How a BC couple turned a shipping container into their dream home –

“You don’t have that feeling of narrowness. I leave my house, I walk 100 feet and I am climbing a mountain.

In 2016, Cathi Marshall and her husband, Trevor, spotted a squat, compact shipping container in the parking lot of a Kelowna strip mall, where it was set up as a model home. Cathi, a singer-songwriter, and Trevor, a machine operator, are fond of mid-century modern architecture and big fans of Frank Lloyd Wright. They adored the modern, minimalist shipping container house, made 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 had just been empty nesters and were looking to downsize their 2,400-square-foot home in the Batchelor Heights neighborhood of Kamloops. 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 rural piece of land in Kamloops from her father when he died in 2015, right next to the house where her mother lived and a lot above her brother’s. She decided that the shipping container house, with its giant windows, would bring her closer to family and give her incredible views of the South Thompson River.

Giant windows wrap around the house.

The Marshalls purchased a Honomobo shipping container home in 2017. Downsizing the Kelowna home was easy. “It felt pretty cathartic,” Cathi says. Her sons had taken most of the family’s sports equipment, as well as the living room furniture, with them when they moved. The clothes, shoes and the rest of the furniture went to Goodwill.

Before their new home arrived, the only prep work the Marshalls had to do was pour 1,250 square feet of concrete to build a balsa slab foundation on which the shipping containers would rest. Less than four months after the purchase was finalized, four trucks carrying containers arrived at the property. “The trucks arrived at 10 am and by 5 pm the house was armed,” says Cathi.

Over the next seven days, two Honomobo employees added a second coat of paint and finished the drywall and flooring in the joints. About a week later, the house was ready to move into. “Something I enjoyed about the process of building a shipping 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 houses she loves in Palm Springs.

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

The house is divided into two sections, joined by a corridor in the middle. The Marshalls live in the main Honomobo shipping container; on the other side of the hall, they built a 396-square-foot wood-frame studio garage, which doubles as a separate apartment and is available to rent on Airbnb. Electricity for the home is standard wired, but water comes from a 1,000 gallon cistern, located in a water shed 250 feet up the hill. The house relies on passive solar energy for most of its heating needs. The winter months are typically cold unless the sun is shining directly on your home, but the black box gets hot in the summer, requiring an above-average level of air conditioning.

While the entire home is only 704 square feet, its expansive windows offer sweeping views of the river and Shuswap Highland. “You don’t have that tight feeling,” says Cathi. “I leave my house, I walk 100 feet and I’m climbing a mountain.”

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

The region has a desert quality, and tangled sagebrush plants dot the landscape. When Cathi previously lived in the area with her parents, she did not appreciate coyotes howling at night or rattlesnakes. Now she loves the local wildlife. Bighorn sheep, deer and even bears often roam 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 outdoor adventures together, like canoeing down the river, swimming to the sandbar, or hiking in the mountains. During the months without wildfires, they fire up their outdoor wood-burning oven and dine on homemade pizza margherita with a glass of wine prepared by Sagewood Winery, their next-door neighbors.

(Photograph of Marshall by Emily-May Olson)

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

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