Lustron Homes, Slave Cabins, Dan Phillips Is Amazing, And The Best Staircase Ever

A friend recently told me about Lustron homes – they were factory built homes in the late ’40s (the company went bankrupt in 1950) whose structure was made up of porcelain-enamel panels, and that no-maintenance design was to appeal to young families.  See the squares?  This one is in B’ham:

Lustron House, Birmingham AL
The outside might not be the most interesting, but the interiors…factory fresh.  From the lamps to the washer/dryer (a Thor AutoMagic that washed clothes *and* dishes – socks now and dishes this afternoon, yummy!), it was delivered ready to live in.  There’s a map of all or most of them in the US here.

Far, far away from tetris-looking homes is a project by Joe McGill.  He is staying in slave cabins as a program officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and describes it this way:

As a Civil War re-enactor, I am accustomed to immersing myself in the history I interpret…I am already committed to preserving the built environment, and I have always been interested in African American history. I realized I could combine all three elements, and – more importantly – assist in bringing attention to an aspect of American history that is often overlooked by spending a night in slave cabins throughout the state of South Carolina.

He says he has also been contacted by Georgia and Alabama about extending the project to those states.

All Things Considered on NPR did an interview with him, and his blog is here.  

One of my friends is working on a top-secret project with Dan Phillips from Texas (can’t *wait* to tell more about it), who builds houses from salvaged items – and the NY Times put it this way:

AMONG the traditional brick and clapboard structures that line the streets of this sleepy East Texas town, 70 miles north of Houston, a few houses stand out: their roofs are made of license plates, and their windows of crystal platters.

They are the creations of Dan Phillips, 64, who has had an astonishingly varied life, working as an intelligence officer in the Army, a college dance instructor, an antiques dealer and a syndicated cryptogram puzzle maker. About 12 years ago, Mr. Phillips began his latest career: building low-income housing out of trash.

So far, he has built 14 homes in Huntsville, which is his hometown, on lots either purchased or received as a donation. A self-taught carpenter, electrician and plumber, Mr. Phillips said 80 percent of the materials are salvaged from other construction projects, hauled out of trash heaps or just picked up from the side of the road. “You can’t defy the laws of physics or building codes,” he said, “but beyond that, the possibilities are endless.”

“I think mobile homes are a blight on the planet,” he said. “Attractive, affordable housing is possible and I’m out to prove it.”

Freed by necessity from what he calls the “tyranny of the two-by-four and four-by-eight,” common sizes for studs and sheets of plywood, respectively, Mr. Phillips makes use of end cuts discarded by other builders — he nails them together into sturdy and visually interesting grids. He also makes use of mismatched bricks, shards of ceramic tiles, shattered mirrors, bottle butts, wine corks, old DVDs and even bones from nearby cattle yards.

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a complete set of anything because repetition creates pattern, repetition creates pattern, repetition creates pattern,” said Mr. Phillips, who is slight and sinewy with a long gray ponytail and bushy mustache. He grips the armrests of his chair when he talks as if his latent energy might otherwise catapult him out of his seat.

Phoenix Commotion employs five minimum-wage construction workers but Mr. Phillips also requires the labor of the home’s eventual resident — he tends to favor a poor, single mother because his own father walked out on him and his mother when he was 17, which left them in a tough financial situation. “My only requirement is that they have good credit or no credit but not bad credit,” he said.

Although it has a social agenda, Phoenix Commotion is not a nonprofit. “I want to show that you can make money doing this,” Mr. Phillips said.

The NYT slideshow (oh it is so fantastic! especially pic #8 & #17!) is here.  A wonderful collection is here on Flickr too.

If you’ve ever been to the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel, Mississippi, it really is nice.  It was one of the few places I’ve ever seen an old cork floor (it’s wearing great) and the only place I’ve ever seen work installed by Philadelphia metalsmith Samuel Yellin (1885-1940).  Staircases aren’t usually one of those things to get really excited by, but one of Yellin’s staircases is for sale right now by Urban Archaeology for $250,000.  It is *amazing*.

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