after Hurricane Irma, the project was complete.
The Final Result
The complete extraordinary construction can be seen in the shot below. The container with the custom-made mural is installed diagonally for decor and has a staircase leading up into the main living areas on the second floor. The home's main entrance is on the second-level porch and opens up into the living room.
DePiazza arranged the containers so that the home's exterior aesthetic looks like a piece of art in and of itself. Putting aside the colorful mural, the home's architecture is far from boring, an industrial feel with a modern construction style. Let's take a look inside.
The Living Room
The property's exterior is far from ordinary, and the interior isn't any less unique. Robert was unafraid to infuse his place with lots of style, eccentric accessories, and color. The result? A hip yet cozy home. The house's main entrance opens up into the open concept living room pictured below.
Except for some of the exposed container walls, DePiazza chose white for the living room walls. The light color opens up the room and lets the stunning art take much of one's attention. The sleek leather couch, a flat-screen television, and a jukebox provided plenty of entertainment space.
The Dining Area
On the other side of the open-concept living room is the dining area. Two stools provide seating at the breakfast bar facing the kitchen, while the main dining table is right next to it and contains a comfortable booth. And, of course, plenty of cool art.
But possibly the dining area's coolest detail? The table and booth are a replica of the set-up Robert and his family had in their old house that Hurricane Irma destroyed. "It adorned my home for nearly 30 years," DePiazza shared. "I will continue the booth tradition in the new house employing the same manufacturer."
There's no doubt this container home's motto is "fun vibes only." From the living room at the entrance all the way to the kitchen in the back, the colorful surprises in Robert's property don't seem to end. The open cooking space has some natural colored wood cabins mixed in with red, blue, and yellow patches.
The fully-furnished kitchen also has steel countertops, plenty of overhead and underhead storage, and stainless steel appliances that match nicely with the counter. The spacious sink is located right in front of a large window, so anyone washing dishes has an entertaining view.
One of the Bathrooms
The home's second floor, where much of the family's daily activities take place, contains more than the living room, dining area, and kitchen. This part of the house also includes two bedrooms and a shared bathroom. And once again, there's nothing boring about this little room.
Robert might be some sort of master at mixing in the perfect amount of colors with neutral tones to create a bright but not overwhelming space. The bathroom walls have black tiling, but the shower provides a lovely pop of color that ties in with the kitchen cabinets.
Above the living room, on the home's final floor, is this open reading nook. Thanks to the double-height void in the living room, not only does the property's second floor have a very spacious feel, but it smoothly flows into the house's third story.
A custom wooden staircase with a metal railing, which continues as the railing in the reading nook, leads onto the last floor. Here, a mix of rustic pieces, pops of color, and funky accessories continue the unique aesthetic found in the rest of the house.
The third floor of the house provides a lot more privacy than the second story but maintains an open and airy feel. Thanks to plenty of windows and light-colored walls, the home is not deprived of beautiful natural light from the Florida sun. Pictured below is one of the private bedrooms.
The lovely bedroom is big enough to contain a bed, a work area, and even a little living area for reading or hanging with friends. The light blue on the walls is a pleasant surprise, a new look after the rest of the house containing much brighter colors.
The Main Suite
Last up on the container home tour is the spacious main bedroom. This room, belonging to Robert, has an ensuite bathroom and is more similar in style to the rest of the home than the previous bedroom. Once more, modern art lines the walls, which are a mix of neutral and bright paint.
The stunning bedroom has a spacious bathroom that includes a bathroom, a walk-in shower, a toilet, and a large modern sink. It's hard to believe the restroom is inside some old shipping containers! The floor-to-ceiling windows lining the far wall provide plenty of sunlight and a gorgeous view. Talk about a dream home.