04 September 2009

I MUST have this chair!

Mein Gott in Himmel! Three cheers for the artistic use of found materials.

Builder and visionary Dan Phillips on a walkway made from
Osage Orange branches. Osage Orange is a wood species usually
thought of as useless scrub.

Yesterday's Home section of The New York Times featured a story about a different kind of home builder in Huntsville, Texas. Dan Phillips builds affordable housing from discarded and reused building materials and the results of his labors are as sensible as they are sustainable.

These are the bottoms of wine bottles made into
a stained glass panel in a Dutch door.

Since 1997, Phillips' construction company, The Phoenix Commotion, has built 14 homes in Huntsville. On the whole those 14 homes were built from the ground up and 80% of their materials were salvaged from construction sites, hauled out of trash heaps or simply found along the road.

These house numbers are made from the bones of cattle
from a nearby slaughterhouse.

Homes built by The Phoenix Commotion are quirky and oddly beautiful. There's a rhythm to the images here and patterns emerge from the seeming randomness of these found objects. The man's a real visionary and what he's building is the anti-tract home, the anti-poverty trap. What Phillips and Phoenix Commotion are doing too is shooting holes in the idea that "going green" means spending great wads of green.

This is a cork floor made from grouted in wine corks.

Too often, what's marketed in the US as "green" is synonymous with expensive and "going green" is an opportunity to strike a sanctimonious pose. What gets lost in the sticky gobs of marketing speak is the idea of sustainability. Sustainability's all about the wise use of resources, and so many of "green" products spawned by consumerism have nothing to do with using resources wisely and everything to do with the pose. The projects from The Phoenix Commotion profiled in The Times yesterday are a brilliant example of an anti- "green" green and represent the spirit embodied in the word sustainability. Read the article, it's a great story.

This ceiling is made from discarded frame samples from a frame shop.

This is a roof made from mis-matched roofing shingles and
arranged by color into stripes.

This is an exterior wall made from discarded lumber. Beautiful!

And of course, The Chair. It's made from chair parts and cattle bones.
The vertebrae finials remind me of doves.

All photos by Michael Stravato for The New York Times.


  1. Now that's some neat stuff!! I love the bone numbers and the chair. It's getting to the point that hearing the word "green" makes my hackles go up. It's just a marketing strategy now. Did you see how WalMart changed their logo and jumped on the green marketing bandwagon? It was changed to look more "friendly". Honestly, who is stupid enough to fall for that?!

  2. I had a good laugh over the ceiling made of discarded frame samples. I've had tons of those lingering around the house for years in the past. I never found a good use for them.

  3. I was really struck by this man's work when I saw it yesterday and by how much his business model puts to shame the "best practices" of every so-called green builder I run across. I'm with you, green labeling makes me suspicious automatically. The same goes for that other scam, organic.

    At least once a month, I get a phone call from some one who wants to gut his or her home and replace every finish, surface, component and stick of furniture with something "green." I'm always dumbfounded by these requests. Disguising avarice in the cloak of virtue doesn't make the avarice go away. The most sustainable thing anyone can do to his or her home is to do nothing and keep using what's already there. Grrr.

  4. The ceiling made from discarded frame samples made me smile too. What a cool pattern that makes though the colors are a little too too for my taste. If that ceiling were painted in a single color it would really be something. That ceiling peaks at 20 feet above the floor and from a distance like that, such a pattern in a single color would be arresting to say the least. I love this guy's use of texture and pattern out of discards. Amazing!

  5. I read the article too but somehow missed seeing that wonderful chair. The current Architectural Digest features "green homes" ie airport hanger sized buildings "that help the environment"? WTF

  6. Thanks for your comment Patrick and I know what you mean precisely. Where's the value in "green" building when an airplane hangar-sized single family home continues the pointless and unsustainable ethos of more is more? Argh.

  7. I love Dan Phillips use of repetition and pattern too Paul - it makes the mundane like bones, corks, or picture frame samples look superior, although I agree with you on the colors of the frame samples. Not sure how the vertebra in my back would react to the vertebra in the chair but I would like to find out.

    One last thought: Bile is green also, just like money.

  8. If bile and money were interchangeable I'd be a wealthy man indeed.

  9. Organic this, green that! I agree with you totally Paul as most of it is all about Marketing.

    No doubt Dan has raised a few eyebrows but I personally think he is one of the few that has got it right.


  10. Thanks Brenda, you have a great weekend too.

  11. Thank you! I was torn on where to go with my front door, and the wine-bottle-stained-glass is now at the top of my list.


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