A recycled Mini car showroom provided the raw materials Alex and Corban Walls needed to build a stylish Whananaki holiday home for sharing with family and friends
Meet and greet
Alex Walls, designer and director of Alex & Corban, Corban Walls, engineer, and Austen, 6 months.
Recycled shipping containers become the ultimate getaway in Whananaki
In August 2012, a few months prior to getting married, Alex and Corban Walls purchased a vacant section in Whananaki, on the east coast of Northland. “Corban and I met in Whananaki many years ago, so it was already a pretty special place for us,” says Alex. “We had been looking for a coastal property for some time, with the sole intention of building a family holiday home, and chanced across this beautiful site.”
The land was part of a new subdivision right on the Whananaki estuary and had a covenant in place permitting single-level dwellings only. The couple were one of the first to sign up, which meant they had their pick of the waterfront sections.
At around the same time, Corban was given a unique opportunity to purchase and remove a Mini car showroom on Ponsonby Road in central Auckland. The building (which had been designed to be temporary) was made out of 20 shipping-container modules configured into two storeys. “We purchased the land in conjunction with our plans to buy the Mini showroom,” explains Alex. “It was logistically very complicated but we wanted to move it up to our section and design a house using all the modular components.”
Corban had previously built his own shipping-container home in Muriwai so his knowledge of how to work with containers certainly made this project a little easier. The relocation of the building was complicated, though, as each of the 20 containers had to be transported from central Auckland to Whananaki via busy motorways and narrow, winding roads in the Northland countryside. It took Corban and his team three and a half days to dismantle the showroom for transport and then a further week, 10 truckloads and a 50-tonne crane at either end to complete the move.
Once the containers had reached their destination, the crane slotted each module into the footprint of Alex and Corban’s planned holiday home. The couple engaged architect and good friend Fraser Horton to design their new house using the relocated building as a starting point. “Fraser took into consideration all of our desires to make a holiday home that focuses on family, hospitality and being able to soak up the beautiful scenery,” explains Alex.
Although the car showroom was originally two storeys, Fraser’s design repurposed the containers as two separate dwellings with a covered walkway and courtyard to connect them. One dwelling contains the main living and kitchen areas, three bedrooms and one bathroom, while the second has a kitchenette, small living area, a bathroom and three additional bedrooms.
The planning phase of this project was reasonably straightforward as the majority of the build was already built; the most challenging part was getting it up to the site. With the works under way in October 2012, Alex and Corban set themselves an ambitious deadline of 12 weeks, so that their families could stay in the house when they visited Whananaki for the couple’s wedding in January.
“Our timeline and budget were the biggest challenges with this house,” recalls Alex. The budget was tight as they were heavily mortgaged after purchasing the section. “We had to get pretty savvy when it came to materials and repurposing. We spent a lot of time working on finding recycled timber, materials, plants and furniture and being resourceful with what we had.”
Corban lived in a tiny caravan on the property for the entire build and the couple didn’t employ any specialist services other than the main trades of building, plumbing and electrical, which ensured they adhered to their strict timeline and budget. As money was tight, the couple decorated the house in stages, but by maintaining a natural colour palette that complements the surroundings, they have managed to achieve a cohesive look.
At the time of purchase, each container was lined with powder-coated steel panels and the flooring was commercial-grade carpet, so the couple did everything they could to mask any remaining industrial details by lining the walls with hardwood ply. “It was a cost-effective way to cut down on labour,” explains Alex. “Plus it is an extremely durable material that provides warmth, and we love the coastal look.”
The living area with its colourful library wall has been Alex’s favourite space to decorate. “I really enjoyed finding the pieces to create an entertaining, educational and aesthetically pleasing library,” she says. “It forms the central focus of the main living area and carries into the lounge.”
The couple’s main goal for this home was to be able to accommodate large groups. “The feeling of community was really important when we were considering the layouts and interior,” says Alex. For that reason they chose a huge sofa and generous dining table, knowing that the open-plan living and dining spaces would be the most used areas of the house. “The large sofa seats 10 people,” says Alex. “We love sitting there and looking across the estuary.”
The house – which the couple call ‘Mini Whananaki’ – is a slice of paradise away from the big smoke, where Alex, Corban and their baby son, Austen, can relax and enjoy treasured moments with family and friends. “We want people to enjoy spending time with each other in the many communal spaces we’ve created,” says Alex.
This compact, inventive home built for sharing radiates warmth and welcome, much like the couple themselves. Although it looks pretty perfect in its current state, the house still has lots of room to evolve and Alex admits it will probably continue to change and grow over time – just like their family.
Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: Helen Bankers.