A 15sqm Container Van Home

See how interior designer John Vigilia converted a shipping container into a habitable space

Photography: Zernan Mataya

Living in a container van is no longer difficult to imagine nowadays. A quick search will churn out numerous results – from industrial-style bungalows to modern, multi-storey homes. In the Philippines, some developers have already started converting unused container vans into houses, offices, and even a transient dormitory.

Interior designer John Vigilia recently designed a container van home for a grandfather in Tacloban, Leyte. “All of his material possessions were lost in the onslaught of typhoon Haiyan in 2013. He would also be living alone as he lost his wife in the same catastrophe. Despite all these, he still chose to spend the rest of his days in Tacloban where he has been based most of life,” John shares.

If you are currently working on your own small home, there’s a lot that you can pick up from container van homes in terms of design, styling, and storage. Let the tips below inspire you:

Prior to renovation, the container van looks like any other van that you will find in shipping ports.

Opt for a fab exterior

To disguise the original corrugated metal facing of the van, John created a rustic look by having the facade clad in faux brick. Since it's a retirement home, John wanted to make it cozy. "Decide if you want to highlight the style of the container van, which is very industrial looking, or veer away from that look. In my case, I decided to bid goodbye to the industrial look," the designer explains.

Cool it off

Given the lack of ventilation of container vans, John had his contractor RMRSA Steel (0920.947.5127) insulate the walls and ceiling with fiberglass.

Create multi-tasking areas

The small space of roughly 15sqm made it challenging to have ample room for each area. The designer placed the kitchen and toilet on opposite ends of the container van. The middle space was kept open to serve as a multipurpose area. It can be used for entertaining, dining, and sleeping. John shares that determining the purpose of the container van structure is important when converting it into a habitable space.

"Remember that they are quite narrow, but in the case of my client, it would be okay as it is his retirement home. But a family of three to five should combine several container vans to have a bigger space," John explains.

Make it lived-in

John wanted to inject a cozy vibe into the the interiors. "I installed reclaimed tanguile wood planks for the ceiling and floor to have that warm but still homey vibe. The walls are in white for that airy feel."

Opt for slim furniture

Furniture pieces with slender silhouettes work best in the limited space. John chose mostly wooden furniture for the home to echo the floors made of tanguile wood planks. "I kept the major pieces in neutral tones because the space will have color once all accessories have been added," the designer shares.

If you are interested to buy a used shipping container, you can get one from various suppliers through A 20-feet long container costs P65,000 to P75,000 while a 40-feet one costs P105,000 and up.

You may get in touch with interior designer John Vigilia at john[at]

Read the original article in the February 2015 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to for more details.

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