Randy Bens’ Backyard Gem
HOW ONE SMALL FIRM HAS TURNED A SHIPPING CONTAINER INTO AN ENVIABLE MICRO-OFFICE
A boutique firm in B.C. sets up shop in a shipping container
Since 2005, Randy Bens has run his residential architecture firm out of his home in New Westminster, B.C. The no-commuting arrangement has afforded him an idyllic work-life balance. But Bens also found he needed a more professional space when meeting with clients, contractors and suppliers. Rather than expand the house, he decided to convert a shipping container into a backyard office.
“We initially considered renovating the basement,” Bens says, “but it proved to be too expensive.” The state of the house’s foundation, which dates back to 1936, made the backyard a more appealing option. Over a six-month period, Bens had a concrete base poured and the container dropped on top. To convert the industrial shell into an inviting work environment, he sliced 3.7 metres off one end of the 8.5-metre-long volume, replacing the opening with a triple-glazed window that faces onto the lawn, the back of the house and the street beyond. Clad in vertical yellow cedar strips – the same wood that was used for the window frames and doors – the 29.9-square-metre office shows few signs of its industrial framework. Birch panelling lines the interior walls, and Douglas Fir was used for the bevel-edged desktop – a self-supporting 5.8-metre-long glulam beam turned on its side. “I designed the desk to comfortably seat three people, each with a full set of drawings on their left,” Bens says. For insulation, he used spray foam on all sides, while a small air conditioner provides added circulation in the summer. There are many examples of clever small-space solutions in the new space, including an all-in-one sink and toilet by Caroma, and cabinetry above the desk to remove the need for rolling filing boxes, which tend to hog floor space. Bens is now fielding calls from potential clients considering a similar small-space arrangement, though it’s not as inexpensive as people think, he says. “The container is cheap, but the rest is custom.” The entire project came to $200,000. Still, the office is a great calling card, and flexible enough to be used as a residential suite in the future.
Cabinetry above the wall-facing desk provides storage space in lieu of rolling filing cabinets. A meeting desk is used for visiting clients and contractors. The kitchen contains a sink, bar fridge and microwave. City zoning allows for only two plumbing...