Such accidents of good fortune are at the foundation, literally, of the house occupied by Dan Reardon and Cindy Arnold Reardon on Dave Wood Road. The Reardons had waited for years to build their dream home on Spring Creek Mesa, high above Montrose. Reardon, the building inspector for the City of Delta, had owned a construction company and had worked as a carpenter. Given his background and experience, he was confident that he and his wife could not only envision their new home, but could make it happen. “No architect, no designer – just us,” he said.
The first step was to build a foundation. For that, Reardon turned to Doughty Steel, in Delta, to order steel plates for use in the base of his new home. It was there that he saw them: hundreds of abandoned sheets of rusted iron, with numerous incisions taken out of them. The sheets had been used as stencils; cut-outs of letters, numbers and random shapes were left behind in the metal. The ghostly script on one rusty sheet, on closer inspection, turned out to be words; the incisions on others resembled aspen leaves. Still other metal sheets had dashes, slashes and grooves etched into them. Wherever they came from, the mysterious, deep-umber-colored panels were unusual and compelling. Reardon immediately pictured them as railings on his porch. “They were not only beautiful and unique, they were durable,” he recalled. They were also impervious to weather. He had been thinking of using wooden balustrades around the deck, but metal sheets would be even better. With these, there would be no weakening over time. He wouldn’t have to paint them. He thought: “These sheets will outlive the house. They’re, like, bombproof.” They were also inexpensive: just $5 each. Reardon was so excited by what he found, he bought 80 of them. Then he went back and bought 20 more.
Cindy Reardon, meanwhile, had been making felicitous finds for their home, as well. She’d been taking long walks along Spring Creek Mesa. The Reardons’ property abuts land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Years earlier, it had been a dump. Cindy, a craftsperson, and had been coming across bits of brown, green and blue glass embedded in the soil on her strolls. Like sea glass, it had weathered nicely. She collected several bins of the glass, and now had to choose among the pieces for the mosaics she would create in the new home’s bathroom.
He found the metal sheets, she gathered the glass, and that was typical of the Reardons; they collaborated on every creative detail regarding their new home. Cindy suggested sinking the place into a south-facing hillside on their property, overlooking the Sneffels Range. The configuration would offer privacy from the front road, an unobstructed view of the toothy peaks in the distance, and warmth from the sun. But while the southern exposure conveyed an advantage, it also presented a challenge. “The lay of the land dictated a lot of what we would have to do,” Dan recalled. Though they wanted the house to face south, “You couldn’t extend it too far south. The hillside was dropping too much.” They would need to construct an entry bridge across the cleft separating what would become their front yard from the berm where they would build their house. The bridge would be expanded to create a deck, offering a place to sit out back and take in the view across miles of undulating piñon and juniper towards Mt. Sneffels.
It would be over a year before Dan could install his metal sheets on the porch, and even longer before Cindy could bring her mosaic-making skills to the shower.
The Reardons had been living in an A-frame log cabin on 29 acres atop the mesa. Their intent all along was to subdivide the acreage and sell the A-frame, along with 10 acres, to help pay for the new building. They had started construction in June of 2006. Now it was fall, and soon the snow would be flying. “We had built the house, but there were no windows, no siding, and no shingles, and we had run out of money,” Dan recalled. All through the winter and through most of the spring, the Reardons’ new house sat vacant and incomplete. They knew they needed to sell the A-frame to finance further work on their new home, which they wanted to occupy by the following winter. In May of 2007, they put it on the market.
It closed in six days.
Now they were totally without a home.
They parked a trailer on the property right next to the new house and, as if in warning about the weather to come, it snowed that first day, Reardon recalls. They kept building. They knew they wanted to be in before fall. “We did not want to spend the winter in a trailer,” Reardon said. Even with a weather deadline looming, “the summer was great,” he recalled. “We set up a tarp over the picnic table and barbecued every night.”
Every spare minute, they worked on the house. The goal was to make the place energy-efficient and to save money by minimizing heating bills, which fit the couple’s philosophy of respecting the earth and its inhabitants. “To try to use passive solar energy and local materials is just a good idea for all of us,” Dan said.
The house was built with fir from the Cimarrons, harvested by Ray Lumber in Montrose; the company owns a mill and logs its own wood. To keep the place as energy-efficient as possible, it utilized a Trombe wall, an architectural element named for French engineer Felix Trombe. The Trombe technique would add an extra wall inside the home, separated by a pane of glass and a foot or so of airspace, from the south-facing wall outside. In winter, warm air would be trapped between the two walls, and transferred slowly inside. In September and May, when the sun is a little lower on the horizon but the weather is still warm, the Trombe wall would diffuse the day’s heat.
Except for the wiring and the insulation – and with the help of their two sons, Adam and Cody, then 12 and 14, as well as a neighbor down the street – the Reardons built the whole thing themselves. By October, the house was finally complete. It snowed the day they moved in. Cindy finally got to work on two mosaic cranes in the shower.
The iron sheets went up around the deck of the house. Today, they also line the garden at the front of the property. With two exceptions, their origins remain mysterious. One sheet – a decorative railing just outside the Reardon’s front door – reads Telluride Film Festival. Reardon figured out the origins of another when he passed Kevin Clark’s interior design store in Delta: Clark had some of the same decorative, rusty sheets sitting outside his shop. Inside the shop, there were the cut-outs: rusted “aspen leaves” used to decorate the chandeliers that are one of Clark’s specialties. Today the leftover sheets from Clark’s chandeliers adorn the bridge to the entryway of the Reardons’ home. The rest of the leftover panels have been given new life as well – they’re being used inside the kitchen, where Cindy had been hoping for something to coordinate with the amber-colored glass she wanted to use on the kitchen cabinets. Shiny metal can look cold, but rusted metal creates a feeling of warmth inside, and their home is cozy and welcoming at night.
You could say the sheets have gone on to a third life. Last Christmas, woodworker Adam Duncan, who owns the A&Y Design Gallery in downtown Montrose, visited the Reardons. “They had a little shindig at their house,” Duncan recalled. “I saw the way he used the metal sheets on his deck, and was very inspired.” Today, Duncan uses small cut-outs from similar sheets as contemporary wall pieces in his store. The plates themselves “could also be used for wall features,” he said. “They’re very interesting architecturally. But people don’t know about them.” For the Reardons, the rusted sheets are not only tough and beautiful, they set the tone for their new house: energy-efficient, making use of found materials, and quite livable besides. As Dan put it, “They add a sense of comfort and uniqueness to our home.” With a lot of work, and a willingness to embrace the serendipitous, the Reardons got the house they love. Cindy Reardon is serene about the random discoveries that made it their home. “When you’re ready to take on a project,” she said simply, “It finds you.”
Do It Yourself
Recla Metals in Montrose sells the same type of rusted metal sheets Dan Reardon found a little closer to this region. The “scrap skeletons,” as Recla’s Greg Fulks refers to them, go for 25 cents a pound. The company can also create a cutout effect for a lamp, a doorway, or a sign from a pattern you design (they used the technique on the Highway 550 marquee welcoming visitors to Ridgway). For more information, visit reclametals.com.