The container cottage: from shipping container to cabin

Cottages built with shipping containers are popping up in the woods of Quebec. If some choose this building material for its style, others see its potential to create retreat spaces nestled in nature that are both compact and totally functional.

Here's an overview of this type of reinvented habitat, from its debut to its implementation in Quebec.


Reincarnated containers: from China to the Netherlands

Used shipping containers have had many different second lives over the years. While construction sites have turned them into offices, events have used them as temporary facilities and the most creative spirits have seen the potential to build houses with them.

Homes built with shipping containers first appeared in China in the 90s. But it was only in the early 2000s that the concept really caught on. Among the most well-known projects is Container City, a modular system in Great Britain that has since spearheaded a slew of innovative projects. Their accomplishments include temporary television studios, classrooms, community centres, artists' studios and the list goes on.

Another remarkable project is Amsterdam's container city, which is the largest container development in the world. Keetwonen is actually a small neighborhood of university residences and dormitories housing about 1,000 students.

The advantages of this type of construction

Container cottages are different mainly because of their architectural innovation. Since they are small, each square metre is highly designed to maximize the ergonomic use of space.

Containers homes are also known for their solidity, thanks to their steel structure. With a nearly endless lifecycle, steel is a sustainable choice of material and, due to its solidity, container structures can resist stormy weather, flooding and termites. Not a bad start for a cabin in the woods!

Containers can also be arranged in endless ways (cantilevered, for example), giving these structures a truly unique look. Already designed for stacking, working with shipping containers is a giant game of Tetris. Pile them up as you like for a one-of-a-kind result!

Adding doors and windows to the structure is easy. No one would want to live directly in a container, obviously. Adding skylights is the owner's choice.


Transforming a shipping container into a cottage may seem like a low-cost option. However, don't forget that your structure has to be insulated! Since steel is a thermic conductor and Quebec's climate varies greatly with the season, container constructions have to be thoroughly insulated. Although insulation (urethane, for example) has a high level of performance, adequately insulating your container can raise construction costs significantly.

Container cottages in Quebec

In Quebec, the first home made with an old shipping container was built by architect Pierre Morency. He assembled three shipping containers to build the family cottage. His design garnered him the Marcel-Parizeau Prize of Excellence from the Ordre des architectes du Québec.

Source: Pierre Morency Architecte

Behind this cottage is an inspired idea. One of Morency's sons asked for a spaceship, while the other wanted a treehouse. The project came out of a combination of these two dreams and culminated in building a get-away in the woods that is both functional and beautiful.

Architects must design for the building site, which is why no trees were cut for Morency's "spaceship in the woods." Although he compromised having a longer view, the immediate one into the trees is breathtaking.

With the shipping-container-turned-home trend is picking up speed, several suppliers now use steel structures. For example, Québec-City-based Loki Homes creates, manufactures and delivers custom homes built with containers. Among the company's recent accomplishments is the Projet Massif du Sud. This dream retirement location in the woods perfectly exemplifies the harmony that can be created between nature and container home.

Mirabel-based Collections Dubreuil has also drawn inspiration from steel structure containers to offer design and eco-friendly constructions. Collaborating with clients, these specialists deliver one-of-a-kind homes, personalized to reflect each owner.

Among container cottage suppliers, Maelström Immobilier also comes to mind. This company offers wooded lots in a private domain on Mont-Tourbillon. Last but not least comes Thinking Habitat, offering avant-garde eco-friendly constructions.

Source: Thinking Habitat

The only thing limiting what can be built with recuperated steel shipping containers is creativity. What a special touch for a cottage in the woods!


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