Beyond transporting and storing goods, these containers can have very interesting and varied afterlives. In this post, we explore what we consider to be one of the most exciting repurposings you can apply to a shipping container – bringing it into the domestic environment, as a house.
What the designers say
We spoke to Joel Egan, the architect and co-founder of HyBrid Architecture, whose Seattle-based company, Cargotecture primarily design residences from container units. They also sell DIY kit versions, for budding DIY homeowners.
Using modular containers, a residential project really is a no-holds-barred, lego-style approach to design. You will be astounded by the variety of aesthetic outcomes achieved by these industrial units, from sleek minimalist pads to warm, cosy spots bathed in sunlight, to industrial, stripped-back chic.
Modular container conversions pepper the project list at HyBrid, so head to the HyBrid pages to get even more of a grasp of what can be done within the constraints of the shipping containers (spoiler alert: the sky is the limit!).
As experts in the redesign of container structures, they are well placed to give an aesthetic and design-led opinion on the difficulties, limitations and opportunities involved with any shipping container residential conversion.
The container conversion process is arguably more difficult than a free design build, as you are working within the limitations of the dimensions and materials of the existing units. When I asked Joel to explain any limitations and difficulties of the container conversion process, he responded:
"It is rather easy to design a residence from the containers, as long as you pay attention to width. We like to do double-wide containers but single-wides work just fine too, as long as their floor plans are laid out well."
Width, to Joel then, is the primarily limitation, and a crucial reason for having a rigid design process before you undertake a conversion.
As an adjunct to Joel and his business partner Robert Humble’s successful HyBrid architecture business, we had to wonder, why had they turned their vision to containers - to Cargotecture? Why not design from another unit, or from scratch? Joel told us:
"Containers are durable, securable, overtly sustainable, relocatable, and emotionally visceral for people. They are affordable, when compared with other homes of the exact same size. The container homes can be micro-homes or they can be bigger homes, and they can cost 10% to 20% less than conventional construction. It’s not half the price, but it is a pretty good saving for house construction."
So, as well as the environmental benefits of repurposing a possibly redundant storage unit, a container convert homeowner is making financial savings too! For those of us concerned with shrinking their carbon footprint, a domestic container conversion could be the perfect way forward.
This single-wide example of Cargotecture design illustrates how their conversions function on a domestic scale:
These small but affordable units are the perfect option for a tight budget or indeed for a small holiday home or part-time residence.
Of course, the original purpose of a shipping unit was as a transport vessel for various goods. They were not originally designed to function as domestic spaces. Nevertheless, pioneering designers, and suppliers like Cleveland Containers have worked together to create inspirational homes which fulfil the every need of the homeowner, using their limitations as opportunities and making the most of the fantastic opportunities that they provide.
As Joel concluded, “this is a rapidly growing industry and these homes are appropriate for someone who wants something different, special, relocatable, and sentimental.”
Lovely Tammi and Stuart Jonas own Jonai Farms, an ethical, high-welfare pig farm in Daylesford, Australia.
When they decided to move to their new farm in Daylesford, they found themselves confronted by three challenges: they had to move across Australia to the new site, they needed storage whilst they travelled to America and they wanted to create a three bedroom house on the site of their new farm, to complement the existing farmhouse and their expanding family. Then it occurred to them – a shipping container could fulfil all of their criteria!
Their cross-land transport sorted, the family loaded up all their belongings for the journey and shipped across country.
On arrival, their unit was put to its second use – as a storage hub.
But it was the final usage to which their storage container was put that is the most important and most enduring. This was its final iteration, as a new, three-bed family home on the site of their new farm.
The unit took up its next function as an idyllic, basic homestead for their farm, where they could live, with more space, in the unit which had fulfilled so many functions for them already. It became a space of calm and light.
We spoke to Tammi and Stuart about their experience. They told us the whole story:
"We planned on our move to the farm around our future accommodation needs, so used the 40' HQ to move our worldly belongings from the city to the farm with the plan to then convert the container into additional accommodation once we moved into the existing small house on the farm.
We left the house to the kids and built the 'parents retreat' in the container. Having option to put in large double glazed windows all around makes it a much more pleasant space to reside compared to an 1980's vintage square box house! It is a joy each morning to have the option to look at sky in any direction from the comfort of our bed. Having windows all around makes the space feel very comfortable."
The Jonases picked up the bug for conversion, going on to tell us:
"I have converted 4 containers now for both accommodation and also for a butcher shop and commercial kitchen. They are fantastic building blocks, I'm looking forward to our next cottage build out in the paddock for further overflow accommodation."
So, we have heard from the points of view of both designers and home owners behind the storage container conversion, who have both attested to the happiness a container conversion can bring! For a home which is good value, sustainable and environmentally friendly, why not consider a container conversion?
Need Our Help?
Talk to us about your shipping container project today...