London homes: the luxury shipping container

Time Out takes a look at Londoners' creative solutions to dwelling in tight spaces, and finds an artist quite literally living in a box

  • London homes: the luxury shipping container

    Living in a box: the Docklands flats made from shipping containers

  • Glancing round artist Ian Robert Felton’s living room, it’s hard to believe this expansive light-flooded flat with floor-to-ceiling windows and views over the Thames started life on the back of a ship filled with imports from China. But Felton’s home received the ultimate makeover: two and a half shipping containers were transformed into a palatial, if compact, Docklands flat.

    First used in their modern day incarnation in 1955 by American shipping entrepreneur Malcolm McLean, shipping containers now move 90 per cent of the world’s commerce. Yet, despite being an essential component of modern life, they’re no friend to the environment. Since it’s deemed uneconomical to ship them empty back to source, the steel hulks are left defunct and are far from easy to recycle.

    Container City at Trinity Buoy Wharf, made up of three ‘blocks’ of accommodation and workspaces, neatly dispatches the two birds of recycling a waste product, and easing the affordable-housing shortage in one fell swoop. The first block of flats was built in the late 1990s when developer Eric Reynolds spotted their potential and enlisted Nicholas Lacey and Partners architects to sculpt their transformation. From the outside, the block looks like a super-sized stack of Lego bricks. Inside snug artists’ studios lead off from echoing corridors. It’s all pretty impressive for a complex that sprang up in just four days.

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    Felton enjoying his cargo home solution

    Felton’s flat in the Riverside Building has a distinctly more luxurious feel than the studios. Built in 2005, five storeys of containers are grouped around a central courtyard where wooden decking crosses a water feature that collects rainwater to be filtered and reused in the apartments' bathrooms. ABK Architects also kept the carbon footprint small by using the containers’ inherently strong corners to be load-bearing so that minimal concrete foundations were needed.

    Rather than accentuate the building’s utilitarian origins Felton’s tonal colour scheme inside the flat and his furniture’s sleek lines make the space feel more like a slick bachelor pad than a floating shed, complete with guitar arranged carefully in the corner of the living room and a magnificent view over the O2. The living room’s balcony looks out past an old steelworks, the bedroom is bigger than you’d find in most modern builds and has views over the outside walkways, while the bathroom is boutique-hotel smart. Not bad for a rent of £690 a month.

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    The view of the Thames and the O2

    The only drawback is high winds. ‘You can feel the building moving when it’s really blowing outside,’ he admits. ‘But actually the flexibility is part of the building’s strength.’ Still, it’s a small price to pay. ‘There’s no way I’d find anywhere else in London to live like this,’ he says. ‘When you’re inside it just feels like a great flat. Though sometimes it does seem bizarre to be living in a container watching barges with containers go past on the Thames.’

    We want to hear how you’ve transformed your capital cupboard. Email

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