The Essential Guide to Shipping Container Home Design

The Essential Guide to Shipping Container Home Design

By Duncan Nielsen
From preliminary guides, to lists of trusted companies, to exemplary floor plans, these resources will get you started on your own shipping container home.

As a building block, shipping containers are both durable and versatile—convert one into a tiny home or a backyard office, or stack and arrange them to create a bold residence like this film producer’s starburst-shaped retreat in the desert. In addition to saving on construction costs, upcycling an old container can be an eco-friendly alternative to building from the ground up. Start here to learn more about building your own shipping container home, from design inspiration to practical guides.

Guides to Building a Shipping Container Home

Before you embark on your build-out, take a look at the resources and inspiration below.

How to Buy a Shipping Container

While shopping for containers, owner Stacey Hill was instantly drawn to this one’s existing blue color and chose to buy it and leave it as is. Architect Jim Poteet added floor-to-ceiling sliding doors to allow light in, as well as a cantilevered overhang to shade a window on the left side, which houses a small garden storage area.

Atelier Riri devised creative ways to make living inside a shipping container in Indonesia’s tropical climate both comfortable and economical. The architects layered recycled pine, glass wool, and planter mesh on top of the home to help keep temperatures down.

Little Box on the Prairie is a 700-square-foot house made from two recycled shipping containers. It’s situated on 10-acres of rolling prairie, just north of Livingston Montana, and blends rustic coziness with clean, modern design. Many of the finishes, such as the redwood flooring and plywood wall panels, were salvaged off-site, recycled, and reused. The outside deck is perfect for chatting over morning coffee, enjoying an evening glass of wine, or gazing at the Absaroka Mountains while deer or antelope pass by. The house comfortably sleeps two, and a third can sleep on the sofa if needed.

Shipping Container Companies and Floor Plans   

There are a ton of companies with impressive, out-of-the-box designs, and most are customizable to fit your needs.

5 of Our Favorite Shipping Container Companies in North America

Anchored into a rock outcropping, Tomecek Studio's Container House in Nederland, Colorado is a 1,500-square-foot residence completed in 2010 that comprises two insulated shipping containers clad in fireproof plank siding. The dwelling is powered by rooftop photovoltaic panels, draws warmth from a pellet stove, and takes advantage of passive solar strategies to keep energy demands to a minimum.

The H4 is HONOMOBO’s most efficient shipping container home. At just over 700 square feet, the home has two bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a full kitchen, and one bathroom.

A prefabricated kit house, the Quik House by Adam Kalkin is designed from recycled shipping containers. Its 2,000-square-foot plan includes three bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths. The shell can be assembled in one day, and the entire home built in three months or less.

From Madrid, Spain, James & Mau is widely experienced in design and on-site building and permitting. They have a strong focus on modular industrialized architecture and construction, applying bioclimatic and sustainable concepts.

Made of two 40-foot-long shipping containers offset from one another, the Model 6 by IndieDwell offers 640 square feet of living space.

Best Examples of Shipping Container Homes

Draw inspiration from a diverse assortment of customized shipping container homes.

Dwell’s Top 10 Upcycled Shipping Containers of 2017

Nestled on a family farm, this South African shipping-container cabin is completely off the grid.
Located on owner Lucas Steyn’s family farm in Botrivier, a 90-minute drive from Capetown, Copia is an eco-retreat comprised of two shipping-container cabins in the South African countryside.

Two San Francisco art and travel addicts overhauled a loft—and customized a pair of shipping containers—to accommodate their collection and reflect their passions. The shipping containers were stacked, joined with steel tubes, and lashed to reinforced floor joints to make them earthquake-safe.

The open-concept Coromandel Bach is a container home that reinterprets the New Zealand building tradition of crafting wood. Located on the North Island’s Coromandel Peninsula, this container house captures the beautiful simplicity of living with nature. Natural timber provides a seamless connection to its surroundings. Designed by Crosson Clarke Carnachan Architects, this unique holiday home can be easily boxed up when not in use. A simple mechanism opens the deck upon arrival. The house has a simple rectangular open plan that extends the interior space to the outside and the ocean beyond.

Made of scraps taken from the containers’ sides, the roof creates a sense of openness from the inside and ushers in sunlight. Its slanted design creates a wind tower effect, providing natural ventilation that negates the need for air conditioning.

Shipping Containers in Commercial or Hospitality Projects 

Shipping container architecture isn’t just limited to residential—these hotels and storefronts bring the industrial aesthetic into the commercial and hospitality space. 

5 Public Buildings in South Korea Made Out of Shipping Containers

Eight shipping containers, shifted and cut along a 45-degree angle, are combined in a fishbone pattern to create a sculptural, arrow-shaped volume that’s raised almost 10 feet above ground. Designed by New York firm LOT-EK, the building serves as an art school near the Hakwoon park pedestrian walkway in Anyang, as well as a focal point and landmark structure for the city of Anyang.

These 20-foot shipping containers are repurposed into stunning luxurious hotel rooms.
Australia-based firm Contained specializes in transforming vessels that originally hauled heavy cargo all over the world into well-designed lodgings. The portable structures have the unique ability to travel almost anywhere. Each 20-foot container easily opens up, flips out, and unfolds into an individual hotel room that opens up to the surrounding landscape, wherever that may be.
As the story goes, Contained directors Anatoly Mezhov and Irene Polo envisioned these as ephemeral accommodations placed where there were no previous options. Born out of their love of traveling, the idea was to create a portable hotel room for short stays that can be set up anywhere.

Located at The Proxy in Hayes Valley, San Francisco, AETHERsf is a concept space constructed from three 40-foot shipping containers stacked on top of each other. In addition to a curated selection of design-focused outerwear, the space features a custom, glass-encased cantilevered lounge, reclaimed oak floors, and a belt-driven "dry cleaner"-style conveyor system.


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