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How one family turned shipping containers into a unique home and Airbnb

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What do you get when you combine an artistic family, a couple of B-grade shipping containers, and a truckload of creativity?

In the case of the Latham family, you end up with two sleek minimalist cabins on their bush property 90 minutes from Darwin, Australia.

As self-described “bushies at heart”, Roger and Vivian had already built their own home and a music camp on their sprawling land with help from their two sons.

But with the popular swimming holes and waterfalls of Litchfield National Park in Australia just a stone’s throw away, it made sense to add some tourist accommodation too.

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The boys were on board to help their parents get the latest project done. “We are family-orientated,” says Roger. “We love doing life. That’s how the cabins came about – the family pitching in to help mum and dad.”

From the outset the Lathams had in mind something a bit more classy than the generic donga-style tourist accommodation often found in rural parts of the Australian Northern Territory.

“There’s not much out of town that’s top notch,” Roger says. “But we’d seen plenty of [shipping] container things around on the internet that looked OK.”

The cabins were made from 12-metre shipping containers cut in half, producing one single-level and one two-storey space.

SIMEON LATHAM

The cabins were made from 12-metre shipping containers cut in half, producing one single-level and one two-storey space.

And that’s about as formal as the planning got; being a creative bunch, the family just worked things out as they went.

“We improvised,” says Roger. “We’re all musicians and I’m a music teacher, so we didn’t go off a plan at all. We just had a rough idea.”

Eldest son Simeon, a builder who’s also studied photography, was given the job of cabin designer, using his particular blend of skills.

“He’s got that artistic eye,” says Roger. “And now that’s mixed in with his buildings.” His brother Jordan helped by doing all the welding.

The cabins were made from 12-metre shipping containers cut in half, producing one single-level and one two-storey space.

They both have one bedroom, a lounge area and fully-equipped kitchen.

Simeon flipped the containers on their side to make enough bedroom space for a queen-sized bed to comfortably fit while the container’s old floor has ended up as a striking feature wall in the bedrooms.

The Latham family decided to make the most of their Northern Territory property.

HIDEAWAY LITCHFIELD

The Latham family decided to make the most of their Northern Territory property.

Large windows and ample decks were added, integrating the cabins (called Hideaway Litchfield) into the bushland setting, home to kangaroos, wallabies and potoroos.

It’s an off-grid set-up due to the property’s isolated location.

“Where we are in Litchfield is an unzoned area,” Roger says. “I put my own septic tanks in, did my own solar, so we saved thousands of dollars in that. Doing anything remote, you’ve got to work out your own power and sewerage.”

The cabins can be booked through Airbbnb.

SIMEON LATHAM

The cabins can be booked through Airbbnb.

However, the build was more costly than many would assume. Roger estimates each cabin cost between A$80,000 (NZ$83,300) to A$100,000 all up.

Paying freight costs to transport all the materials down from Darwin upped the cost significantly, though Roger used his ute and trailer to do as much haulage as he could.

The cabins have been open for business since mid-2019, and while most things – including tourism – slow down when the wet season begins, the Lathams found themselves busy hosting Darwin locals wanting a break during the “build-up”, the hot and uncomfortable humid period before the monsoonal rains begin.

The Lathams found themselves busy hosting Darwin locals wanting a rest break.

SIMEON LATHAM

The Lathams found themselves busy hosting Darwin locals wanting a rest break.

Weather conditions always have to be factored in up here, and the cabins were built with safety in mind. “We want them pretty strong because we could get a category two [cyclone], maybe even a three down there,” Roger says.

The open design offers a front-row observation space for the lightning shows and soaking rain that transforms the dry landscape to a lush green.

Roger and Vivian have already bought a container for a third cabin, and the boys will be helping again. Their sister Sarah is also on board doing social media and marketing for Hideaway Litchfield. “They’re a great little crew,” Roger says.

He and Vivian, a remote-community nurse, hope to spend less time working and more time travelling when the cabins are all complete. And when they’re home they know how to soak up the atmosphere in the main house, a larger version of the cabins.

“We sit in bed and have a coffee in the morning and watch the sun come up, and sit on the verandah at sundown having a cool drink.”

Hideaway Litchfield cabins can be booked through Airbnb.

This article first appeared in Domain.com.au and has been republished with permission.

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