AsiaLIFE’s Barbara Adam talks to American expat James Wolf about his home-made home near Ho Tram. Photos by Romain Garrigue.

Designer and artist James Wolf has long been intrigued with the concept of using shipping containers in architecture, whiling away many online hours daydreaming of a container house in the countryside.

James vaguely thought it was something he’d do later in life. But three years ago, three 40’HQ  (forty foot High Cube- 9.5’ interior ceiling height) shipping containers were offered for sale in Ho Chi Minh City at an unbelieveable price, about half of the going rate. James snapped them up and brought forward his container lifestyle plan.

Drawing on his background in industrial design, James worked on the containers himself.

One container formed the bones of his simple country home on the family’s bamboo plantation, the other two were adapted for their bamboo factory.

Once the main work on the containers was done, James hired three trucks and a crane-truck to transport his containers from District 9 to land that he and his wife Lam bought near Ho Tram.

James, who has lived in Vietnam for 22 years, now runs several design businesses, which almost exclusively use bamboo. Since 2009, James has been designing and building bamboo bicycles through Boo Bicycles, and designing and producing bamboo decor, furniture and interiors through Bamboo Master.

In 2017 James moved his bamboo factory from District 9 to a spot that’s a 10 minute bicycle ride away from his bamboo plantation which he calls “the farm”.

The way James describes it, his family doesn’t “live” in a container house. They live in and adjacent to the container, which serves as bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and storage.

The family “lives” in the covered outdoor living area, a bamboo structure that supports more than 120 square meters of roof. The area is shaded from the late afternoon sun by bamboo blinds.

This covered porch serves as living room, dining room, chill out area and play room, James said.

The kitchen is embedded in the container, and can be secured by rolling down a large shutter.

Inside the container, the interior is trimmed in custom bamboo millwork, hand woven bamboo ceiling panels, bamboo wainscoting, and tongue and groove bamboo flooring.

The container house overlooks the family’s kitchen garden, where spinach, corn, okra, mint and tomatoes grow. The garden is flood-lit at night, so the family can garden when it’s cooler.

“I’ve always wanted to live in the countryside,” James said. “For the quiet, the fresh air, and life on my own path.”

James’ container design means the heart of his house is portable. “My philosophy is that our main investment can move,” he said.

The ability to pack up the main — and most expensive — part of the house and move it to another location is especially suited to Vietnam, where landlords can be erratic and land use rights resumed by the government at any time.

James’ love affair with shipping containers doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon. He said he has his eye on a piece of land just down the road, which would be a perfect spot for AirBnB-style accommodation. By his reckoning, he’d only need five or six more shipping containers.