An Off-Grid Shipping Container Home Perches at the Foothills of the Victorian Alps

Melbourne designer Robbie Walker reconfigures two containers with plywood paneling, a hydraulic deck, and steel screens to create a rugged, all-weather escape.

When Melbourne designer Robbie Walker bought a plot of land in the small town of Mansfield at the foothills of the Victorian Alps, he wanted to be able to make use of the land as a spot for family holidays as quickly as possible. Just months after purchasing the steep, rocky site, he had utilized two 20-foot shipping containers to create this tiny off-grid cabin.

"My kids love it," says Robbie. "They think it’s so fun." The site, being steep and rocky, was no good for farming, but its ruggedness provides a sense of adventure. "It still has a long ways to go," Robbie adds.

While recent decades have seen shipping containers upcycled as pop-up retail spaces and family homes, the use of them here was a logical contextual choice. "I used the containers so that from afar the cabin would look like all the other containers farmers have on neighboring blocks," reveals Robbie. It also meant the containers could be easily relocated in the future if needed.

The two 20-foot shipping containers have been configured to create a 30-square-foot cabin. In one container is a living room with a fold-down deck, a kitchen and living area with a fold-out table and a fold-out guest bed, and a bathroom.

In the other container is a bedroom with a fold-down double bed and triple bunk, both of which use clever self-inflating foam mattresses. The bedroom container also features a bathroom and a kitchen sink, so that the two containers can be separated without defeating their purposes.

A large hydraulic deck connects the two containers and extends the usable space outside. With a large fireplace, the space can be utilized even in cold weather. "The biggest expense was the deck, but I had help from my uncle Stu, who is a hydraulics engineer," says Robbie. "I also saved money by doing a lot of the construction work myself with help from family and friends."

The containers are coated with a heavy-duty paint on the outside and simply clad with plywood on the interior, giving them an industrial edge that references the materials used in standard shipping containers. The plywood in the bathrooms has been coated with an epoxy resin that is usually used to seal timber boats. "I just tried to keep it honest," Robbie says. "I wanted them to still look like containers."

As the cabin is off-grid, it was essential that services were built in. Both containers have water bladders on the roof that can hold 1,000 litres of rainwater, solar panels with batteries to generate and store power, and steel screens to shade the glazed areas.

"The containers are insulated and protected from the elements but they need to be operated to stay comfortable," says Robbie. "It’s similar to the way a sailor must operate a yacht—you need to open a window to catch a breeze, and close down at the right time to avoid the bugs. But that’s part of the fun. It brings you closer to the elements and nature in this beautiful part of the world."

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