Flophouze offers unique proposition: a hotel made from shipping containers

ROUND TOP, TX—Flophouze Hotel isn’t your typical hotel property—but, then again, founder Matt White isn’t your typical hotelier.

The owner of Recycling the Past, a company that specializes in architectural salvage, White was drawn to this Texas town for the same reason so many are—the Round Top Antiques Fair. A haven for eclectic, old and unique items, the setting was the perfect location for Flophouze Hotel, a lodging offering that’s made up of recycled shipping containers.

“The antiques show has a deficit for lodging,” said White, noting that he’s had a lifelong fascination with building things out of blocks and containers. He’s also spent his career assisting hoteliers with reclaimed materials for their properties, working with the design teams for projects such as AC Hotels by Marriott properties, “so I had a good idea in terms of the aesthetics of what guests want.”

He added, “I’m the consumer. I want to stay in a unique experience. People don’t want the same old boxed hotel to stay at—they want a unique situation where every detail is thought about.”

Pointing to the rise of alternative accommodations, White added, “Whether it’s a tree house or a shipping container or a cave, a dome or a tent, they want an experience. They want to go somewhere where there’s a good view and they can unplug a little bit; it was perfect timing for this concept.”

The shipping containers—there are six units in all, in addition to the Beach Houze, a two-bedroom offering for groups who need a little more space—each come with their own hammock, fire pit and chairs. “It’s a minimalist footprint, adjacent to our event venue, salvage yard and cow pasture,” White said. “People are so enamored by the cows. They’re so enamored by the stars. They can sit and watch the sunset, drink a drink, listen to some vinyl and unplug—and yet you’re staying in a cool spot with all reclaimed materials, and the design is right; everything gets your senses flowing.”

Naturally, sustainability is inherent in every aspect of the recycled containers. The interiors are clad with sustainably harvested wood from a farm in Upstate New York and reclaimed lumber from a distillery in Kentucky. To capture the pastoral views, the windows were salvaged from a school in Philadelphia that was slated for demolition. Additionally, the kitchen cabinet bases are made from a laboratory in Brooklyn and countertops come from bowling alley floors.

“Every now and then we had to bring in a new feature, but all the interior cladding material is salvaged from different spots,” White said. “Each one is bespoke. The recycled factor is the ultimate goal. It’s for people to see what can be done with reclaimed materials.

“We build these containers with soul. We put our heart into these projects like everything we do in the reclaimed business,” he added.

The property is shared by Recycling the Past, which doubles as a special events venue—The Round Top Ballroom. “The events center is a 12,000-sq.-ft. building created from a really unique property I built years ago,” White said, noting it has a commercial kitchen and can comfortably fit 250 people. “You can have a wedding, a rehearsal dinner, a corporate retreat.”

But unlike other events venues, this ballroom is filled with stuff. “We made a pool hall out of materials from one of Doris Duke’s pool rooms; they’re partying around all of this amazing stuff—taxidermy, motorcycles, an old Land Cruiser, art, giant slabs of trees,” he said. “This stuff is curated in an amazing spot. There’s sitting areas on vintage chesterfield couches. We’ve now created a giant compound where if you want to have a corporate retreat and sleep 20 or 30 people, and you want a chef to come and make it really unique, it’s kind of a closed set.”

While the property does have WiFi, Flophouze aims to have guests focus on a real-time experience. “We don’t have TVs. We made a cooking area for people with a grill, a great smoker, we’re getting bikes for them to ride,” White said. Additionally, Flophouze is installing a shipping-container pool from Modpools.

There are plans to add another unit to the property, and White noted that he’d love to expand the concept to other areas. “We’re a multifaceted property that has the potential to go anywhere. These can be picked up, put on the truck, moved anywhere. You need some infrastructure, but they’re perfect for the coast, for the tropics—anywhere in the world,” he said.

For instance, he said, they’d be perfect for events like Coachella and other concerts and festivals that have high demand during limited times of the year. “That’s where we’ll be able to expand quicker than others in the future. They don’t have to be $100,000 a piece. We can build them for $35,000-$40,000 and transport them to sites,” he said. “They can come into play in natural disaster situations, in schools. It’s endless.”

And, he noted, they could be a differentiator for hotel properties that have the space for them. “A hotel could have three extra units that will help bring a little pop to the place,” he said.

“That’s a dream that may turn into a reality if we find the right people to team up with,” he said. “It’s caught the eye of some interesting people… It’s got a lot of potential for the future.” HB