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Pune woman makes studio apartment from a shipping container

What happens when an interior designer comes across a shipping container? If the designer in question is a Pune-based recycling junkie, she makes a swanky studio apartment out of it. Kareena Gianani speaks to Dhara Kabaria, who converted the gigantic piece of metal into an environment-friendly, solar-powered home in just seven weeks. page 43

You could say interior designer Dhara Kabaria is quite the optimist — where others see PVC pipes, she sees artistic lamps, what you’d call a bulky, shipping container, she calls home.

Now, the Pune-based 36-year-old has taken upcycling to another level. Kabaria recently finished building and designing Pune’s first studio apartment out of a shipping container, which now basks in the sun at a site in Pirangut, 35 km from Pune. The 320 sq ft home is powered by solar energy and took seven weeks to build.


Before and After: (Left) The shipping container used to make the home near Pune. (Right) The exterior of the home is made of reused wood and the metal container has been insulated to prevent it from heating up. Pics Courtesy/Dhara Kabaria

Recyling discarded materials is not new to Kabaria. The designer, an alumnus of Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), Ahmedabad, says she has always been curious about the ways in which design can be merged with discarded materials. “In 2009, after I set up my own firm, Studio Alternatives, I started designing lamps out of PVC pipes. Later, I built a wall out of computers’ motherboards, and began convincing my clients to experiment by using recycled home décor products.”


The home is heated with solar energy and uses recycled materials for home decor

However, what Kabaria was really itching to do was use a shipping container to build a home. “Finally, a few months ago, I found a client who was willing to take the risk,” says Kabaria.

The client wanted a home which was not too intrusive to the environment. Kabaria convinced him to let her build a portable home, powered by solar energy and decorated with products made from discarded materials.

Shipping containers, explains Kabaria, are extremely sturdy, and more than 10 of these, full to capacity, are often stacked in ships. For the home she built, Kabaria bought a used container from Bombay Port Trust.

Kabaria’s biggest challenge waste prevent the (metal) home from heating up. So, she built the exterior by insulating the container from the inside, using cement sheets as the walls, and lining the insulated metal with reused wood on the outside. The bathroom, too, was difficult to build as the pipes couldn’t be concealed like they are in regular brick walls. To fix the problem, Kabaria has used aluminum composite panel sheets instead in a trendy charcoal colour.

The home is powered with eco-friendly LED lights, uses paint buckets as pouffes, whose cushions are lined with discarded jeans.

“Container architecture is not popular in India yet, because portable housing is largely seen as a low-income option. Many clients also ask me the inevitable — ‘If it is made of scrap, why is it expensive?’. Skilled labour is not easy to come by, and I trained a large group to work on his home,” says Kabaria.

Interior designer Dhara Kabaria
Interior designer Dhara Kabaria

The home cost the client R15 lakh, but Kabaria claims she can design a much cheaper one. “This particular home is a rather swanky one, as per the client’s brief — the high-end fittings, home décor products, amenities etc add to the cost. But someone who wants a more modest home from a shipping container can have it for much cheaper,” she explains.

Kabaria now has five clients who have approached her for a similar project. She says she will consider this design a success when she can shatter the hackneyed notion that shipping containers cannot be used for complex designs in homes and offices. “I am experimenting with them by building my own office which will use two containers, which is a challenge. Then, I plan to stack multiple containers above one another and still build strong, cheap spaces. It will take some time to come out of the brick and mortar mentality, and here’s a start,” says Kabaria.

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1 Comments

  • Viv 03-May-2014

    I believe this is not something innovative that this designer has done... Outside India this is most common and people do live in converted shipping containers or even vans and buses for that matter or something like creating swanky offices and stacking containers one on top of other... But yes kudos to the effort and hope we can live and learn from this to create sustainable homes for the future!!

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