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Handcrafted shipping container home asks $125K

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The architect reveals how he built it

A shipping container home in Livingston, Montana at dusk.
A shipping container home in Livingston, Montana at dusk.
Photo by Windy Haus/@windy_haus

Like living in an adventure van—or dare we say, the tiny home craze—moving into a recycled shipping container house can have great appeal to some. Shipping containers can be a cheaper, paired-down, and more eco-friendly alternative to traditional homes. But while gorgeous shipping container homes (and pools!) often make the rounds on social media feeds, it’s not often that you see them in real estate listings.

In November, a 720-square-foot one bedroom, one-bath house in Livingston, Montana went on the market for a $125,000. Designed and built by architect and artist Ty Kelly—the former partner and co-owner of Spore Architecture in Seattle—the house is made from two shipping containers welded together. Far from looking like large containers that have traveled the world, the result is a sleek, light-filled abode that takes advantage of Montana’s gorgeous views.

Thanks to its design or maybe because of the novelty, Kelly’s shipping container home is already under contract with a closing date later this month. We spoke with Kelly about his design process and the realities of building a home made primarily out of recycled materials.

The living room features a wall made of plywood sourced from a soon-to-be-demolished office space. The opposite wall is all glass and a wood-burning stove sits in the corner.
Photo by Windy Haus/@windy_haus

A few years ago, Kelly liked the idea of using recycled shipping containers as an “envelope,” especially because the containers were a “square, true object to work from.” The project took about a year to build as Kelly traveled back and forth between Seattle and Livingston, but throughout the process the architect was inspired by the wide open spaces of Montana.

“There was nothing around, the property was made for a view,” he explains. “I always liked the idea that an object had landed on the landscape, so I wanted to create an all glass wall that faced the mountains.” After acquiring two recycled shipping containers from a company just south of Seattle, Kelly set to work on making the space livable.

Glass and wood are the dominant materials, and Kelly found plenty of other recycled material to work with. A large wood-paneled bookshelf along the back wall is made from plywood that was salvaged from an office building about to be demolished. Kelly used leftover two-by-two lumber for the butcher block and counters, and the floors are reclaimed wood as well. And unlike many shipping container homes that can feel slightly cold due to all the metal and glass, Kelly continued the natural, warm elements by incorporating cedar plank siding on the home’s exterior.

A minimalist kitchen opens up both to the living room and the outside deck.
Photo by Windy Haus/@windy_haus

Another wall of the house is lined with glass to take advantage of the property’s stunning views, and the house continues the outdoorsy feel with a wood burning stove and an outdoor shower. The bedroom, while small, has enough room for a desk and looks out onto the same glass wall from the living room.

All the typical amenities are also here—like a bathroom, stove top, dishwasher, and washer and dryer—but it’s really the thoughtful blending of materials and simple design that lets the house shine. This is a shipping container transformed into a home.

Kelly’s realtor, Tom Gierhan of ERA Landmark Real Estate in Livingston, noted that the shipping container home has sparked significant interest while on the market. It’s also mobile; after closing on the unit, the new owners will be moving the shipping container house to another spot in Montana.

For Kelly, his first time using shipping containers to construct a house went smoother than he expected. He sees recycled containers as intriguing “building blocks” and is planning on designing and building another home for himself.

But the dreams don’t stop there; Kelly is also imagining how else he might use shipping containers, whether as vacation homes, residential units for potential clients, or even homeless shelters.

The surprisingly spacious bathroom.
Photo by Windy Haus/@windy_haus
About a year after Kelly completed the shipping container home, he added an outdoor shower to rinse off after outdoor adventures.
Photo by Windy Haus/@windy_haus
The bedroom makes room for a small workstation and desk.
Photo by Jessie Sarrazin
The view from the shipping container house.
Photo by Jessie Sarrazin

Watch: How London is using shipping containers to house the homeless