Container home couchsurfing: Culture comes to you

I’ve been an active member of the CouchSurfing.com community since 2009. The site enables travelers to find hosts around the world who are willing to open up their homes and offer up their hospitality. It’s like AirBnB but free of charge and more social, in that the homeowners/primary residents usually interact with their guests.

It appeals to those who, like myself, prefer to visit a city less like a tourist and more like a local. Further, because not everyone is comfortable letting complete strangers into their homes as overnight guests, the people I’ve hosted and stayed with through CS are usually like-minded, easy-going folks who become fast friends.

It’s because of these built-in character traits among CSers that it’s easy to feel a sense of community with guests and hosts. Just by virtue of being a member of the site, it’s likely you already have quite a bit in common with those you encounter through it. Birds of a bohemian feather…

Over the years, I’ve probably hosted about 100 people from various apartments and houses I’ve lived in, mainly in Oakland and L.A. Since moving into the container last year, I’ve hosted CSers on about 18 occasions. Who knew OKC was such a touristy destination for international travelers? I’ve had guests from Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, Eritrea, Spain, the U.K., Quebec, Nashville, NYC and L.A. Some were pretty crunchy hippy types hitchhiking across the U.S.; others were on road trips across Route 66; and some were just in town for work-related stuff or headed West to relocate.

But how?

“But Josh, you live in a 270-square foot box that’s only 7’8″ or so at its widest interior width. How can you host strangers, sometimes three at a time, in such a small space? How long do they stay? Doesn’t it get cramped?”

Good questions! My CS profile limits the number of guests to three at a time, and that’s the max that I’ve hosted in the container. Usually, surfers only stay for the night and leave the next morning, although one has stayed for a week recently.

Yes, it does get kinda cramped at times, and not everyone is capable of keeping their things quarantined into an orderly mess, which can complicate moving about the space (and drive me crazy). I’ve tried to learn from each surfer what works and what doesn’t in this space. It helps that hosting surfers has been something of a hobby of mine for so long.

CS considerations from early on to present

Even when designing the layout of the container and considering furnishings, the ability to host travelers was a consideration. For example, I knew I would want to create two completely private spaces, one for myself and one for guests, plus I would want bathroom doors that locked (to spare everyone some potential embarrassment/awkwardness). I also knew I would want some kind of spare bed, so, taking a cue from the name of the site, the plan was always to have a couch that could convert into a bed and a living room that could accommodate both configurations.

container home couchsurfing
Couch bed.
In the living room, I use an old footlocker as a coffee table. This footlocker actually does three things:

  1. It’s a coffee table.
  2. It stores bedding for the fold-out couch.
  3. It can store surfer luggage during their stay while the bedding is on the hide-a-bed.

There’s also an unused kitchen cabinet that can be conscripted as a makeshift locker. As long as we keep the floor clear, the space remains navigable, and my mind remains free from clutter-related stresses.

What’s in it for me?

While it’s nice to save some money while traveling and stay someplace for free, CS is also (and more importantly) about sharing cultures and exchanging perspectives. Guests are generally very gracious and willing to cook, buy a drink or two, practice languages or otherwise contribute in a positive way in return for even just a night’s stay.  Just look at the maple syrup and caramel a Canadian recently sent me by way of saying thanks:


Plus, I like hosting. I like being an ambassador for OKC and making recommendations for what I consider the best things to do, see and eat. Sometimes I personally give the guests a tour of the town; other times I’m busy, and they do their own thing. If we’re both at home, though, I find it a welcome change of pace to have interesting conversations with a temporary roommate.

There’s also the possibility that a host, while traveling, would be able to stay with someone they’ve hosted before. While this kind of reciprocity isn’t expected and certainly not required, I have stayed with prior guests in Poland and Germany and met up with prior guests in Holland. So, while it’s a free platform, the fringe benefits of networking help create value for everyone. At the very least, for times when I’m unable to travel, I can let the world come to me, one guest at a time.

Give it a whirl!

For those who travel frequently (and would like to travel frequently if only it weren’t so expensive), I highly recommend joining CS before your next trip. Even if you’re not sold on the idea of staying at a stranger’s home or hosting them, it can be a great way to find event listings in a new city, meet up with locals and/or other travelers, find rides to share or simply get recommendations. Because it’s free to join, you have nothing to lose. In return, you may just make some really good friends and have the kinds of experiences money can’t buy.

Take the OKC container home 360 tour

In the course of my day job, we recently acquired a 360-degree camera. I was fortunate enough to use this device to take some pics of the OKC container home in 360 degrees. Take the OKC container home 360 tour below by clicking the play button on each image and then using the mouse to navigate each immersive space. For those of you with VR headsets, you can click the three dots in the upper right of each image and activate VR mode, then use your camera and headset to view each area as if you were there:

Front yard

Living room

Kitchen

Bathroom

Bedroom

Back deck

Vanity and shower enclosure for the OKC container home

The bathroom has been one of the slowest areas of the OKC container home to come together. It’s a very important room in any house, but it has a lot of moving parts, so to speak, and all of those parts need to match somewhat from a design standpoint, and they also need to meet code requirements to pass inspection.

