Five Shipping Containers Are Woven Into This Home in Santa Barbara

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By Laura Mauk
There’s even a shipping container sitting in the kitchen.
Passersby seeing its parged gray plaster facade would have no clue that the second story of Bret and Dani Stone’s home is made mostly of shipping containers. A crane stacked the units on top of the concrete-and-steel superstructure in a single day in late 2016. Architects Clay Aurell and Josh Blumer, veterans of the medium, sourced the recycled boxes from cor10 Studios.

Passersby seeing its parged gray plaster facade would have no clue that the second story of Bret and Dani Stone’s home is made mostly of shipping containers. A crane stacked the units on top of the concrete-and-steel superstructure in a single day in late 2016. Architects Clay Aurell and Josh Blumer, veterans of the medium, sourced the recycled boxes from cor10 Studios.

The home that architects Clay Aurell and Josh Blumer, of AB Design Studio, devised for Bret and Dani Stone on a sloping site in the foothills of Santa Barbara, California, is nothing short of a triple-threat: It’s largely prefabricated; it incorporates recycled material; and it presents as an elegant display of modernism. 

On the other side of the entry gate, the containers’ raw corrugated shells are exposed and topped with a gravel-ballasted roof that juts past the envelope to limit solar gain. 

On the other side of the entry gate, the containers’ raw corrugated shells are exposed and topped with a gravel-ballasted roof that juts past the envelope to limit solar gain. 

Indeed, the house has an impressive list of attributes, but its most compelling element is the use of five shipping containers. "We’ve been designing with shipping containers for a very long time," Aurell says. "For us, it’s about going back to the modernist movement and identifying exactly what people need to be comfortable, without adding a bunch of square footage and fluff." It’s also about accomplishing that authenticity in the most environmentally efficient way possible. "Working with shipping containers is a huge opportunity in terms of sustainable building practices," Blumer says. "Any time you recycle, it’s one less group of trees chopped down or landscape altered." 

A 14 Series pendant by Omer Arbel for Bocci hangs in the stairwell. The desk at the window was designed by the architects. 

A 14 Series pendant by Omer Arbel for Bocci hangs in the stairwell. The desk at the window was designed by the architects. 

"From the street, the home looks like a pretty standard box-on-box design. But as you step through the gate, you become aware that there is something more to it." Josh Blumer, architect

The bedrooms and bathrooms are housed within the 40-by-8-foot boxes, separated by a skylit corridor. 

The bedrooms and bathrooms are housed within the 40-by-8-foot boxes, separated by a skylit corridor. 

Bret chose AB Design Studio for exactly that sensibility. As an environmental lawyer, he’s an ideal client for a shipping container home. "I wanted something that speaks to my principles," he says. "I don’t like wasting anything. I wanted to build something that was repurposed out of an otherwise useful product." 

Aurell and Blumer’s design began with the concept of using the containers to hold only the sleeping areas and baths for the couple and their two children. They placed four containers on top of a pavilion-like construction made of glass, steel, and concrete that they created as the lower level of the house. "They were craned in the way you’d crane in the modules of a traditional prefab," Aurell says. 

The site-built lower level, erected by Barber Builders, connects to the terrace via corner glass pocket doors.  

The site-built lower level, erected by Barber Builders, connects to the terrace via corner glass pocket doors.  

The first floor, which holds the kitchen, the dining area, and an expansive living room, is laid out in an open plan and features a fifth, 20-foot-long, container that was converted into a large pantry. For furnishings, interior designer Sarah McFadden gravitated toward rich textures and curved silhouettes. "The architecture is so linear and has mostly right angles, so it was important to bring in warmth," she says. The communal area ties to the landscape via glass walls, two of which slide open to join interior space to the pool terrace and the lush canyon beyond. 

For the open-plan first floor, interior designer Sarah McFadden paired a round Mexican olive wood table by Taracea with Nuvola chairs covered in ash gray leather. A half-sized container, painted in Smoke Embers by Benjamin Moore, serves as a pantry/scullery. 

For the open-plan first floor, interior designer Sarah McFadden paired a round Mexican olive wood table by Taracea with Nuvola chairs covered in ash gray leather. A half-sized container, painted in Smoke Embers by Benjamin Moore, serves as a pantry/scullery. 

"The big surprise that delights everybody is that there’s a shipping container literally just sitting in the corner when you come in, like a box that was left behind." Josh Blumer

The patio furniture is from CB2. 

The patio furniture is from CB2. 

While the south facade is open to the natural surroundings, the front containers are covered in gray plaster on the street side. "We oriented the house so it would be heated and cooled passively," Blumer says. "But the plaster also helps to insulate the metal from the intense heat of the western sun." Bret increased the home’s sustainability even more with rooftop solar panels.

Shop the Look
CB2 Ebb Armless Chair
CB2 Ebb Armless Chair
Neutral territory. Modular lounge by Amanda Ip of Slate Design ebbs and flows with the crowd, from small chaise to party sectional thanks to three a la carte components: armless chair, corner chair and ottoman.
CB2 Ebb Corner Chair
CB2 Ebb Corner Chair
Neutral territory. Modular lounge by Amanda Ip of Slate Design ebbs and flows with the crowd, from small chaise to party sectional thanks to three a la carte components: armless chair, corner chair and ottoman.
CB2 Ebb Outdoor Sectional
CB2 Ebb Outdoor Sectional
Neutral territory. Modular lounge by Amanda Ip of Slate Design ebbs and flows with the crowd as a party sectional of three components: armless chair, corner chair and ottoman.
Working with Ashley & Vance Engineering, AB Design Studio realized the 2,435-square-foot house in 19 months. Huge expanses of glass from Western Window Systems face the native terrain, overseen by Green Landscapes. Windows throughout are strategically placed to ventilate the home passively. "I’m not a fan of having the windows closed and the AC on," says Bret. 

Working with Ashley & Vance Engineering, AB Design Studio realized the 2,435-square-foot house in 19 months. Huge expanses of glass from Western Window Systems face the native terrain, overseen by Green Landscapes. Windows throughout are strategically placed to ventilate the home passively. "I’m not a fan of having the windows closed and the AC on," says Bret. 

The Stones’ residence has a grand quality, but it’s less than 2,500 square feet. "We scaled this house down from what the clients originally wanted," Aurell says. "Once we did, we were able to figure out how to integrate the containers into a modernist design. That was a goal, for the containers to be part of the experience and not just covered up."  

Five Shipping Containers Are Woven Into This Home in Santa Barbara - Photo 9 of 9 -


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