Breathing New Life into Sustainable Design
Let’s face it, the status quo is synonymous with uninspired and boring. Thanks to bold, innovative creatives like Gayle Zalduondo though, society never has to experience a lull for too long! Co-founder of Little River Box, Gayle creates beautifully designed shipping container units that serve as sustainable commerce solutions. With over 20 years of experience in design and build, this “little” studio branched out to make a BIG name for itself in the world of hospitality!
Little River Box wasn’t always in the business of sustainable hospitality design, it all began when a client made the unique request to utilize shipping containers in their build. Before that, what was the company’s initial focus?
We have always been in the design-build world. For 20 years we designed and manufactured metal furniture for National retailers through our company Urbanus (Crate and Barrel, Ethan Allen, Room and Board). Then my partner Andrew had a company called Cabin Fever where he made these sweet pre-fab Cabins. One of his customers asked us to design her home so we did. It was on the Little River, hence the name.
What sparked the official shift? When did the team say, “We’re all in! Let’s commit to creating magical environments from repurposed shipping containers”?
We were in a transition after a difficult time and had built a container home in the past as a showroom for our furniture company back in Wynwood Art Basel in 2006.
We were building a bar for a hotel and a groovy event space for a music festival (Ultra), I looked out in the shop and said let’s do this. And so, we did.
Is there anyone at LRB who has their unique shipping container unit? Or any fun plans for personal use?
We are building one now that is close to my heart. It’s a 40’ camping unit on wheels. Both Andrew and I yearn for more time in nature. We are looking for a property in the woods or by a lake and plan to use it as our basecamp.
Out of all the types of environments (kitchens, bars, homes) Little River Box has completed so far, do you have a favorite? Are there any projects you are particularly proud of?
Yes, Charcoal Garden Bar and Grill at the Wynwood yard. We designed the boxes and the space. The entire environment had our touch and details. We literally took an empty lot and transformed it into a magical space in a matter of months. That project utilized all our skill sets. From concept to realization of a magical environment. It helped that we had a creative client that trusted us.
You’ve found your niche in hospitality, was this a natural progression or a definitive business decision? What about the hospitality industry works so well with the shipping container concept?
Our concept from the beginning was to create building blocks that could transform empty lots into a fully functional restaurant or outdoor venue. Now it makes sense even more than ever. Outdoor places to gather safely have even more importance now. This product provides a tangible solution that’s well designed and a ready-made solution.
Due to its non-porous nature and extreme durability, solid surface is a great material for use in high-traffic areas, like restaurants, bars, and retail establishments. How familiar are you all with the material, have you ever used it before?
Yes, I am familiar with solid surface. We have used it for the countertops of our bars before. I could imagine using it as wall panels and furnishings as well. Lots of possibilities
Other than sustainability, lower cost, and looking cool as hell… What are some of the exciting benefits of utilizing shipping container units as base structures, over more traditional types of buildings?
There is a perception that they are lower cost but this is not really the advantage as I see it. They still require everything a traditional building does and the costs that go with it. They are sustainable– 17 million containers are in circulation, however, only six million are being used for transporting.
Each year in America, thousands of these shipping containers are left dormant because America imports more than it exports and it’s too expensive to ship these containers empty back to Asia. Melting these used shipping containers requires at least 8,000KWh of energy. Repurposing them into buildings makes sense.
Our buildings can be deployed quickly, and are extremely durable as well. The advantage of them being relocatable as interim projects is also significant.
Are there any new, creative units in the works? We’d love to plug a project or two!
We just finished developing a solution for a cool company that opens here in Miami Beach next week. Rooftop cinema club. We designed and built the box office, bars and kitchens, and back of house for this new venue on the rooftop of a parking lot. The views are spectacular. They open on June 2nd on Miami Beach!
The other project I am particularly excited about is our ADUS. Accessory dwelling units. We are currently building a 1 box home for the back of an existing home for a very cool woman named Jill Rudison. The way real estate is going through the roof we decided to work on a real solution to the problem. These units are built in our factory, so it minimized the construction disruption for the backyard site.
These ADU’s benefit the homeowner by increasing their income as well as the affordability for the renter alike.
The inherent sustainability of breathing new life into these old shipping containers is a huge part of Little River Box’s brand. How does that mindset influence other elements of your builds and the company overall?
Making life better and more beautiful while providing tangible solutions is why we do what we do. It’s needed now more than ever. Resilience and revival are key.
It requires imagination. We’ve got that. That’s embedded in everything we do.