The Little Red Train Carriage

Matthew de Boer restored a derelict train carriage, handcrafting a beautiful and cozy living space with 1 bedroom in ~256 sq ft. | www.facebook.com/SmallHouseBliss

Matthew de Boer restored a derelict train carriage, handcrafting a beautiful and cozy living space inside. Read how he did it…


When I came across this old 1969 Queensland Rail workers van, it was lying in an overgrown field with the roof partially collapsed. A friend of mine had been hoping to live in it before a huge dead tree fell on it and halted her plans. I dragged the carriage – all 14 tonnes of it – out of the muddy paddock and moved it to a friend’s property where I worked on it for six months.

Queensland rail built the old carriages very robustly – morticed hardwood frames, huge 30 cm x 30 cm hardwood balks (beams) under the 2” thick floorboards, steam-bent oak rafters and cypress cladding, flooring and sarking (roof decking), all bolted to the heavy steel undercarriage. The fallen tree broke about 1/3 of the rafters, so rather than rebuild the original roof I put in a raised clerestory over the damaged section. My idea was to create a comfortable living space with plenty of natural light and exposed timber; spacious but retaining the heritage look.

Matthew de Boer restored a derelict train carriage, handcrafting a beautiful and cozy living space with 1 bedroom in ~256 sq ft. | www.facebook.com/SmallHouseBliss

My background is in creating large outdoor sculptures, so I’m not really a builder. During this project I learned the hard way, manufacturing the eight tiny clerestory windows and the rear doors from scratch using timber milled from a friend’s farm. Wherever possible though, I reused parts of the carriage and sourced secondhand materials, scrounging from tip-shops, demolition yards and friend’s scrapheaps. Kitchen cabinets and the bay window were built around bits of old furniture, and the fireplace was cut from the old steel gas locker. I taught myself leadlight repair and made up windows for the refurbished side door. The only new materials were a new corrugated iron roof and baltic pine cladding for the walls.

Matthew de Boer restored a derelict train carriage, handcrafting a beautiful and cozy living space with 1 bedroom in ~256 sq ft. | www.facebook.com/SmallHouseBliss

My initial plans for the carriage were to have a comfortable living space with a bedroom and a kitchen, and to build a bathroom/laundry outside, with a “station platform/deck” by the main doors. Before I got the chance to build the outside spaces however, I needed to move the carriage, so sold it to a local bed and breakfast place that features boutique accommodation. Unfortunately I only got to live in the carriage for about a week – it sold almost straight after advertising – but absolutely loved the feeling of living in a cosy space with a big kitchen area and lots of natural light. When it came time to move the carriage to its new home, we disengaged the heavy brakes and with its wheels rolling, it was simply pulled up on the back of a tilt-tray trailer and driven away. – Matthew de Boer


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Photographs by Matthew de Boer.

Text copyright 2014 SmallHouseBliss. All Rights Reserved.

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