Huntsville, Texas, is about a 90 minute drive north from the state’s largest city, Houston. Founded when Texas was an independent republic, the town of 35,000 has a few claims to fame, including the home of state icon Sam Houston and the state’s execution chamber.
But there’s more to Huntsville, including a large university, a quaint downtown, and home builder Dan Phillips. Founder of Phoenix Commotion, a company that focuses on building low cost, sustainable, and affordable housing, Phillips has built at least 13 homes for single parents, artists, and low-income families.
Since he started building these whimsical homes, Philips, his colleagues, apprentices, and volunteers have diverted tons of waste from Huntsville’s shrinking landfills and transformed the unwanted building materials into artsy homes. When he put out a call for building supplies, warehouse companies sent Phillips so many truckloads of wood, tiles, and granite that he worked with the City of Huntsville to establish Trash Into Plowshares, which has stored and distributed the construction materials to non-profits and low-income residents since late 2002.
One of Phillips’ most fantastic creations is what he calls the Bone House. Built mostly from reclaimed and salvaged wood, the home boasts bedroom floors made from reclaimed wine corks, bathroom floors that are mosaics of bottle caps, walls lined with mirror shards, and yes, bones. Phillips and his team turned the bones into chairs, drawer handles, and are part of the outdoor decor, too.
Another house worth a field trip is the Storybook House, designed to look like something out of a German hamlet in the 1500s. From afar it appears to have a thatch roof, but the roof is actually made from old shingles that Phillips arranged by color. Like the other homes Phillips built, it is energy efficient thanks to a solar water heater and plenty of insulation, and features a rain water catchment system that provides enough water to flush toilets and wash clothes.
According to Phillips, his work is really nothing new. People have salvaged materials for their homes over the centuries, and he is simply continuing the practice. In the meantime, he trains unskilled workers in construction and furniture making techniques, which leads them to better paying jobs after they apprenticed under him.
Phillips is in much demand throughout the United States, and often speaks at events focused on green building and sustainability. With all the new green building materials on the market, Phillips reminds us that the most environmental building materials are the ones that do not end up in a landfill–and with imagination can be rendered into a house that has more than enough of a “cool” factor.