A couple solved their home-office quandary by plunking a shipping container in their backyard
Kirsten Clayton, a real estate agent, and her husband Joel, a sales manager, both work from home. Until recently, things were a little cramped: Kirsten had been using a room in their 2,200-square-foot Junction home as an office, while Joel’s work had taken over the master bedroom. “When our three kids are home, it can be hard to have conference calls,” Kirsten said. “He needed a proper office and we both needed the bedroom back.”
In situations like these, it’s not uncommon for Torontonians to look beyond the walls of their homes for solutions. Those with backyards will sometimes convert a shed into a minuscule workspace. The Claytons ended up with something a little more unorthodox: a 13-foot steel shipping container with a complete home office inside.
The office is the work of Giant Container Services, a company that specializes in making residential, commercial and industrial enclosures out of standard shipping containers—the same type of rectangular steel bins used worldwide to carry freight by land and sea.
Giant supplies the containers, and also provides some engineering help to anyone who wants to customize one. Shipping container construction can be done at a lower cost than conventional construction, because the containers are mass-produced and easy to get secondhand from freight companies. “The container is structurally sound and watertight before you do any modifications, which saves the majority of the costs and time involved in erecting something from scratch,” says Melissa Davis, Giant’s chief designer.
The shipping container wasn’t entirely Kirsten and Joel’s idea. After deciding they needed the spare office space, they applied to be on an HGTV series called Backyard Builds. The show’s producers settled on the idea of a shipping-container exoskeleton. (The show helped pay for construction.) Davis, the designer, drew up blueprints, and Giant submitted drawings for city approvals.
In general, Toronto prohibits homeowners from erecting out-buildings with more than 120 square feet of floor area, so the design had to be compact. The builders welded concrete pillars into all four corners, to prevent shifting and movement. An entire side of the container was cut away and replaced with glass, to provide a seamless connection with an adjacent sun deck. The floor looks like wood, but is actually vinyl tile, used for its moisture resistance. The container is connected to the main house’s electrical supply.
The entire container installation, from start to finish, took two weeks. After it was completed in September, Joel started using the tiny space as his primary office. He’s even able to hold small meetings inside. Kirsten is ecstatic that his stacks of paper are gone from the bedroom.
Giant, for its part, hopes one day to build entire houses out of shipping containers in Toronto, but navigating the building code and convincing would-be homeowners has proven difficult. For the time being, the company is contenting itself with pool houses.
The Claytons’ new backyard office has just barely enough room for a couch:
An L-shaped desk fits snugly in the other corner:
Joel and Kirsten Clayton:
This post originally said, incorrectly, that HGTV did not contribute financially to the construction of the Claytons' backyard office space. In fact, the channel did cover part of the expense.