3 Grand Designs Shipping Container Homes
The TV show Grand Designs started in the UK in 1999, and has been syndicated around the world. The TV show looks at novel and exciting self-build projects from a woodsman’s cruck framed and straw bale house at one extreme, to mighty mansions at the other. In the UK it has a cult following as millions tune in to see the drama and excitement of home builders who have taken a leap into the unknown to construct the home of their dreams.
Now the programme has been syndicated to other countries, viewers from around the world can see grand designs made for their own audience. In this blog we will look at three shipping container homes built under the keen eye of the TV programme Grand Designs in New Zealand, the UK and Australia.
On the surface, building a shipping container home is a very cheap and effective means of construction. The building blocks are usually second hand shipping containers that cost in the region of $3000 each, and you can use them to stack, or lay side by side in three dimensions to create a beautiful home that celebrates modernity.
1. New Zealand Shipping Container Home
In November this year the New Zealand Grand Designs series looked at a shipping container home being built in Christchurch. Engineer and project manager David Fitzmaurice and his family bought a plot with the idea of putting a home together made of 16 shipping containers. He and his family moved to Christchurch to help rebuild the city after the last set of major earthquakes to hit the region. This designs would be part of the city’s rebirth.
Long term Grand Designs fans will know some rules that you should never break when building your own home. Rule Number #1 is that once the architect has put together the design you should never make large changes to the design. This was broken quite early on in the project when the Fitzmaurice family decided to build their new home of 20 containers – not 16. Given his profession and pedigree you would have thought that he would have known that changing design mid flow would cost huge amounts of money and stress, but he clearly had other ideas.
One of the upshots of this was that they needed more steel supports for the home, and this drove the price up by NZ$100,000. The family were apparently using shipping containers as a way to build a larger home on a tight budget yet they kept on making changes to the specification as the build progressed. Insulation on the walls as cladding? That went inside, and the architect had to make new drawings, costing more $$$. Planning consent had to be won as well costing more time and money.
Rules are there to be broken but experienced Grand Designs fans will have shared some of the stress of the build with the Fitzmaurices as their relatively cheap and cheerful $450,000 home turned into a $900,000 money-eating whale of a project.
While the family haemorrhaged cash on their dream home, you can see from the pictures that they got a home of outstanding architectural merit. While some looking at it may consider it more of a ‘warehouse’ others will see that it celebrates its birth from globetrotting shipping containers. The rooms are connected in a way that leaves you in no doubt at all you are in a place of space and comfort.
The home, while incomplete when the programme went to air, features a double height living room that allows lots of light into the main living space and gives an added feeling of space inside.
Grand Designs New Zealand presenter Chris Moller enthused about the project, “This is the opposite of a modern designer house – it’s not going to appeal to everyone, but I think it’s refreshingly playful, unrefined and quirky.”
2. Grand Designs UK – Northern Ireland Farmhouse
Patrick Bradley is an architect and is set to inherit his large family farm in Northern Ireland. He needed a home on his land so he can both manage his farm and run his business as an architect. Growing up on the land he knew a spot that he wanted to put a home on, with stunning views and cantilevered over a little stream.
The design called for four, 45ft shipping containers. Two formed the ground floor while two at the top laid across the ground floor. The home recognises its dual role as a farmhouse and as a home. The front entrance is downstairs where you can leave your muddy boots, and if you are particularly grubby from a day in the fields you can go straight into the wet room from there. There is a spare bedroom to one side, while the master bedroom overlooks the babbling brook to one side of the house.
Laid crosswise to the ground floor is the upper floor. Accessed by a stairway, it has lots of glass to celebrate the astounding views around the farmhouse. The upper floor has a kitchen and living area, as well as Bradley’s office where he runs his architectural practice.
Unlike the New Zealand home that turned into a massive drain on the family finances, this shipping container home only ended up costing more than the original budget because Bradley has expensive tastes and wanted to fit the place out to a very high standard. His original budget was just over AUD $168,000 but by the time he had fitted it out it cost more like $224,000. This included a $20,000 bath in the main bathroom!
