Perched on a leafy lot in a Toronto backyard, a shipping container gives a growing family the extra square footage they need. Lacking a home office and outdoor entertaining area, the family turned to Sarah Keenleyside and Brian McCourt of HGTV’s
Backyard Builds. We chatted with the talented pair to get the scoop on how they created a space that’s highly functional, budget-friendly, eco-friendly and most of all really, really cool. Get their tips below and look for the slider symbol to see the incredible before and afters!
With a $55,000 budget, the family was in desperate need of a workspace — and they also wanted to redo their backyard. “The shipping container was just a really economical answer to our budgetary restrictions,” says Brian. “This backyard is based in the Junction in Toronto and because it’s a long, skinny backyard, the orientation was perfect for a long, skinny structure like a shipping container,” Sarah adds.
The shipping container functions as an office from nine to five and a family living space after hours. “A key thing was installing that glass sliding door. When you’re doing a shipping container you want to maximize daylight, which Sarah picked up on right away, so we chose the side of the yard that maximizes the southern light,” says Brian.
“We did a built-in desk that extended wall-to-wall, which maximizes the space, and we created a feature wall that goes all the way up to the ceiling to make everything seem larger,” says Sarah.
“The intention was to do a cool wallpaper, but because we got hit with a $1,000 deficiency in the budget, Brian came up with this idea,” says Sarah. “I kept walking by a sheet of plywood and I had the idea to try cutting it up into strips and then doing a full wall. I will tell you though, it takes a long time to do, but it’s a really unique feature that cost us $40,” Brian adds.
White walls, saturated colors and faux-wood flooring warm up the industrial look. “When you’re working with an exterior space like this, you need something that’s completely inert to temperature change and humidity change, so we went with a luxury vinyl wood-look floor. Vinyl flooring has come such a long way,” says Sarah.
Slim built-in cabinets up top save floor space. “The depth of the cabinets is about 12 inches, so it’s great because you don’t want anything less than that for an office,” says Sarah.
In addition to an office, Sarah and Brian created a storage cabinet in the shipping container. “If you want to invest in quality outdoor furniture that really makes your outdoor living luxe, then you need to figure out where you’re storing it in the winter,” says Sarah. “You will double the life of your outdoor furniture because it’s not being exposed to any of the elements for half the year,” says Brian.
“We did the shipping container in a semi-gloss black and because it has such an industrial look to it, we really needed to soften that with pops of color that could hold their own. So that’s why we went with bold, primary colors,” says Sarah. “This is going to be the parent’s work space but in the evenings when he’s not working there, it’s transformed into a bit of a cabana for the entire family. So we really wanted to play up that fun.”
“The backyard was beautiful — this long, linear space with birch trees, so we were really celebrating the nature and wildness of that. When it came to the landscaping we kept it much more modern and contemporary with long, linear grasses,” says Sarah.
The family’s tiny deck was too small to house all five of them, so one of their asks was a larger entertaining area.
“They have three young kids, work from home and are super busy professionals, so it was important that we weren’t creating more work for them. That’s why we went with the composite decking that they’ll never have to stain or take care of — it’s going to last for 25 years. It was about choosing materials that were low-maintenance and would wear well,” explains Brian.
“To keep on budget, for the outdoor dining furniture we actually bought a table base in a fun orange color and made the top out of rough-cut pine and stained it ourselves. It’s a nice clean, modern look that’s low-maintenance,” says Sarah.
Sarah found these carts at a flea market, spray painted them black and transformed them into bar carts for the outdoor dining area.
“We really blur the lines; the shipping container’s interior flows right into the exterior. All the colors are making sense and it almost feels like there is no wall there,” says Brian. Sarah adds, “Brian and I both really bonded on the fact that it’s eco-friendly — it’s reusing a prefab structure that otherwise would eventually go to landfill.”