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Making the old new again
Area man makes home from reclaimed materials

In the case of the Lowder home on Pleasant Dale Road in Girard, less really is more. The 3,000-square-foot residence is low to the ground but high in energy efficiency. Some might call the design "mid-century modern," yet the materials that went into making the home are reclaimed, and in some cases, a hundred years old.

Ben Lowder, a graphic designer by trade, decided to design his own modern, energy efficient house of reclaimed materials based on his own ideas. In theory, it seemed like a great idea. When he translated the idea into the actual building, he ran into some snags.

"Using reclaimed lumber is a ton of extra work because it's not scaled to size. So my entire front yard looked like a lumber yard with piles of lumber. When we wanted a 2x6, we'd go out, snap a chalk line and cut one. So that slowed us down, and it got to be more expensive than I thought.

"I didn't have any pre-existing ideas on how this was going to go, and that was good and bad. If I was giving someone advice that was planning on doing something like this, I would tell them that on-site training is not a good idea, and it's expensive," he said with a laugh.

Lowder, who designs modern furniture and would like to eventually go into designing and selling furniture full time, said he's always been fascinated by modern designs, and he's collected items he's liked over the years.

"I can remember taking lawn mowing money and getting on my bike and going to an auction. I've always been a collector."

He's also dedicated to reclaiming materials. The wood used in the outside of the home is 100-year-old pine; there is barn wood and beams used in the interior; the stone on the garage, the outside of the house and the fireplace was recovered from a church demolition; the open spans of steel in the house are recycled from cars. The non-bearing supports inside the house are covered with reclaimed wood and stone.

He didn't want the supports under the stone pillar accents to show, so he carefully cut a corner area in the stone instead of the work crews trying to miter the stone or grout the gaps where it would come together on a corner.

The house is a bungalow - everything on one floor with low ceilings, a style that Lowder calls "anti-mansion."

Walking through the front entrance brings a visitor into the kitchen, which has the cooking area and countertop facing the dining area and the spectacular back view. On both sides of the kitchen island are smooth orange walls. There is some storage in the kitchen, but most of it is behind the orange walls, and so is a door to the part of the house that has the master suite and a utility room.

Above the kitchen area is a set of beams and small clusters of LED lights, a sort of old-time charm mixed with high-tech; Lowder calls it urban country. Next fall, there will be herbs hanging on the beams drying.

The floor is poured concrete. The geo-thermal heating system is in the floor, and the color will be retained no matter the wear because the color was mixed in the truck before the floor was poured. The furniture reflects Lowder's regard for the work of architects and designers who like clean lines and furniture without fuss.

And his own furniture design, as well as his collecting of reclaimed and recycled materials, has gotten some notice. He was at an architectural/interior design show, and he happened to be showing off some pictures of his house. Someone from an architectural magazine noticed the beams and alerted someone on his celebrity client list.

A load of the beams went to actor/director Hank Azaria, and while Lowder was in Los Angeles, he went to a barbeque at David Arquette and Courtney Cox's house to talk architecture.

"Apparently, there is a lot of interest in aesthetics versus the environment, and people are buying things and 'distressing' them to look like they are recycled or reclaimed. I use the real thing, and there's interest in having the real thing," he said.

There is a Harry Bertoia Diamond Chair and a Charles Eames rocker near the dining area.

A large, stone fireplace, complete with fossil remains, is between the dining area and the family room, and there is a low set of window seats against the wall.

A large piece of a black walnut tree, felled by a storm, is the step from the kitchen area into the family room, and it was also used to make the table in Lowder's office as well as a vanity in the bathroom.

The walls don't go up to the ceiling in the house. Before the house was built, Lowder calculated exactly how the sun would hit the back of the house, and he set the roof overhang so direct sun would hit the house for the maximum length of time in the winter and for the least amount of time in the summer.

There is a set of windows at floor level and at roof level that open. The windows along the back of the house offer a sweeping, panoramic view of the countryside. At night, because the walls don't go up the ceiling, light shines throughout the house making it look like a hospitable cocoon in the countryside.

The window setup sweeps cool air near the Earth into the home and then funnels the hot air to the ceiling and out during the summertime. There is still privacy for Lowder and his wife in the master suite because it is at one side of the house, and the children's rooms and play area are on the other side of the kitchen.

Lowder said when he designed the house he had the children's rooms much larger and then, after thinking about it, down-sized their rooms but increased the size of the common playroom. The chairs in the play area were recycled from the former Sears Tower when it was renovated.

There is some landscaping to be done and some tweaks here and there in the interior, but reflecting back as he stood on one of the two back porches, he wouldn't change the nearly two years of construction work because what he has now is close to the Earth and close to being perfect. 


Story published Friday, January 8, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 1 )

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