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Real Estate

Laneway Suite of the Week: A fully furnished shipping container in Caledonia-Fairbank

Architect Ben Gaum designed his 400-square-foot backyard home to be green, durable, affordable and stylish

Laneway Suite of the Week: A fully furnished shipping container in Caledonia-Fairbank

Who: Ben Gaum, 48, architect and principal at Project Studio Architects Neighbourhood: Caledonia-Fairbank


The history

In 2014, architect Ben Gaum and his partner, Marni, bought a two-storey detached house in Caledonia-Fairbank for $550,000, renting out the basement to supplement their income. Their two kids were young at the time, but by 2018, they required more space.

By then, city hall was on the verge of allowing the construction of laneway houses to help alleviate Toronto’s housing crisis. For Ben, a laneway home made a lot of sense—more space for his growing children and a potential future Airbnb or office after the kids grew up. It would also allow their tenant to remain in the basement unit. With a budget of roughly $350,000, Ben began planning his laneway addition.

He soon realized that wood-frame designs would be too costly for the 400-square-foot pad he envisioned. Then he discovered an alternative that would cut labour and material costs and construction time: shipping containers. In early 2021, Ben submitted his design to the city for approval, and a hearing was set for the following September. It went flawlessly, with committee members praising the elegant design. After a few pandemic-fuelled delays, the project was completed in late 2022.

It was so successful that Ben has already added laneway design as a product for his firm. He expects future builds to take around four months. 

The build

The 20-by-20 suite has a full kitchen, a three-piece bathroom, and a shared living and sleeping area flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows. The floors are vinyl for easy cleaning, the furniture is modular, and there’s a Murphy bed to save space. There’s also room in the back—literally outside the box—to add an east-facing balcony.

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The tour

Ben and his team fixed the shipping container atop a structurally reinforced concrete-block garage.

Toronto Life, Real Estate, Laneway Suite of the Week, Boon Avenue, exterior

A prefab metal staircase and catwalk leads to the front entrance.

This Toronto laneway suite is made out of a shipping container.

Here’s another look at those stairs, with a welded powder-coat finish and inlay panels.

This Toronto laneway suite is made out of a shipping container.

The catwalk points south, toward St. Clair. The downtown skyline is just over the horizon.

This Toronto laneway suite is made out of a shipping container.

The front door opens to this foyer-kitchen combo, with another window carved out on the right for light. 

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This Toronto laneway suite is made out of a shipping container.

The kitchen features white cabinets, a stone-composite counter and backsplash, an AEG oven, a vintage Galanz fridge, a butcher block insert, and valance lighting. Its two electric cooktop units are currently stored away.

This Toronto laneway suite is made out of a shipping container.

Here’s a view of the living area from the back of the home.

This Toronto laneway suite is made out of a shipping container.

And here’s what it looks like with the Murphy bed down. That’s the bathroom behind the fridge.

This Toronto laneway suite is made out of a shipping container.

The reverse view reveals floor-to-ceiling windows, an electrical HVAC unit and a big-screen TV swivel-mounted atop shelves that collapse into a dining table.

This Toronto laneway suite is made out of a shipping container.

The bathroom has a sliding-door glass shower, a toilet with a bidet and a 32-inch vanity.

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Toronto Life, Real Estate, Laneway Suite of the Week, Boon Avenue: bathroom

Ben commissioned a mural of the skyline for inspiration. 

This Toronto laneway suite is made out of a shipping container.

In the back is the LED lighting system rigged into welded metal fins, which are strong enough to support a balcony. Ben says glass railings are on the way. 

This Toronto laneway suite is made out of a shipping container.

Are you living the laneway suite life? Send your story to realestate@torontolife.com.  

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