Recently, we were asked to stage a home that was made from a repurposed, steel shipping container for the Housing and Urban Development Innovative Housing Showcase in Washington D.C.’s National Mall.
It was going to be a challenge to make this 900 sq. ft. home functional and homey for a family of four, but we jumped at the chance—not only because we love a challenge, but also because there’s a big, important cause behind this home.
IndieDwell, the company who built it, has a mission to make affordable housing units much more functional, beautiful, and healthier for the families that live there. Currently, most affordable housing for low-income families is filled with problems like poor energy efficiency, mold growth, and the presence of lead. IndieDwell’s homes are built to be energy efficient, which means they stay cooler in summer and warmer in winter, and they come with significantly lower energy bills. They’re also clean, modern, and surprisingly roomy for multiple people, finally giving many families that feeling of a real home without the cost.
The HUD Showcase was an opportunity for IndieDwell to get this cause and their homes in front lawmakers and national media. So the pressure was on to stage this home quickly and beautifully—so that everyone could see just how stunning these low-cost, IndieDwell container homes could really be.
You can tour the final design and home here.
Here’s how we staged this unconventional home:
We made it functional for families of four by balancing separate spaces with open concepts
Since these homes are made for families, it was important that each room feel like a private retreat for different family members. At the same time, we also wanted the heart of the home to feel as big as possible, which meant not cordoning off spaces with bulky furniture.
By ensuring that all the furniture in the shared spaces was pushed against the walls and angled toward a central, open space, we created a living room/kitchen/dining area that you were able to freely move around in without feeling cramped.
On the other hand, we gave each room its own specific function—like a nursery, master bedroom, or sitting area—so that there was plenty of privacy for families.
We used light-toned home decor and neutral color to make small spaces feel bigger
We’ve previously written about how to make your small space feel bigger and more functional just by using sneaky home decor tricks. And using those tips for this home was especially important since at least four people would be sharing 900 sq. ft!
The key design choices we made were to keep colors neutral for the furniture and accessories while incorporating natural textures like leather, wood, and real plants. This way, the space could flow without visual interruption (seeming bigger), but it won’t ever feel sterile or boring.
We made this home appeal to everyone with contemporary and warm home decor
The biggest challenge with staging a home is to choose decor and furniture that feels perfect for each unique space, is modern and updated, and yet appeals to most people. You want the home to feel lived in and inviting while still coming across as something of a blank canvas for potential buyers to see themselves making their own.
This shipping container added another challenge: How do you make a home that initially seems “temporary” really feel like a permanent home?
To give this home a permanent look, we chose beautiful artwork for each room and sturdy furniture. Artwork doesn’t take up any additional space or darken a small room, but it does add those punches of personality that make a room seem less empty. Meanwhile, sturdy furniture like a cozy headboard can add some weight to a room.
We overcame the narrowness of the home by creating “moments” through home decor
A significant challenge of shipping container homes is that shipping containers are much narrower than traditional homes. So, we had to get creative to make sure that walking through this home didn’t feel like you were running the length of a shipping container.
One of the ways we overcame the narrowness was by finding places to create moments through design, breaking up the length without taking up precious space. For example, we added a charming, mid-century modern-inspired sideboard and eye-catching piece of art at one end of the long living space.
Ultimately, this project was a joy to design! We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to contribute to the success of IndieDwell’s amazing mission for better, healthier affordable housing options. Even though we didn’t get to see the home before we designed it, the end result was better than we could have hoped for.
IndieDwell and their shipping container home picked up a lot of national media coverage, including an interview with the Housing and Urban Development secretary himself—inside the home!