Meet The Locals: Alf And Audrey Buckley

Alf Buckley had an idea.

He wanted to build a house with a difference – using shipping containers. Now retired, Alf and his wife Audrey spoke to me recently about the process of building their one-of-a-kind home.

They enlisted the help of an award-winning architect, Hugh Walker of BDD Designs, who has an interest in energy-efficient, modular sustainable housing and has worked with shipping containers on other projects. And the result is a truly unique property.

Alf, I’ve never seen a homemade out of shipping containers before. So where did you get the idea to use shipping containers to build a new home in Singleton?

I worked in Mongolia in the Gobi Desert, as a mining project manager, where the temperature variance is -40°C to +40°C. We used containers to build an office complex and I was very sceptical. But we put them together and insulated and air-conditioned them – and they were spot on. I was really impressed and that planted the seed.

Audrey and I have always been interested in different types of houses and sustainable living. So we bought 2 acres and decided to have a go at building this house. It was a good retirement project.

Tell me about the design and building process?

A friend, Ross, is a boilermaker. I told him about our plans and he said he’d always wanted to do something like that, so he helped out. Then we got an architect involved, Hugh Walker.

Audrey had an idea of the design she wanted, and with Hugh, we worked out the architectural and structural side of things. He had a structural engineer look at it and then came back to us with the plans.

I knew the basics from the Mongolian project, so I sat down with Ross and planned the structural work.

How was the council approval process?

It wasn’t difficult at all because it’s essentially a steel-framed house. When we bought the land it already had DA approval for a house. Plus, Hugh’s a renowned architect so we had zero problems.

It sounds like your grand design went quite smoothly. Did you have any hiccups?

No. Containers are already a rectangular box. So you’re just putting two boxes together then taking some walls out; as long as you don’t break that integrity, you’re going to struggle to get it wrong. It was a fluid process and we had time – we even took three months’ holiday once the containers were up on the piers and weatherproof. If we thought of something along the way, we tossed the idea around and then just changed things to suit us.

What about costs?

It was no cheaper, probably dearer than a conventional house. But we never planned for it to be cost-saving because it has double insulation – I was very conscious of the heat in Singleton. We also put a lot of thought into the placement of verandahs, and where the sun would be in winter and summer. One mistake we made is that it’s too big for just two of us – you could put two families in there!

What was the response from family and friends?

They’re used to me coming up with different ideas! We’re off-grid solar – you don’t get a lot of opportunities to show kids, grandkids and friends that you don’t have to rely on the conventional way.

Audrey, what did you first think of Alf’s idea for the house?

I hate summer, so I thought, “Yep, let’s build a steel shed and put me in it – that sounds delightful!” But I was on board with an industrial look and leaving some of the containers exposed.

Have you both lived in Singleton for long?

We’ve been in Singleton for about twenty years. We moved from central Queensland for work, and Audrey’s sister lives here. We love Singleton, it’s a great spot. It’s close enough to everything, and we’ve got lots of friends and family here now.

If you’re near the Clydesdale saleyards, keep an eye out for Alf and Audrey’s unique place!

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