Farm And Function
Lisa Selin Davis -- Interior Design, 6/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
It all started when 8-year-old Kamren Colson spotted a cast-iron kitchen sink peeking from a ravine on his grandparents'tobacco farm in Williamstown, Kentucky. "I dug it up out of the dirt, and I was a scavenger from that moment on," says Colson, who's now the director of KCD, Multidisciplined Creative Source. During the 30 years in between, the salvage addict has rescued wooden ladders from defunct local bookshops; wrested rolling carts, office doors, and a restaurant prep table from a Cincinnati department store that went condo; and sneaked porcelain bathroom fixtures and apothecary cabinets from a shuttered Depression-era school for handicapped children.
"There were so many terrific details in those buildings, things that would have been lost. I went nuts trying to get everything that was going to be bulldozed," Colson recalls of his rescue missions, which were sometimes death-defying and always dirty. "In midwinter, I'd be ripping baseboards out of a school, thinking These could be picture frames." Methodically cataloging his finds, he lived simply and saved up his money for a space where he could someday display his spoils—and use them.
That day got a lot closer when he mapped out floor plans for a 6,000-square-foot sheet-steel building on his grandparents' former tobacco farm and brought on Sally Noble Architects to draw up the plans to fit his vision. "Our challenge was to hold back. The finish was obtained by the inherent beauty of the pieces," Sally Noble says.
The "rural modern" structure, as Colson calls it, functions as home, office, and interactive repository for his many collectibles. They include a series of 1930's and '40's table fans, a 1940's industrial water fountain from a Hollywood thrift store, and a 1967 pale green Mercedes-Benz. He designed the pantry specifically to fit around the five department-store rolling carts; the dressing room's 13-foot ceiling allows those bookshop ladders to be pressed into service, too.
Easy access to plentiful storage was key because, unlike many collections, Colson's items are not just to have but also to handle. "It's OK to touch these things and use them," he says. "If there's a chip in a Bakelite fork, that's alright. It still works."
Assigning new functions to old objects is furthermore environmentally sound. "All the energy it took to create these things originally is preserved. And I didn't have to pay for the creation of new stuff," Colson explains.
That philosophy of sustainability also led him to cast inexpensive off-the-shelf materials in imaginative new roles. Some walls are lined with galvanized sheet steel, pressure-stamped in a concrete-block pattern—just like the underskirting on mobile homes. Both bathrooms are clad in irregular white ceramic tile purchased at an outlet store.
Eco-friendly features include a 36,000-gallon cistern that collects rainwater for bathing and gardening. Energy-conserving radiant heat runs beneath the floor throughout. Windows were installed according to passive solar considerations; large windows face south, smaller ones north, east, and west. Colson refers to the north and east sides of the building as "poker faced," because they give no hint of what's inside.
He even grows a portion of his own food. "I open up the door," he says, "and there's lunch." To save still more energy, he line-dries his clothes. He enjoys a nonpolluting commute by simply walking upstairs to his office.
Rechristened Grassy Run, the farm now grows design instead of tobacco and attracts visitors ranging from curious neighbors to business executives. "It's completely off the beaten path, but we bring so many people together from different walks of life," Colson says—likening the spread to Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer's Land of Misfit Toys. It's a place where things that would otherwise have been thrown away can all play nicely together.