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This Architect-Couple Built Their Home Out of Container Vans

Original Article: Bubbles Salvador Photography: Michael Angelo Chua Pictorial Direction: Nat Clave Styling: Dagny Madamba & Kamila Garcia

Surfing in La Union brought architects Buji and Nikki Libarnes together. For eight years, they lived with friends in a two-bedroom apartment in the area. They went back and forth to Manila where their work was, but they had their personal belongings and surfboards stashed in this apartment so they could go on the water anytime.

It seemed the most ideal living arrangement until the owner decided to renovate. “Nawalan kami ng tirahan,” Buji relates matter-of-factly, but he wasn’t just about to up and leave the town that had become his second home.


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It all started with a Kombi and a shipping container

“I brought my Kombi van, and we lived in that for a year. Nakiki-park lang kami sa mga hotel. Sobrang sarap. Nag-enjoy ako matulog sa van na yun,” he recalls. Nikki says that it was set up in such a way that they could live comfortably in it: “May electric fan, konting curtains, kulambo.”

Eventually, they got wind of a property for sale in the neighborhood. And as like a foreshadowing of things to come, there was already a shipping container at the site. In true bayanihan fashion, their surfer friends helped move the shipping container, and Buji and Nikki got down to work on their new home.

From that single shipping container, they decided to extend it to accommodate a guest room and a garage. “Binutasan namin for the window, and tinaas for the roof,” describes Buji. “We’re also very fascinated with clean lines. Eh yung container, very linear siya. It’s a box, puwede mong paglaruan yung stacking. Ang inspiration ng bahay namin is a mix of California and Japanese style. May pagka-mid-century,” he adds.

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The single shipping container gave birth to a hostel

At that time, the couple had no plans yet of putting up Vessel Hostel, which currently stands next to their house. “Nag-leave lang kami ng space,” says Nikki, but that space turned out to be the perfect fit. The design of the hostel is based on containers as well.

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A peek inside their 70-sqm home shows that it is carefully planned, and every inch of its space efficiently used. There are no solid partitions, so the living, dining, and sleeping areas flow seamlessly in an open space.


Nikki says that as soon as they wake up, their schedule starts getting crazy. (Living right next to their place of business is a big plus.) Buji takes care of the maintenance and ongoing construction at the hostel, while Nikki replies to inquiries and bookings. When nighttime comes, they focus on their Manila-based projects.

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Whether designing or surfing or attending to guests, Buji and Nikki are simply overjoyed to be able to do all of those things where they feel most at home. “Sobrang sarap to design your own home. Kung anong gusto mong gawin, puwede. Dito, nakaka-relax kami. Nakaka-focus,” the couple says.

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