Sarah and Andy Berg have always been up for an adventure.
The couple started dating while students at the University of Minnesota Duluth 20 years ago, transferred together to North Dakota State University and spent a few years in Florida after marrying. But the pandemic threw the Arden Hills couple for a loop and got them started on an adventure that neither of them could have ever imagined.
Their Latitude Studios, launched in December 2020, makes anything you can dream of out shipping containers, from stylish pool houses, boathouses and cabins to saunas, sleek garden sheds and treehouses.
"We've been approached to do a shipping container bar on the ice," Sarah says. "People come up with ideas, like a bunkhouse, that we would've never thought of."
The idea for the business arose from their needs. When the pandemic confined Sarah, a special-education teacher, and Andy, an engineer, to their home with kids Mac, 11, and Nora, 9, they felt trapped, with a keen need for appropriate workspace.
"I was trying to find a good way to build a backyard office," Andy says. "I set up my office in the garage, but that got too hot in the middle of the summer. I had a camping trailer so I put air conditioning and a desk out there. The idea evolved from there."
Shipping containers were a natural fit. In an era of Airbnbs and the tiny house movement, they are plentiful, can be recycled and upcycled, and check boxes for sustainability, affordability and strength.
The Bergs source different types of containers that arrive in Minneapolis by rail. Nearly all are 8 feet wide and typically 8 ½ feet tall. It costs roughly $1,000 a foot for a finished product from Latitude, although the price can creep higher depending on needs.
"An 8-by-10 three-season porch, customized and cool, starts at about $10,000," Andy says. "A 20-foot heated and cooled office with a little porch — that's $25,000. When you start getting into the 40-foot bunkhouse, that's $40,000 to $50,000."
Sarah, who has long had an interest in antiquing and thrifting, never imagined she would be involved in the company.
"I thought it would just be Andy's thing, and I would continue to teach," she says. "But when I walked into the front office, it was so bare and ugly, and I've gotta paint that wall and wallpaper the bathroom — it became a family affair pretty quick."
Now the couple's Ham Lake studio has nine employees, from welders to photographers. The typical shipping container travels the world 30 to 50 times before ending up at the Bergs' studio, where they are refashioned however the clients fancy.
"Now they're landing at your latitude," Andy says. "It's a new way of building and creating space, providing a scope for freedom."