Bradley’s family were excited at the idea initially but when the 40ft containers started arriving they wondered at his project. Would this end up looking worse than a cattle shed? While shipping containers are pretty for some yet very ugly for others, Bradley’s design made the home of such architectural merit that the Northern Ireland Royal Institute of British Architects gave it an award for its design, and it made the long list for the Royal Institute of British Architects Building of the Year in 2015.
A good home helps change you as a person. Bradley has developed his architectural practice around building shipping container conversions and has been a bit of a hit around the UK, recently building a shipping container conversion in fashionable Chelsea in London. He has a social conscience too, and made the local news in 2015 by auctioning a night’s stay in his home for a homeless charity. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph he said, “How anyone can manage to sleep and survive outside in winter is beyond me… While the rest of us are tucked up in bed at night, or spending the evening in front of the fire with a cup of tea, there are literally thousands of individuals sleeping in doorways, under bridges, soaked through with no food or means of staying warm, right across Northern Ireland. More needs to be done about that.”
A video about the farmhouse can be seen here:
3. Grand Designs Australia
This home was built out of necessity – the family home had been washed away in floods that hit Graceville in Queensland and they needed somewhere to live. Given that the last home had been washed away in floods the new home had to be flood proof too – a big ask for any new home.
Todd Miller started his grand design with a plan to rebuild his world using 16 containers as he fabricated the new home with his own hands he ended up using 31 containers, almost doubling the floor space of the construction.
Grand Designs Australia viewers followed the drama as the containers arrived on site and then were put together by the driven and determined Miller. Storms destroyed his family’s life in the first instance, and nearly did so again as foul weather battered the build – a typhoon nearly destroyed the home partway through its construction. A TV reviewer enthused about the programme, “This house is bush carpentry at its best; not of log and adze but of steel and angle grinder. There’s an Australian tradition of self-reliance; of getting up and getting on with it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but we have a go. Todd had a go…and it worked.”
Undaunted by the obstacles nature threw at him, Miller turned his dreams into reality. Australia is famous for its peoples being self-reliant and this stunning shipping container home is both a building of genuine architectural merit and a monument to what someone can do when necessity and determination combine to replace what was lost before. While he could have put his family up in a shack that was cheap to build, Miller had an eye for detail that celebrates the home as a container conversion but also looks very beautiful at the same time.
The home is built for extreme weather. The bottom floor has utility rooms and a large bathroom but is not designed for people to hang out in. Speaking in the video about his home, Miller points out that this is the coolest part of the house in hot weather.
The home doesn’t have air conditioning as even in hot weather it is designed to circulate cooler air around the spaces, and this manages to keep the place cool in summer while keeping energy demand down. While there are lots of large windows throughout the home, it has tinted ‘e-glass’ that reduces the amount of solar energy entering the home in summer. Another element that Miller used to reduce the impact of the fierce summer heat was special rubberised paint on the outside. This is designed to prevent a lot of solar radiation from penetrating the steel walls and turning the Cor Ten steel home into an oven in summer.
The first floor is a large, open plan living space. It remembers the floods that wrecked the home before on this floor too – while 25mm marine plywood forms the underfloor, the surface flooring is of hardwearing bamboo. In part for weather defence and also as a deliberate architectural feature the steel beams that cross the home are larger than would be required just to support the home.
The shipping container home is close to the centre of Graceville in QLD, and is in turn a short drive from Brisbane. While the occupants can enjoy living in the countryside they have access to the hustle and bustle of city life as they wish.
In October 2013 Miller put his home up for sale. You can see the video of him describing the home in detail in the video below:
Have your own shipping container grand design in mind?
Based in Brisbane, Queensland, Gateway Container Sales has been helping people with shipping container conversions for many years. Whether for storage purposes or for mansions, our team can help you turn your dream into reality. Contact us today and we will be happy to help! Get a free quote.