Can you build a house with found objects?

Found Object Homes

A discarded shoe or the door handle you've been looking for?
A discarded shoe or the door handle you've been looking for?
David McNew/Getty Images

Eliphante is one found-object home -- art is reason enough to justify its existence. It was created by Michael Kahn and Leda Levant, two artists who were given property outside Cornville, Ariz., in 1980. The couple's primary materials were the rocks from the surrounding landscape and weathered wood brought to their doorstep by the annual rainy season. Eliphante's windows are stained glass mosaics made from bits of glass found here and there. Inside the house are sculptures and paintings the couple produced. Even the truck that they drove to Arizona in now serves as a wall for the dwelling.

As time passed, the house turned into a full-fledged compound with freestanding outbuildings, an art gallery and a "Nennis court" (a tennis court without a net). Despite exposure to the elements, Eliphante continues to stand -- although an audit of the dwellings in the compound did conclude that needed repairs would come to about $28,000 [source: New York Times].

Sometimes art is mixed with practicality in a found-object house. The Scrap House began as a challenge to a group of San Franciscans to construct a recycled home. They proved that it is, indeed, possible to build a home out of reused and creative materials in lieu of the standard drywall and linoleum. One interior wall is made entirely of hanging fire hoses; another is a thick wall of phone books. The floor in one room is tiled with strips of conveyor belts, and there's also a floor made of doors.

While it may sound like the house straddles the border between high art and insanity, professional architects and designers were involved in creating the Scrap House. As a result, it bears a design that would attract many homeowners. The bedroom is located on a mezzanine floor with a grand staircase that leads to it, and the ceilings are punctuated by skylights [source: Scrap House].

The Scrap House group says some materials were poached from construction sites and dumps. Others were donated by organizations that no longer needed the stuff. The conveyor belts used for flooring, for instance, were a gift from the SFO International Airport. Longevity was not a goal of the project: The house was built for World Environment Day 2005 and disassembled four days later [source: Scrap House].

The Big Dig House also illustrates the nexus where practicality meets art. The home gets its name from the construction project where the materials were salvaged. When the city of Boston expanded its highway system by adding a huge tunnel, there were a lot of leftover materials from the project. One of the Big Dig's engineers used 600,000 pounds of concrete and steel -- that would have been discarded at taxpayers' expense -- to build the modern house in Lexington, Mass. [source: Business Week].

A few states away, Duane Thorin chose to construct much of his house from objects with a long history. The Fairfax County, Va., house features a kitchen floor of cobblestone from the barracks of a World War I prisoner of war camp. Some of the timbers that support the ceiling hail from a Confederate army hospital. Thorin's views of history look forward as well -- he bricked in two time capsules in the home's walls. One contains this inscription: "House was built with materials that were discarded by one of the most wasteful societies of the world" [source: US GenNet].

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  • “The house that junk built.” US GenNet.