A Contemporary & Cool Shipping Container Home in New Orleans

published Dec 15, 2015
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(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

Name: Seth Rodewald-Bates & Elisabeth Davies
Location: Carrollton — New Orleans, Louisiana
Size: 750 square feet
Years lived in: 1.5 years; Owned

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Tucked into a long, narrow lot in the Carrollton neighborhood of New Orleans, not far from where the mighty Mississippi bends, is a sight you don’t expect to see among the shotguns, cottages, and bungalows: two giant steel boxes primed in Rust-Oleum orange-brown and stenciled with white numbers once used to identify cargo. Seth Rodewald-Bates, a landscape architect, and Elisabeth Davies, an assistant pastry chef, call these shipping containers home.

(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)
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Seth and Elisabeth built a house made of two shipping containers on a narrow lot in New Orleans’ Carrollton neighborhood. (Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

Seth built the 750-square foot house in a year-and-a-half with the help of family, friends, and former co-workers. The journey began with two four-ton containers purchased for less than $5,000 each from a shipping terminal five miles downriver. They cut the containers and connected them with a 220-square-foot addition made of wood slats, steel cables, and rippled polycarbonate panels that look like translucent glass. The addition has a 14-foot ceiling, which makes the modest home feel surprisingly spacious.

The most challenging part of the building process, according to Seth, was setting the containers on the foundation. It took a team of friends and family an entire day to place them just right. “We didn’t use a crane, which made the process a little more…exciting, for lack of a better word,” he says.

It’s no surprise that Seth would be willing to take on a building project most people wouldn’t even consider. When he was a kid, the East Texas native helped his father build the family home. The three-year project started with milling their own lumber and ended with the 1,200 square-foot open floor plan farmhouse his parents still live in today. “I certainly caught the home building bug at an early age,” Seth says. “It never seemed odd that I would build a house at some point; I think it is pretty ingrained in our family DNA.”

The 750-square-foot structure has a minimal design, with the interior holding mostly just life’s essentials, with one exception: the couple’s vast collection of books. The titles in their library reveal the couple’s shared passion for sustainable living and food. Elisabeth works for a restaurant group that includes some of New Orleans’ most popular places to dine, including Butcher, Cochon, Herbsaint, and Pêche. She enjoys cooking with the fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs they grow in bright blue upcycled concrete forms in the front yard. This year’s bounty included eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini, chiles, tomatoes, watermelon, onions, basil, thyme, and corn.

The home’s small size allowed for some splurges: marble in the bathroom, a honed granite countertop and five-burner Fisher Paykel range in the kitchen, and, biggest of all, a pool in the backyard. In the summer, the couple open their doors to friends on Sundays for dinner and swimming.

Seth and Elisabeth met in Marfa, Texas, while they were both interning at the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum located on 340 acres in the desert town that has become a minimalist art mecca. The museum is based upon the ideas of its founder, artist Donald Judd. The couple credit Judd, whose large-scale installations explored the connection between structures and the surrounding landscape, and their time in Marfa, as a source of design inspiration for their home.

“Marfa is a pretty amazing place; it’s hard to imagine visiting there and not being influenced in some way,” Seth says. “Out there, old structures are very simple, adobe and wood. Newer buildings are adobe, wood, and steel. Judd used what was available to renovate and complement the buildings, lots of southern pine lumber in various forms. The container interiors reflect some of that. The use of 2×12 pine flooring and furniture is our way of bringing some of Marfa into the house. Again, very simple, affordable materials, but used in slightly different ways.”

When people think of New Orleans architecture, romantic images of grand buildings with wrought iron balconies and quaint cottages in an elegant state of decay likely come to mind. The aesthetic of the Crescent City would appear, on the surface, to have little in common with the contemporary design of Seth and Elisabeth’s home.

But the unusual structure is in keeping with the New Orleans tradition. The long, narrow shape of the containers and the raised foundation—three-and-a-half feet above the sidewalk to protect against flooding—are both features that bear a strong resemblance to the classic shotgun style for which New Orleans is known. New Orleanians have a history of reusing materials brought to the city by way of the Mississippi River. A look inside the walls of most New Orleans homes would reveal barge board, rough-hewn wide plank wood once used to ship raw materials down the Mississippi. After the cargo was unloaded, the barges were dismantled and repurposed for construction. The couple’s use of shipping containers is essentially a modern-day take on an old local practice, a reimagining of the Crescent City’s famous architecture.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Contemporary

Inspiration: Donald Judd, Barbara Hill, John Pawson

Favorite Element: Pool

Biggest Challenge: Building the house itself was quite the project.

What Friends Say: “It looks like a real house inside!”

Biggest Embarrassment: Still need to get door handles installed

Proudest DIY: Setting the containers on the foundation. It was a group effort—friends, family, coworkers all pitched in to get the containers placed.

Biggest Indulgence: Pool

Best Advice: Borrowed from a client: “Construction is a roller coaster—buckle up and enjoy the ride.’

Dream Sources: Waterworks, Bulthaup, Hansgrohe, Dornbracht, Moran Furniture, Garza Marfa



  • All walls: Sherwin-Williams Bright White

    • Splash coatrack: Modern Market in NOLA


    • Coffee table: designed by Seth


    • Table: personal design
    • Chairs: Target
    • Sapien bookcases: Design Within Reach
    • Art Cool art/HVAC unit: LG


    • Range: Fisher Paykel
    • Hood: Faber
    • Refrigerator/freezer: Fisher Paykel
    • Ventless washer/dryer: LG
    • Countertop: honed black granite
    • Faucet: Hansgrohe Axor


    • Bed: Gothic Furniture in NYC
    • Lamps: CB2
    • Art Cool art/HVAC unit: LG


    • Fixtures: American Standard
    • Vanity: Kohler
    • Sapien bookcase: Design Within Reach


    • Polycarbonate panels: Polygal North America
    • Containers: Boasso America in Chalmette, LA
    • Architect: Byron Mouton, BILD Design

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    Thanks, Seth & Elisabeth!