A 480-Square-Foot Backyard Shipping Container House Nails Small Space Style
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This house made from shipping containers is not Jen West and James Martin’s actual home… but it is a big part of how they’re able to have the home they do live in. When the filmmakers first moved to Atlanta’s Reynoldstown neighborhood seven years ago, the vibe was much different in terms of walkability, as well as commercialized establishments and restaurants. The couple found themselves in a neighborhood rapidly changing before their eyes, and as two people in creative fields looking for more opportunities, this container home, which they named the Gimlet, was a perfect solution. It gives Jen and James another reason to love the property they call home, and also allows them to host other artists to experience Atlanta.
Though it’s not where the couple themselves sleeps every night, it’s used often by them; Jen is an intuitive tarot reader, and one of the rooms serves as a lovely space for that. Adorable in style, the tiny 480-square-foot house is also full of small-space lessons anyone could use for their size-challenged home, from a DIY Murphy bed (using hardware found on Amazon), to sliding doors, and even the use of color in a compact space.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Our Style: Modern industrial with comfort in mind.
Inspiration: One of our favorite things that we initially loved about the main house and property was that it was located adjacent from an active train yard near downtown Atlanta. The sounds, activity, and colors from the yard were vibrant and alive. When we decided to build Gimlet in the back part of our lot as a container home, we soon learned that the train yard itself would be permanently shutting down. This inspired us to double down on our hope to capture the thing we originally loved most about our location—a home in the middle of the action inside a big city. Tea of Kinsoul Home, our interior designer, took this vision and elevated it beyond our wildest dreams.
Favorite Element: Some of our favorite parts of Gimlet are the actual containers themselves, so we kept its natural functionality as much as possible. In the living room space the original floor-to-ceiling doors behind the couch still open and close creating an opportunity to enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, and treeline views. We also kept an interior accent wall in The Empress Room that was a section of the original 20’ container. Since Jen is an intuitive and tarot reader, we had high expectations for The Empress Room. Tea, a magical being herself, brought many personal touches to this space. Using highly developed intuition and designer expertise, Tea was able to capture Jen’s essence perfectly with carefully curated crystals, mystic items, and altar pieces.
Biggest Challenge: It was important to us that we had a true hand in building out as much as we could ourselves. We wanted to be able to say that we built it. This approach also meant we could save money by not having to hire as many contractors. The budget was a big driving factor in what we could hire out, versus what we decided to do ourselves. James has experience in woodworking and felt most comfortable tackling those sorts of projects (which it turns out, homes have a lot of carpentry elements). He built his confidence in being able to do that by also converting our 1988 school bus named Eldon a few years back. Our biggest challenge came from working with contractors on the projects we couldn’t do ourselves. Scheduling, following up, and ensuring the work done was to our satisfaction became overwhelming at times. Thankfully we had our pup Cilantro to assist with all things project related.
What Friends Say: Most of our friends and guests are shocked by how big the space feels. The epoxy floors are always a big hit too. Something we can never show in photos or do justice in words, but is always mentioned by visitors, are the amazing, purposeful scents that trigger specific nostalgic memories for the person experiencing them. When Tea was designing the inside of the home, it was her intention to create a complex sensory story.
Proudest DIY: Our biggest accomplishment was probably the at-home construction of the Murphy bed. James spent a great deal of time researching the best way to execute this project for our specific needs and around the mood of the empress room. It had several sophisticated mechanisms that were first-time installation attempts for James to accomplish. It’s now one of our favorite pieces, allowing for a complete transformation of the smallest room in the house. We love duality, so having a room that turns from a mediation/posi vibes space to a second bedroom when needed was paramount.
Biggest Indulgence: The subway tile in the kitchen and bathroom were the biggest time indulgences. The reflective epoxy floor was probably the most fancy and expensive feature to incorporate. The original floors of the container were two different colors, so the epoxy flooring really united the space as one unit.
Best Advice: Break down the project into digestible phases. Stay optimistic, even when things seem to be going south fast. Your plans and schedule will change a million times. Try to maintain balance between assertiveness and flexibility, while remaining confident that you’ll eventually reach the finish line. Once there, the pride you’ll feel is like nothing else.
Dream Sources: Flea markets, local shops, all the plants, clean, and minimal flourishes.
PAINT & COLORS
THROUGHOUT THE SPACE
THE EMPRESS ROOM
Thanks, James and Jen!