Land Use

Trashy Dream Houses

Home and garbage

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In Huntsville, Texas, someone may soon be living in a house built to look like a boot. Or a mushroom. Or tap dance legend Gregory Hines. And the house will be made out of trash. Literally.

These odd designs are just two of the homes Dan Phillips—a maverick designer, antiques refinisher, former college dance instructor, and exuberant armchair philosopher—plans to build from recycled materials and then sell cheaply to families who couldn't otherwise afford homes. He has already built two relatively traditional homes from trash, rescuing building supplies and waste before they got to the landfill. He'll finish two more this year and has plans to build four in 2003.

"What I'm trying to do is prove that a builder could make a reasonable living building for the poor," says Phillips. For now, he has been putting all of his profit into growing his business, but he's determined eventually to support himself by building the homes full time.

Though Phillips' theme houses will certainly bring whimsy to a town best known as the home of the Lone Star State's death chamber, his choice of designs was pragmatic (except the Gregory Hines house, which he calls "a personal tribute"). The town has a boot company and a mushroom plant, and Phillips thinks he might be able to convince them to supply a $30,000 loan or gift as interim financing for one of his trashy masterpieces.

As unlikely as it may sound, a similar pitch worked on Budweiser, which funded Phillips' second trash building, fondly referred to by Huntsville residents as "the Budweiser House." (Says Phillips: "I love that I built a Bud house in the middle of the Baptist belt and that people are happy about it.") No, this house isn't shaped like a can of beer; it's a boutique cottage, complete with stained glass windows, Texas stars, a turret made out of the butt ends of two-by-four boards, and quite a few cleverly placed Bud logos. Photos can be viewed online at www. phoenixcommotion.com.

"The sources for material range from wholesalers and retailers to garage sale leftovers and individuals," says Phillips. "And there still is such a thing as scavenging on the sly—sneaking into dumpsters for the great find."

Phillips' ideas are catching on. In Muskogee, Oklahoma, custom builder Lisa Coleman has just started her first home from all-recycled materials. "Muskogee has a horrible need for affordable housing," she says. After trying and failing to get city funds, she decided to follow Phillips' method, which cuts costs not just with free materials but by training unskilled, minimum wage laborers. "I am a ways off from duplicating exactly what he is doing," she says, "but I'm getting closer."