As the millennial generation grows up and moves out, we’ve seen lots of interesting new housing trends hit the market. From tiny houses to co-living spaces, the newest generation of adults has flipped many traditional ideas about housing upside-down — though thus far, actual upside-down houses have thankfully remained a tourist-trap novelty.
Now, the latest development in alternative housing has hit the scene: houses and apartments made from shipping containers. To anyone who’s used to seeing shipping containers filled with bulk goods, this idea might seem, shall we say, quirky. But dig a little deeper, and you might start to understand the unique set of advantages these dwellings offer their tenants.
Container Homes: A Quick History
Long before container homes became trendy, people all over the world were repurposing shipping containers as residential and commercial space. The Seventh-Kilometer Market in Odessa, Ukraine is an enormous outdoor market formed entirely from stacked containers, and a London firm created a residential development called Container City I all the way back in 2001. But until the mid- to late-2000’s, container homes remained under the radar of the mainstream housing industry.
The trend started taking off in 2007 when architect Peter DeMaria created his famous Redondo Beach House from eight shipping containers. Soon after, a company called Logical Homes began constructing residential projects based on DeMaria’s designs. They debuted their small-but-luxurious Aegean model at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show as part of another exhibit, causing a surge of interest among the tech intelligentsia.
A few years after the first American container home developments started construction, the “tiny home” trend burst into the social media spotlight, as millennials ventured cautiously into the housing market. Gradually, the housing industry came to understand what many of these new home buyers wanted: convenience, customization, simplicity and eco-friendliness. Container housing was one idea that checked all the right boxes — so a new housing trend was born.
Three Takes on the Container Home and Why They’re Popular
Once you get past the unfamiliarity of building a home from shipping containers, it becomes clear that they offer a variety of great ways for renters and homeowners to live in a space that suits their needs. In just the past few years, endless re-imaginings of the container home have sprung up in the global housing market. Each one says something slightly different about why people find these homes comfortable, attractive and budget-friendly.
Luxury Lite: Washington, D.C.
The Washington, D.C., area is known as one of America’s priciest housing markets. Thus, it should be no surprise that it was one of the first American metros to see shipping container apartments. What is surprising is how downright swanky they turned out to be. Features include a heated stairwell, balconies, hardwood floors and stainless-steel appliances. Not quite what you’d expect from repurposed industrial materials!
The building does have one more twist that older generations might balk at: It’s not technically apartments, but rather a large shared space, something like a dormitory. Renters share a kitchen and living room area, but at just a little over $1,000 per month for each unit, it’s a steal compared to many comparable dwellings in the D.C. metro. Compromise is increasingly the key word for millennial-focused housing. Developers are making it possible for millennials to get the amenities they expect in the locations they want — it just takes a few trade-offs.
Industrial Charm: Johannesburg, South Africa
The industrial chic trend that’s been all over housing, retail and restaurant spaces in the past decade may have reached its apex with this Johannesburg apartment building designed by architecture firm LOT-EK. Unlike some of the other buildings on this list, this one makes no attempt to hide the upcycled containers it’s created from. Rather, it embraces their look and remixes it into a trendy bohemian high-rise.
The slanted windows, metal walkways and open-plan unit designs all give the building an unmistakably contemporary feel. However, many of the apartments’ features have cross-generational appeal: abundant light, a clean and sharp sense of atmosphere, wide porches, walkways and courtyards that encourage a sense of community.
The raw and somewhat stark look of industrial chic is, in some ways, a nod to the idea of creating a living space that feels intentional — something that’s big among millennials looking for a feeling of ownership and belonging. It may not fit everyone’s traditional idea of home, but the people who live here have chosen to make it theirs. For many millennials, that’s what counts the most.
Your House, Delivered: The All-in-One Container House
Thanks to Wisconsin-based MODs International, you can become a homeowner for just $36,000 — and you can get it delivered! Their all-in-one prefab container house is available for delivery from Amazon — sorry, no free Prime shipping on this one — and includes everything you need straight out of the bubble wrap. At 320 square feet, it’s certainly small, but its size is on par with many of the tiny houses popular on social media.
This house is, shall we say, spartan. You’ll have to make do with a kitchenette, and the house certainly doesn’t have the charm of the other two models we’ve talked about. But in exchange, millennials — a generation that has struggled to enter the traditional housing market — get a house they can actually afford to buy.
With no monthly mortgage and a house that can literally be picked up and dropped somewhere else, the MODs container house offers the peculiar combination of security and freedom that millennials often crave. And like almost anything else in our time, you can buy it on Amazon.
Shipping container housing is a brave new world, and these examples represent just a handful of what’s out there. As long as millennials and the generations after them continue to make new demands of the housing market, shipping and storage containers will be just one of the materials repurposed to fill in the gaps.