The LEAP Center Ambassadors finished their summer they way we began it: by making learning fun. In May we headed to Austin for a fun-packed week learning about campaigning. Today, we went on a Phoenix Commotion Tour, seeing about 15 great homes built by Dan Phillips.
Dan Phillips runs Phoenix Commotion, a building company that emphasizes sustainability, recycling, and thinking differently. The result is approximately 20 homes in the Huntsville area that have the Dan Phillips’ look: small in size, unusual building materials, and character.
Taking a step further, the result is also, at least in some areas, transformative.
But that’s only part of the treat. Phillips is also fun to listen to.
He is a former Dance professor, a designer, and a builder. He brings a different eye to the world of home-construction, and his different outlook is apparent from his building philosophy. How many builders do you know, for example, who quote Plato? According to Phillips, you transform things by using the “space between your ears.”
Phillips doesn’t necessarily begin with a grand and detailed design in mind. He begins with a general concept, and then sees where materials and tinkering take him. He uses about 80% recycled materials for his homes, and he finds objects that can be employed to form organic patterns of the most interesting sort. Want an interesting ceiling? Use photo frames back-to-back-to-back to cover the ceiling.
Want interesting siding? Use corks. Want interesting windows? Use relish plates of various colors.
Unlike “starchitects” who come up with a grand design and minute detail ahead of time, Phillips prefers to let the process guide him somewhat. This process also contradicts, as previously mentioned, the ideas of Plato, who argued that reality suffers next to the abstract. Only in the abstract, argued Plato, can perfection be achieved. Once an idea is executed, imperfections occur. For Plato, art was even worse being two degrees removed from the abstract. Not so for Phillips, who allows patterns and experience help guide ideas, achieving a reality that might not have been thought of out of thin air.
Our tour of Phillips’ homes brought some of those concepts to life. We began at the “Bone Home,” so named for the many bones that constitute the home. If there’s a handle, it’s probably a bone. There’s also the bone furniture , which probably won’t be found in the Sears Home section.
The Bone Home demonstrates Phillips’ talent for making everyday objects into a pattern that is pleasing to the eye and, as Phillips notes, “the human spirit.” He can use corks, bottle caps, glass, stone shards, or just about anything to create an interesting look.
We also visited the art studio, which contained a bone chandelier…
…and learned about the animating spirit of Phillips’ work.
From there, we visited the tree house. This 320 square foot home, built 35 feet above Town Creek, was probably the consensus favorite. This property actually consists of the tree house, a studio, and a “cottage.” Compared to the cottage (280 square feet), the tree house looks giant.
The whole complex has the look of a compound, and the front of the area and the trees surrounding the property pretty well obscure the tree house, the most photogenic of the buildings. But once you enter the gate to the property, you are led on a walkway that takes you to the tree-house which, despite its small size, is actually a two-story structure.
In the middle of the bottom floor, you’ll find a window that will purportedly hold 350 pounds, a claim no one was eager to test.
Phillips explained more of his philosophy from the tree-house’s art studio, which is about 1,000 square feet.
Following the tree house, we did a driving tour of Phillips’ homes in Huntsville: the beer can house, the storybook house, the courtyard house, and others, before touring one more home interior. Although this home has no catchy name as far as we know, it had a really cool door so, clever group that we are, will call it the “cool-door home.” The door is actually made from printing equipment that Phillips obtained from SHSU.
The tour was a great way to learn more about the community, and meet community leaders. In addition to us students, Dr. Keri Rogers and her husband, Chuck Mize; Dr. Bill Hyman and Carol Hyman; Brenda McNeely, Toni Abshire, Jean Loveall, Stephanie Fors were all on hand.
It was a great way to close out the summer and transition to the fall, gearing us up for using that “space between our ears.”