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Westmont woman realizes dream of living in container house

Jose Padilla of Gomez Fencing works on a house in Westmont that is made out of shipping containers. The house clocks in at 2,100 square feet, which features two bedrooms, a workout space, a private courtyard and more.
Jose Padilla of Gomez Fencing works on a house in Westmont that is made out of shipping containers. The house clocks in at 2,100 square feet, which features two bedrooms, a workout space, a private courtyard and more.

WESTMONT – It's mid-morning on a Thursday, and along 55th Street in Westmont a team of construction workers is at war with the sound of their machines. Spread out on a lot, they head toward their respective areas and pick up where they left off. They pound, saw and weld together the pieces of Mary Jo Knapik's new home.

From the outside, the house doesn't really look like much. On a gritty 8,311-square-foot lot, a foundation has been carved out, and some of the framework have been laid down. Two shipping containers – both of which have been repainted, customized to fit windows and doors and will be converted into a workout room and master bedroom – stand tall on opposite ends.

Three years in the making, Knapik's dream--The first of its kind in Westmont--is still a work in progress. Chuck Seen, an architect from RS2 Architects in Wheaton, spent two years on working alongside the village of Westmont to obtain the necessary permits and to better understand specific building and safety codes. Though tedious, those technicalities are crucial.

During that time, Seen also wanted to learn more about Knapik. In the past few years, RS2 Architects partnered with Chicago artist Dan Peterman and built smaller structures out of shipping containers and garbage dumpsters as a part of a project.

In Knapik's case, she was looking for space.

"I wanted to move into a big warehouse," said the 55-year-old.

She wanted something roomy, something that was far different from her brick Chicago-style home in the southwest suburbs.

If anything, Knapik was tired of moving into a place where she felt like she had to "figure out how I could make this work." She sought to have a say in the design and in the process.

Inspired by shows on HGTV, Knapik was drawn to the idea of living in a container house. She was keen on its modern, industrial aesthetic.

Touring the grounds of her home, Seen explained that the containers  were only used once to transport electric windmill blades from Germany.

"They were never used again," he said, adding that's a "pretty common practice."

The home itself clocks in at about 2,300 square feet and includes a second bedroom, a loft, a garage and other amenities. One other standout feature, which will also use shipping containers, is the upper courtyard.

"The design challenge was that she wanted to be connected to the outdoors, but she wanted her privacy," Sean said.

Sean shared that Knapik's house is expected to be completed by spring of 2020, and he is hoping that this style will continue to catch on across the Chicago suburbs. As for Knapik, she can't help but feel excited for what awaits her.

"It's going to be a very cool statement piece," she said.