Thinking Inside the Box

by David Ferguson

As the cost of housing and building materials increases, the concept of upcycling — the creative renewal of waste or unwanted products — is being embraced, and people are turning to the humble shipping container to cut their building costs.

The main floor’s open plan features a compact living and dining room area with majestic floor-to ceiling windows, a large, open kitchen, and a spacious powder room.

Certainly unconventional, shipping containers are also inexpensive and strong, and are a new favourite of architects, engineers and designers because they provide many interesting design opportunities.

There are two standard sizes for shipping containers: six-metres (20-feet) long by 2.4 metres (eight-feet) wide, and 12-metres (40-feet) long by 2.4 metres (eight-feet) wide. Both are 2.4 metres (eight-feet) high.

Cost is just one reason that shipping container homes are popping up all around the world. A used, 6-metre unit will cost as little as $1400 and a 12-metre unit might cost $3500.

Of course, that’s just the empty steel container. There’s the cost of the land to put it on, which will depend on where it’s going. Then there are the modifications to make it liveable which could exceed $25,000.

That’s just “liveable”, which might include a basic, insulated structure, basic windows and doors, electrical, plumbing and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). It does not include any finishes, any upgrades or premium materials, nor any architectural features one might want to include.

Featuring a large master bedroom and bathroom, and a huge outdoor terrace.

Regardless, a home like the one illustrated here would still be a bargain, costing just over $80,000, not including the land which is family-owned.

This home is built using three 20-foot (6-metre) containers, two side-by-side and one on top of the other. The roof top of the single storey features a spacious deck.

This configuration of containers would have allowed enough space for two smaller bedrooms, but the owner decided to have only one, in favour of a more spacious master bedroom and en suite bathroom.

Individual containers can be configured in many ways, and the interior space of any one room does not necessarily have to be 2.4- metre wide. Because the structural material is steel with its strength is in the units’ corners, it is structurally possible to open the space of two containers into one large one.

However, to keep costs to a minimum, it was decided to work within the existing space restraints.

In the living room, floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows keep that space feeling airy and open, and in the bedroom, a wall of glass doors and a window do the same there.

  1. When a space is unusually narrow, an unusual furniture arrangement is appropriate. In the living room, four van der Rohe “Barcelona” chairs encircling a round, glass and steel coffee table, form the seating area. The glass and steel dining room hugs the wall in order to provide more space for foot traffic.
  2. The home is decorated with a decidedly modern edge. Except for both bathrooms, the flooring throughout is polished concrete, and throughout the main floor, the walls are painted in a warm grey with a high gloss finish, giving a tip of the hat to the home’s steel heritage. A combination of white and stainless steel make-up much of the finishing, so in order to keep the space from feeling too cool, the ceilings are painted a warm beige, and a combination of light and dark wood tones are used, most notably on the treads of the circular staircase and the walls of the large powder room, as well as in many accessories and art works. Shades of teal weaves its way throughout the décor to give the home an overall cohesive look.
  3. Because the back of this home faces a busy highway, only an access door and one window, in the powder room, face onto that area. The kitchen window was fitted with custom shelving that are filled with herbs and edible plants that the owner maintains and uses almost daily.
  4. Although diminutive in size, measuring less than 2.4 metres (eight feet) square, the master suite feels anything but. Double glass doors and a large window connect the bedroom with a huge deck that is used as long as weather allows. The four-piece bathroom features a whirlpool tub and separate shower.
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