This Swartland home is part container, part bricks, cement and glass

Richard and Axel relax just outside their front door; the exterior of their home has been painted a few shades of grey.
Richard and Axel relax just outside their front door; the exterior of their home has been painted a few shades of grey.
Part container, part bricks, cement and glass, this eco-conscious home in the Swartland gives its creative owner-builders endless joy.

Photographs Francois Oberholster Stylist Marian van Wyk 


Axel Ryder and Richard Wood

WHERE Riebeek West, Western Cape

SIZE 248m²

The pink steel cabinet in the openplan kitchen and dining room catches the eye; the doors are coated with chalkboard paint, perfect for grocery lists. The cupboard to the right was an old pine bookcase; Axel added old melamine doors in different sizes to convert it into a kitchen cupboard. Rug, plain scatters and scatters with leaf motif from MRP Home; other scatters from RU Designs

Axel Ryder and Richard Wood’s container home in Riebeek West in the Swartland is a dream come true. But it wasn’t without its fair share of blood, sweat and tears: a container home that fits into a steel frame like a puzzle, and has brickwork here and there to fill in the gaps, requires meticulous planning.

And that’s exactly how these two creative minds tackled their project – with plenty of research and attention to detail.

They began digging the foundations in November 2016 in the most tree-filled section of the large property, which already had two homes on it. Their first obstacle was that the entire project had to be financed with hard cash: “Banks don’t give you a loan if you build with containers,” cautions Axel.

But they were adamant: containers it had to be, especially after seeing similar projects on the British TV show Grand Designs. Fortunately, Axel is a building contractor and was able to do a lot of the work himself, so they saved on costs. Amidst other construction projects, he set aside time to help shape their home while Richard, who runs a beauty salon on the same premises, came up with the ideas. On 1 June last year, they moved in – just over a year and a half after the first sod was turned.

The living area, which is adjacent to the kitchen, is a lovely sociable space. Beneath the counter, a collection of old German biscuit tins provides storage for CDs. The floor is second-hand plywood, but the pair intend to install a new wooden floor on top.


Richard and Axel both have an eye for detail. They describe their style as eclectic, and they love to browse second-hand stores, car boot sales and markets.

Colour plays an important role throughout their home, something that is best illustrated by the ‘touch-ups’ on the outside of the container where weak spots were welded and covered with cheerful neon-green paint. This was left as is to emphasise the fact that containers with history had been used in this passion project. “We think out of the box; pardon the pun,” says Richard with a grin.

Another indication of their playful approach is an old spade that now serves as part of a water feature next to the front door.

Richard and Axel have artistic sensibilities, as can be seen in the exquisite décor chosen for each room. Every piece of furniture and accessory has its own story and combined they tell a tale of good taste and patient planning. Almost everything has been recycled from a previous building project and refurbished with sandpaper and varnish.

The formal lounge has double-glazed aluminium stacking doors that lead out to the garden. The original container wall can be seen behind the Art Deco cabinet. Axel made the coffee table from plywood 16 years ago and over the years it has been painted in various colours. Richard bought the silver trunk in Singapore in 1991 during one of his many voyages on the Queen Elizabeth II where he worked as a hairdresser. Black-and-grey ceramic tiles from Shaw Tec; scatters from MRP Home; sofa upholstery by RU Designs
The old sewing machine belonged to Richard’s late mother and is still in working order. The print above it is a photo of Axel and Richard taken by a local photographer, AD Goedhart. The bricks were sealed with a clear waterproof sealant.
The containers’ insulation material is still clearly visible above the kitchen but will eventually be covered. This space was designed for ease of cooking and socialising. The bentwood chairs were a gift; Axel painted the frames in the same colours as the upholstery. The table was bought from locals who were emigrating and all the kitchen cabinets and wood used were recycled from Axel’s previous building projects.
The colourful, energising study makes it easy to work! The chair was spruced up with bold upholstery and the cupboard has had many coats in different colours. The interior walls were clad with Nutec fibre cement from Everite.

The project

For many years, Axel and Richard nurtured the idea of building a container home. Luck was on their side when they heard about four containers going for a song – at last planning could start in earnest!

When asked about who they approached for advice, their immediate response was: “We asked everyone we could.” The framework for the structure is steel with five containers (one more had to be acquired) that fit snugly inside – three below and two on top. The bottom three containers rest on a concrete floor into which the steel columns were planted for the frame. Two 12 m-long containers, each 2.34 m wide, make up the kitchen and TV lounge. These stand side by side with a combined surface area of almost 56 m².

About 7 m away there’s a smaller, 6 m-long container situated parallel to the first two and furnished as a guest suite. The space between the kitchen section and the guest bedroom is enclosed and now forms a spacious living room that opens out to the front and back with large glass doors.

Two of the larger containers rest horizontally across the bottom three; together they make up the main bedroom en suite. A study was added on the same level above the kitchen.

The bed in the main bedroom is made from old industrial steel shelves that Axel’s dad Don designed for a sporting goods store in 1970. The wall behind it was clad with pallets. All the melamine cupboards in the dressing room were recycled from construction projects in which Axel was involved; they were spray-painted white by a local tradesman. The original steel finish of the container (second picture) was left as is for the interior walls of the bedroom. Vinyl flooring from Builders, installed by Top Carpets and Floors
The main bedroom’s en suite is classic in black and white. An old dressing table was sanded and painted white and now serves as a vanity, while white mosaic floor tiles create an interesting pattern. An opening above the basin connects the bathroom with the adjacent dressing room and creates a sense of space. The chandelier is from a second-hand store. Bathroom accessories from Tiletoria; ceiling clad with IsoBoard
The garden in front of the house is lush, even in summer. Richard and Axel are completely independent of the town’s water supply, thanks to a sophisticated treatment plant by THS Technology that purifies their borehole water. Corné Pretorius and Andre Beaurain of Riebeek Valley Garden Centre assisted with the layout.

AD Goedhart 082 643 4332

Builders 0860 284 533


MRP Home 0800 212 535

Riebeek Valley Garden Centre 022 461 2002

RU Designs 065 254 0861

Shaw Tec 021 976 8089

THS Technology 064 496 9086


Top Carpets and Floors 087 236 6304

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April 2023

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