A small modern cabin in the woods in Montauk, consisting three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen and living areas, pre-fabricated using three 8' x 20' shipping containers.
The “Hamptons,” the Atlantic side of the Eastern End of Long Island, are known for a seasonal population who live in large homes, often over 7,000 square feet. But it is also home to a year-round population. We were lucky to receive a commission from three clients who needed a home to share while they live and work on the East End.
Their budget was expectedly low – less than $200,000 for the complete project including site preparation, landscaping, furniture costs and design fees. Our clients recognized the limitations of their budget and laid out programmatic requirements and aesthetic preferences that were inherently compatible with very affordable solutions. Their appreciation for small spaces, in their words, like boat cabins – bathrooms with open showers, single bed bedrooms, and a compact kitchen – made some unconventional design considerations possible.
Located in Montauk, where the amount of affordable housing is limited, we set out to create one of the least expensive new residences on the East End. The site is less than a mile from the marina where many people already live in tiny quarters on their boats, so the idea of smart solutions that make tiny living enjoyable was always on our and our clients’ minds.
For a start, we all agreed that the house should be no larger than 650 square feet, the minimum house size allowed in the Township of East Hampton which encompasses the Village of Montauk.
Based on our prior work in the area, and knowing of the high costs of site-built homes, we felt the need to explore prefabrication. Our initial research let us to the use of three recycled 8’ x 20’ shipping containers retrofitted and finished off-site and shipped to Montauk. Each container is 160 square feet, bringing the total of three containers to 480 square feet. By adding connecting spaces, we achieved the minimum required size.
From here our design challenge was to transform the otherwise claustrophobic space of the containers into intimate but open rooms that form a range of connections to the landscape around them. Each room becomes a window, an opening, or a doorway that creates its own connection with its outdoor surroundings.
In its tiny shell, the home features three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen/dining/living room area. The home is organized into three pods with glass connections between them. The connections can be read as two separate tiny rooms maintaining privacy between pods or the connections can be read as one single unit that includes the porch forming a fourth volume. From the porch to the pods to the connectors, we maintained a uniform ceiling height and floor plane.
We staggered the containers to create privacy between the three people living in the home and used glazed connections as transitional and intimate spaces in between. On the axis of circulation (East-West), the containers were developed as perpendicular extensions along a promenade; circulation itself became a shared room. While in the cross axis, each container was developed independently to house its own program.
The containers are insulated on the inside with with closed cell spray foam and clad with finish grade plywood on the walls and ceiling and engineered wood on the floor. The connectors are frameless thermal fin-glass panels. The exteriors of the containers are spray-painted with marine grade paint. All built-ins are supported by the side-walls letting the floor plane be free of any obstruction. A combination of curtains, louvers, and deciduous trees help manage thermal loss and gain.