The Future is Plastics

Realtor Joe Carreiro contacted me a few weeks ago about a house his friends built at 205 Owsley Avenue. He lured me with talk of cutting-edge construction materials they used to build the house. He launched into "structural, super high insulation something, something, something" All this went right over my head but I am always interested in alternative construction methods. I figured it would be easy enough to understand when I was looking right at it, which I really wanted to do after he hooked me with, "no one is doing anything like this in new construction anywhere in Lexington." I have been thinking a lot about local new construction since I visited several new houses included in a recent "Tour of Homes." I went to the most expensive houses because I thought I wanted to see the latest trends and the best new construction could offer. Man, was I disappointed.

Initially I assumed the houses bothered me because I just like old houses better, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that these houses do look like facsimiles of old houses but they make me feel weird, kind of yucky.

Suddenly it occurred to me that while they look from a distance to be made from the same materials as my house they are in fact made of plastic. Simulated wood-grain vinyl siding covers the exterior (except for the façade, which is usually brick or stone, as though brick is in fact the best material but since no one could possibly see the side or back of the house it should be covered in a lesser material); plastic doors, molded to look like wood, feel all wrong and would never allow a good slam; and, laminated kitchen cabinets repel Kool-Aid and ketchup, which is good I suppose.

From a distance, it looks like wood but when you get closer to the plastic door you realize that it is not wood at all. Then you feel it; it doesn't feel like wood. Knock on it; it doesn't sound like wood. If your senses tell you that it isn't wood but it presents itself as wood with its molded wood-like graining and construction style, isn't it lying to you? Is the vinyl siding, faux window mullion and laminate on the cabinet lying to you also?

I don't know about anyone else but I can't live in a house that lies to me all day every day.

I don't have anything against plastic. Without plastic there is no UK Barbie or artificial heart. I would constantly be covered in pee if my one-year-old's diapers didn't have that nifty plastic outer barrier.

I don't even have anything against plastic in houses. It allows trees to live in peace; it lasts forever, not being subject to the whims of bugs or rot; it is recyclable; and most importantly, it can be molded to look like anything at all.

Which brings me to my point: we have these incredible modern materials that can do things carpenters couldn't even imagine a hundred years ago, yet we continue to use styles that were limited by contemporary organic materials - then we attempt (but without exception, fail) to make our fabulous modern materials look like those organic materials.

Builders and developers use these synthetic materials because they are cheaper than their organic counterparts which makes homes more affordable. I understand and even appreciate that. What I don't understand is why they continue to build houses that ape architecture from at least a century ago. Builders will tell you that no one would buy a new house that doesn't look like its neighbors. I don't know if they would or not.

The residents of Lexington have never been given the option; I've never seen a spec house utilizing contemporary architectural design. For now, we will have to rely on forward thinking individuals who commission houses made from modern materials and contemporary architecture to see what is possible.

Brothers Adam and Jamie Rankin own Highlander Construction, whose motto, "Old Fashioned Construction - New technology" describes both their building style and the house they are building on Owsley Avenue.

They chose to build this house, in an older neighborhood, to match its Craftsman/bungalow neighbors. This came easily for them because they embrace both the Craftsman style and ideology; the original Craftsman movement sought to utilize indigenous materials in straightforward design, which allowed those materials to shine.

The Rankins have gone beyond even plastic to use modern building materials, like Structural Insulated Panels, or SIPs, (a structural product with a super-insulated core made of expanded polystyrene, structurally laminated and pressure cured between two sheets of strand board) for the construction of walls and ceiling, a fiber and cement composite for the exterior walls.

They use these materials because, according to Adam, "They are new and manufactured, their life is longer and the material is straight and true, which saves money in time and labor." This allows them time to concentrate on building a solid house rather than discarding, sorting, cutting and planing to make materials fit, which ultimately means they can build a better house for less money.

They used real wood for the Shaker-style cabinets, further inviting favorable comparisons to the neighbors' houses.

Adam and Jamie were required to submit plans, which had to be approved by several committees. The only way these plans could be approved was to build something compatible with the neighborhood. Which is why this house is so traditional in style. I asked them if they would ever use these same materials to build a house that would showcase them using contemporary architecture. They said, "We would love to."


205 Owsley Avenue


1450 square feet

3 bedrooms; 2 baths

contact: Adam Rankin 621-1169

If you have a unique or interesting house for sale contact Lissa Sims at lsims@aceweekly.com.