To say that Jeremy Semones thinks outside the box is a bit of an understatement. Because, Semones, Owner/Operator of Core Design (1612 Portland Ave.), also thinks inside the box, on top of the box and around the box. His box is not a metaphor he learned about in business school, but an actual box—a 20-foot, steel shipping container used for cargo or storage to be exact.
While he is quick to say he didn’t invent the idea of reusing shipping containers, he’s definitely spearheaded the concept in Louisville.
“People overthink too much,” Semones says. “Too often, we let materials dictate design. These are just building blocks. Some can’t get their arm around using them design-wise. Some can,” he says.
The challenge of reusing and recycling materials always interested Semones, who first transformed a shipping container into a garage. Then “The DJ Boom Box” debuted at the Kentucky Derby Pegasus Parade. Their on-lookers were greeted by a 20-foot shipping container fabricated into a giant ’80s boom box complete with sound, lights, and a “tape deck” opening, which revealed a full DJ booth.
“I love to define space with the containers,” Semones says. “Containers are easy to brand, color and logo. Containers are low overhead. It levels the playing field.”
Container skeptics just need to ask Semones who can list hundreds of uses for containers including pop-up retail villages, meeting rooms, art studios, student-run stores at schools, kitchens and even restaurants, to name a few.
“Instead of taking out a mortgage to get a loan for a brick-and-mortar restaurant a Sullivan grad. can test their skills out with one of these,” he says.
What Semones lacks in fine art degrees, he makes up for with talent and ingenuity. Five years ago, he opened Core Design. Prior, he worked in commercial construction. Before that, he was a sous chef. Curious and creative by nature, he bought a welder to “play around with” and self-taught himself the art of welding. Friends of his own the music venue ZanZabar (2100 S. Preston St.) and hired him to fabricate work on the back patio and design the bar’s sign.
Clients started calling, including Coppers & Kings America Brandy Company (1121 East Washington St). Core Design fabricated the exterior shipping container sculptures, shipping container bathrooms, a shipping container kitchen and signage for the Butchertown distillery.
The aesthetic of Core Design, Semones says, is rustic and modern, with simple and clean lines. “We are not as refined, but urban. Look at Copper and Kings. It’s a totally new kind of architecture for Louisville with different lines and a boxy element,” he says.
Today Core Design’s projects range from, public art installation, custom furniture, and original metal wall art, in addition to shipping container art structures.
Collaborating with ReSurfaced
The company’s most high-profile partnership is with City Collaborative’s ReSurfaced initiative. City Collaborative created the ReSurfaced program in 2014 to experiment with creative activation and implementation strategies for underutilized surface lots and urban spaces that disconnects the built environment throughout Louisville.
The first ReSurfaced project took place last fall at 615 West Main Street behind the historic facades where an unused surface lot was transformed into a beer garden and community arts space. The second ReSurfaced program became known as the Bourbon Edition. It tweaked the spatial layout design, flow, and programming of space at 615 West Main St.
The upcoming ReSurfaced will activate a surface lot at 10th Street on the Riverwalk of the Louisville Loop in conjunction with the Louisville Commission on Public Art’s ‘Connect/Disconnect’ public art project on October 15th-17th.
The latest initiative provides the chance to explore creative placemaking with a number of new challenges. For example, the space does not have walls like the Main Street location. Semones must use the shipping container in a way to both make the space feel like a destination and define it.
His crew, many of which are friends, is ready. Ramsey Grissom, a welder with Core Design, attributes Semones for his interest in welding. Their friendship spans 15 years. When Grissom moved to Florida and then returned to Louisville two years later, Semones had a job waiting for him.
“Jeremy took me under his wings and taught me,” says Grissom. “It’s a fun creative space to be around. Louisville, in general, is a great place to be. It’s got great creative art, music, photography and innovative design culture,”
Days before ReSurfaced opens Semones and his crew wait for their containers to be delivered. Standing under the Interstate 64 Overpass in an empty parking lot, it’s hard to imagine what the space will become. Semones doesn’t look at the gray, flat concrete behind him but out at the Ohio River. He begins pointing out various landmarks and discussing Louisville’s shipping port past.
It seems only appropriate, that someone well-versed in our city’s history is bringing the “shipping port” idea full-circle. Shipping containers in Louisville don’t seem so odd after all.