Had I the whole thing to do again, I would have turned the entire layout of the bathroom 90 degrees counter-clockwise. The current layout created some tricky decisions with regard to meeting code, such as the clearance needed on other side of the toilet and the distance of the vanity from the shower curb. The placement of the drains is also less than ideal, but accommodations had to be made to allow space in the walls for the pocket doors to slide. That’s why the pipes run underneath the vanity instead of inside the walls.

Further, the placement of the sink drain is completely off, but that’s what happens when you’re making decisions on the fly with plumbers who’re in a hurry to make their holes and move on to the next job.

At any rate, it’s turning out to be a pretty sweet bathroom, I think, and everything works great. There’s still a bit of cosmetic work to do around the walls at the top of the shower tile (which you can’t see in the pics below), and I still need a mirror, which I think will be a medicine cabinet with built-in LEDs and its own independent switch.

Special shout out to BL3 plumbing. They’re fast, friendly and affordable, and I could not have completed the bathroom build without them. Also, another big thank you to Tom’s Custom Shower Doors.

container toilet
Installing the toilet was easy enough. It’s a Water Sense-rated dual-flush model, and actually the cheapest one at Home Depot at $88. It would’ve been nice to have a black toilet, but black ones are outrageously expensive.
container vanity
The vanity needed to be no deeper than 12″ to meet code requirements with regard to distance from the shower curb. So, I wound up using hanging cabinets mounted on this footer, which was simply a box made from 2x10s.

container vanity

Here’s Morgan Brown of HB Contractors cutting out a hole in the cabinet’s top to allow for the placement of the sink. We actually could’ve cut out a bigger section and avoided the guesswork, but we wanted to maintain the structural integrity of the cabinet as much as possible.

Here's a view of the cabinet unit I chose. I removed the doors for staining and to protect them while other work continued, such as painting the footer black.
Here’s a view of the cabinet unit I chose. I removed the doors for staining and to protect them while other work continued, such as painting the footer black.
container vanity
Here’s Morgan Brown of HB Contractors cutting out a hole in the cabinet’s top to allow for the placement of the sink. We actually could’ve cut out a bigger section and avoided the guesswork, but we wanted to maintain the structural integrity of the cabinet as much as possible.
okc container vanity
When I ordered the sink from Amazon, I also purchased the drain kit that other customers had bought. This turned out to be wise, as the plumber needed at least part of it to piece together the rest of the drain system.
okc container vanity
Next it was on to the sink/faucet for the vanity. The basin is only 9″ in diameter and was actually designed for use in a boat. The water from the faucet falls perfectly into the middle of the drain.
okc container vanity
The counter top I chose was a quartz remnant from Builder’s Warehouse. As with the kitchen counter top, you kinda have to go with the flow when it comes to the color of the remnant that fits, but I thought the white-on-white turned out pretty nice.
okc container vanity
After the cabinet doors were stained, the whole thing just kinda came together at once. I still need to paint the side of the cabinet black, add a small towel rack and install a mirror though…
okc container home shower enclosure
Here’s Tom’s son from Tom’s Custom Shower Doors in OKC installing the end panel of my shower enclosure.
okc container home shower enclosure
After about an hour, the whole thing was finished. Works perfectly, too.

Framing the bathroom for the OKC container home

Near the completion of the HVAC install for the OKC container home, work began on framing up the walls and ceiling for the bathroom.

For this task, I tapped the skills of a very talented and friendly contractor I knew from way back in the days of undergrad at OU (early 2000s). Morgan Brown, of HB Contractors, is a local actor and voice talent who once lived in an apartment across from a good friend of mine. In that apartment, Morgan had transformed the interior into a series of shelves and cubbies that ultimately made the small space more efficient, and it was just this kind of drive, initiative and talent that I was hoping to tap for my container project.

Initially, we were working under the assumption that the first order of business would be to frame the bathroom so we could install the pocket doors on either side of the bathroom. This would allow us to drywall the whole place at once while also giving the plumbers clear dimensions for the shower fixtures.

So, we built the walls for the bathroom first. This consisted of vertical wooden studs anchored to the existing aluminum-stud framework. OKC container home bathroom framing

OKC container home bathroom framing  OKC container home bathroom framing   OKC container home bathroom framing

OKC container home bathroom framing

Since the lines for the HVAC and plumbing were already installed, we had to build the walls and ceiling so as to accommodate them while also leaving room for access should maintenance be required in the future.

Next came the rafters for the bathroom ceiling. We started with a wooden frame around the ceiling-mounted air handler. Since that unit was already fixed in place, it would dictate the spacing of additional framework.

OKC container home HVAC framing This frame around the air handler’s enclosure would also allow Jason (HVAC) to install the metal frame of the access panel, which covers the unit. We needed that installed before calling in the HVAC inspection. OKC container home HVAC panel

OKC container home bathroom framing

OKC container home HVAC control With the framework finalized, we created a space for Jason to install the final HVAC register that would supply the bedroom. We also had to install a temporary piece of drywall on which to mount the digital thermostat.

And with that, the HVAC install was complete. Inspection was passed without any issues.

Next time: insulation.