Friday, 15 April 2011

Containing Ourselves

Why a shipping container?

 In our last house, a lovingly renovated 1910 villa, we had three bedrooms, a study, a huge bathroom, two living rooms, an expansive kitchen and a dining room. A large deck extended almost completely around the house, increasing our over-all living area whenever the weather was good, which was often.  We often joked that we could avoid each other all day by moving from room to room, while each of our three cats could have a bed all to themselves when they felt like it.  Two and a half acres of land, some of it planted in fruit trees and gardens meant that we all had equal chance of avoiding each other outside, too.

Three weeks ago we crammed ourselves, the cats, and as many essential belongings as we could fit into a forty foot long by eight feet wide shipping container, which could possibly be our home for the remainder of this year.
The villa had been sold to a lovely young family who were eager to move in, so finding a new home was a given.  Making a half hearted attempt to locate rental accommodation in Greytown only seemed to highlight the disadvantages of this solution.
Rose’s beloved rooster (Henry) and his harem would need to be relocated and housed on our new block of land, placing them 6 or 7 kilometres away.  As much as I was sure I would be able to pop in and feed them on my way to and from the railway station each day, we both knew it wouldn’t really work. For a start, it wasn’t actually on my way, requiring a detour of a couple of kilometres each way along a soon-to-be-dark gravel road.

Continuing with the animals theme, Rose also worried about introducing Ed, Juno and Monty to life in town, where they would have to contend with feline territorial disputes, dogs, constant traffic and any number of new hazards.  Living all of their lives (almost) in rural seclusion, they had been sheltered from the world and were probably supremely unprepared for suburban living.
Rose’s compassion for her animals, whether they be feathered, furred or scaled, is immeasurable, and it’s one of the reasons why I love her so much.
More pragmatically, renting a property in town was also expensive, putting a bigger drain on our already stretched budget than we were comfortable with.
The solution beginning to emerge from this sea of ‘rather-nots’ was to live on the land we now owned.  The cats and chickens would be happy, and so Rose would be happy and so – I’m sure you get the picture by now.  Rose was keen to take an active part in the project management of the build, so the advantages of being ‘on-site’ go without saying.

The next step then, was to organise temporary accommodation. Aspiring to emulate the poor, displaced building site gypsies seen miserably holding their lives and sanity together on various Grand Designs episodes, we investigated the availability of caravans.  I already had some familiarity with this, my parents having to resort to living in one for a few months when our family home was being finished, back in 1976.   As children, I think my sister and I found it fun, but I know it depressed my father to the extent that his health briefly deteriorated.  I’m certain he never imagined that decades later, Rose and I might actually choose to do the same thing. 

But first, we took what I was convinced would be a pointless detour. Rose insisted that we visit a company in Petone called Royal Wolf, who hire out modified shipping containers of all descriptions.  Searching on-line, she had discovered that they also convert them for use as temporary accommodation.  I was extremely sceptical, right up to the point when the owner opened up one of these metal behemoths for us to take a look inside.  Unsurprisingly, it was a big, empty space, but we immediately saw this as a virtue.  We could move our own furniture in there - our bed, a sofa, bookcase, dining table – and it could be very homely.  Four windows and two doors had been added, giving the container more the look of a metal cabin, with a kitchen unit at one end, two heat pumps, an array of ceiling lights and several phone sockets and power points running along one wall.  Appropriate fittings outside took a power cable from a generator, and a connection to a water supply.  And, it was only $130 per week to hire, considerably less than even the cheapest Greytown rental property.
To my surprise, we left feeling enthusiastic; our only resistance to taking the plunge was concern that it might be a step too far in the direction of weirdness.  Surely a caravan was a more practical solution, and we should explore that first?

After locating an available caravan for hire, it turned out to be the complete reverse of our Royal Wolf experience.  I arrived convinced this was the best, most sensible solution, and we left shortly afterwards still shuddering with horror. It took spending a few minutes in a grimy aluminium bubble, its 70’s dark-brown wooden panelling sticky with decades of nicotine, sweat and the misery of rainy family holidays, to convince us that we’d go mad in there within a week.

I’ll never know if Royal Wolf were surprised when Rose called them back to tell them that we’d love to hire one of their containers for several months.  It seems more likely that they had spotted us as people who often ‘step in the direction of weirdness’ a mile off, and knew we'd be back.

Just like home: The rare sight of Rose relaxing and the far more common one of Ed hogging the heater.


1 comment:

  1. Your shipping container home looks awesome! I'm actually planning to follow suit, and I'm checking out used shipping containers australia at that I can use to build my home. By the way, what did you use for insulation? Thanks!