By Rachael Rees • The Bulletin

Carolyn Cobb heard of shipping containers being transformed into houses and offices, but never a kegerator.

So about a year ago, when she decided to open a growler-fill station on the south end of Bend, she pursued the idea. In April, she opened Big Dog Growlers, with a mobile, 29-tap shipping-container-turned kegerator that would give her flexibility for the future of her business.

“Sometimes, when you lease a space from someone and you leave, they end up considering the cooler as part of their space,” she said.

Cobb said all her equity is in her shipping container — and she can take it with her.

Credit for inventing the modern shipping container generally goes to Malcolm McLean, the owner of a North Carolina trucking company who was looking in the mid-1950s for a more efficient way to move cargo, according to articles from Harvard Business School and the International Organization for Standardization.

Over the last eight to 10 years, websites and magazines focused on design and housing have featured shipping containers converted into homes and businesses. They appeal to those interested in reuse and sustainability, and fit well with the tiny-house movement. Marketplaces and office buildings made from containers are popping up throughout the country, including Bend. Nearly a year ago, Starbucks opened a shipping-container coffee shop in Portland.

Joel Egan, owner of Cargotecture, has been building with shipping containers for more than a decade.

“Interest really has picked up,” he said. “The container architecture … is something that really captivates the attention of people, to take these boxes which have had so much travel to them, settling them down and converting them to houses and businesses.”

Beyond their portability, he said, other benefits include their durability, sustainability and security. Building with shipping containers can also cut down on costs and construction time, he said.

“A building that would take 10 months to build, we can build in four months,” he said. “These boxes can be shipped in conventional trucks (and) be picked up by conventional cranes.”

Egan said he’s currently working on a 10,000-square-foot building, made from containers, for startup businesses and artists in Fresno, California.

Mike McGarry, container sales manager for Portland Container Repair Corp., said container sales have risen 10-15 percent over the past two years.

“Sales are constantly growing,” he said. “Some of the uses people come up with are pretty surprising enterprises for restaurants and retail.”

Aaron Henson, senior planner for the city of Bend, said it’s exciting to see people creatively reuse shipping containers for things that they weren’t intended for. However, he said, the trend hasn’t really caught on in Bend other than for storage containers.

“I don’t know how cost effective it is to retrofit them in ways that work in our climate and meet code,” he said.

Bayard Fox, president of Cement Elegance, which makes concrete countertops, sinks and furniture, took a different approach to bypass those challenges.

Instead of constructing a building out of shipping containers, he put six in a 16,000-square-foot warehouse on SE Scott Street to create several different offices within the space, named the Cube.

“This is something you would maybe see in the Pearl (District) or north Seattle, where there’s more of an urban-type feel, so we thought it would be kind of unique to do that in Bend,” Fox said. “It’s amazing the number of people that come in just for the purpose of they’ve heard about it and they want to see it because it strikes a chord. You can’t drive down a freeway in any city without seeing piles of these stacked.”

By putting the containers in a shell, he cut costs, eliminating plumbing, electrical, drainage and weather proofing.

“Once you put them outdoors with the elements, it takes on a whole new life,” he said. “I think that it probably at some point takes away from what I figure to be an economical way to create unique spaces.”

Fox said he’s offset his overhead costs by renting out the containers to other businesses in his industry. He said he’s also created a type of co-op.

“When a client comes in to see our products, they’re also being exposed to these other small businesses that operate out of here and vice versa,” he said. “It’s a great way to consolidate and create a mini design center, so to speak.”

Fox said he doesn’t think the concept would work in just any location and doesn’t have any desire or plans to replicate it within Central Oregon.

“I think you’re going to see more and more of it,” he said, referring to shipping-container construction. “I don’t know how much of it in Central Oregon, but I think you’re going to find projects around the country that are going to utilize this type of a concept — shipping containers to form individual spaces, whether that’s for retail malls or for food courts or for houses. I think you’re going to see more and more of it, because it’s something people can identify with.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7818,