Real Estate

How a B.C. couple turned a shipping container into their dream home

“You don’t get that cramped-in feeling. I step out of my house, walk 100 feet, and I’m climbing a mountain.”
Isabel B. Slone 

In 2016, Cathi Marshall and her husband, Trevor, saw a squat, compact shipping container in the parking lot of a Kelowna shopping mall, where it was set up as a model home. Cathi, a singer-songwriter, and Trevor, a machine operator, are both mid-century-modern architecture buffs and huge fans of Frank Lloyd Wright. They adored the modern and minimal shipping-container home, manufactured by Edmonton-based Honomobo. “I loved the sleek, simple design,” she says. “It’s just a rectangle with huge windows.” 

At the time, the couple were recent empty-nesters looking to downsize from their 2,400-square-foot home in Kamloops’s Batchelor Heights neighbourhood. The house, with its three bathrooms and five bedrooms, seemed like a waste of space for just the two of them. Meanwhile, Cathi had inherited a small piece of rural land in Kamloops from her father when he died in 2015, right next to the house where her mother lived and one lot over from her brother. She decided the shipping-container house, with its giant windows, would bring her closer to family and provide amazing views of the South Thompson River. 

Giant windows wrap around the home.

The Marshalls bought a shipping-container home from Honomobo in 2017. Downsizing from the Kelowna house was easy. “It felt rather cathartic,” says Cathi. Her sons had taken most of the family sports equipment, as well as the living room furniture, when they moved out. Clothing, shoes and the rest of the furniture went to Goodwill. 

Before their new home arrived, the only prep work the Marshalls needed to do was to pour 1250 square feet of concrete to build a raft slab foundation for the containers to rest on. Less than four months after the purchase was finalized, four trucks carrying shipping containers rolled up to the property. “The trucks showed up at 10 a.m., and by 5 p.m., the house was assembled,” Cathi says. 

Over the next seven days, two employees from Honomobo added a second coat of paint and finished the drywall and flooring on the seams. Around a week later, the house was move-in ready. “One thing I enjoyed about the process of building a container home is that you have limited options,” she says. “It eliminated a lot of unnecessary anxiety.” The final product—which Cathi affectionately calls her “black box”—is reminiscent of the retro-yet-futuristic homes she adores in Palm Springs.

With both sons out of the house, the Marshalls were looking for a change.

The house is divided into two sections, joined by a breezeway in the middle. The Marshalls live in the main Honomobo shipping container; on the other side of the breezeway, they built a 396-square-foot wood-frame studio garage, which functions as a separate apartment and is available to rent on Airbnb. The electricity for the home is standard wiring, but the water comes from a 1,000-gallon cistern, located in a water shed 76 metres uphill. The house relies on passive solar energy for most of its heating needs. The winter months are usually chilly unless the sun shines directly on their home, but the black box heats up in the summer, requiring a higher-than-average level of air conditioning. 

While the entire home is only 704 square feet, its expansive windows offer panoramic views of the river and the Shuswap Highland. “You don’t get that cramped-in feeling,” Cathi says. “I step out of my house, walk 100 feet, and I’m climbing a mountain.”

Cathi spends time with her family outdoors, hiking mountains and exploring the terrain.

The region has a desert-like quality, and tangled sagebrush plants dot the landscape. When Cathi previously lived in the area with her parents, she didn’t appreciate the howls of coyotes at night or the rattlesnakes. Now she loves the local wildlife. Bighorn sheep, deer and even bears often wander onto the property. 

Even better than the proximity to nature is that of Cathi’s family. The Marshalls and Cathi’s mother and brother go on outdoorsy adventures together, including canoeing in the river, swimming out to the sandbar or hiking in the mountains. During non-wildfire months, they light up their outdoor wood oven and dine on homemade margherita pizza with a glass of wine made by Sagewood Winery, their next-door neighbours.

(Photograph of Marshall by Emily-May Olson)

This article appears in print in the December 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Buy the issue for $8.99 or better yet, subscribe to the monthly print magazine for just $39.99.