It's probably the biggest piece of real estate news concerning structures that resemble inanimate objects since a basket-shaped office building in Ohio went up for sale in the winter of 2016: a charming two-bedroom home in Huntsville, Texas, resembling a cowboy boot is now accepting rental applications.
According to the unfurnished property’s listing, for what this traffic-halting residence lacks in size (it’s a compact but comfortable 711 square feet), it makes up for in personality: “Unique, whimsical, artistic and extraordinary are among the words used to describe ‘The Cowboy Boot House…’" opens the listing, which lists the home's official architectural style as “other.”
Since personality alone can’t rent a home, key features include an electric range, granite countertops and ceiling fans. The home’s WalkScore is a “somewhat walkable” 69 and rent is $1,200 per month or $1.69 per square foot — a bit on the higher end for Huntsville, a sleepy and surprisingly funky little burg along Interstate 45 that's best known as the birthplace of Lone Star State political icon Sam Houston and for acting as an unofficial company town for Texas’ massive prison system. There's also a large state college in town. Per AreaVibes.com, the median rent in Huntsville is $775.
One might assume that the premium is for, you know, the fact that the home looks like a cowboy boot — or at least part of it is, anyways. Unlike, for example, this beagle-shaped bed and breakfast in Idaho that’s entirely shaped like a beagle, Huntsville’s boot-shaped abode is more of a 35-foot-tall boot-shaped annex attached to a rustic, tin-roofed bungalow with a wraparound deck. This is to say, while the Paul Bunyan-sized boot at 2640 11th Street isn’t purely ornamental, it's only makes up a portion of the home's habitable space.
Much of the Cowboy Boot House's square footage isn't in the boot itself but in a modest attached cottage. (Photo: Har.com)
Is that Perry Cuomo on the ceiling? A bedroom in Huntsville, Texas' Cowboy Boot House. (Photo: Har.com)
When you take a closer look at the home’s unusual interior details and see that Huntsville-based design/build firm Phoenix Commotion is responsible, the elevated rental price — and the fact that the home is part-cowboy boot to begin with — begins to make sense. The big boot isn’t just a slapdash work of novelty architecture meant to drum up publicity. It’s a work of art.
Phoenix Commotion founder Dan Phillips is something of a local legend who has garnered a decent amount of well-deserved national media attention as well. Completely self-taught, Phillips is famed for building homes almost exclusively using reclaimed and recycled building materials, the more unorthodox the better: ceramic tiles, shattered mirrors, license plates, wine corks, DVDs, bottle butts, bones — stuff you’d find at a dump or architectural salvage yard, not your local Lowe’s. Roughly 70 to 80 percent of the materials used to construct Phoenix Commotion homes are leftovers plucked from other construction sites.
Mainly modest in size, Phillips’ habitable art installations — all built to code — are also largely affordable in price with the Cowboy Boot House being a for-rent outlier. From the shard tile mosaic flooring to the vintage record cover-plastered ceiling, the home is classic Phoenix Commotion but also a departure.
Working almost exclusively in and around Huntsville, Phoenix Commotion homes are normally not built for renters but for qualified homeowners, who chip in and are involved with the design and construction of their future homes from the get-go. With one eye on landfill reduction and another on affordability, the company tends to target artists, single parents and low-income families.
Cowboy Boot House is built in Phoenix Commotion's idiosyncratic style with mostly salvaged materials. (Photo: Har.com)
Atop the boot, there's a large roof deck with views of Huntsville including Sam Houston State University. (Photo: Har.com)
In addition to using primarily salvaged and donated building materials, Phoenix Commotion relies on apprentice labor to keep costs low while working closely with Houston-based nonprofit Living Paradigm to provide future homeowners with interim financing — seed money, essentially. As the Phoenix Commotion explains, “Once the house is complete and the homeowner secures a mortgage, this money is returned to the fund for another homesteader to use to start building.”
Since 1997, Phoenix Commotion has built over 20 eco-friendly affordable homes around town.
While the privately owned Cowboy Boot House falls outside of Phoenix Commotion’s normal business model, it’s still a beauty. A bit of an attention hog, sure, but a beauty nonetheless, with incredible attention to detail. And whether it meets your personal tastes or not, there’s no denying that the phenomenal work Phoenix Commotion does with unwanted and unloved materials (phenomenal work that’s yielded both TED talks and retrospective books) is like nothing else out there.
“Since I was a child, I was always fascinated by creating houses that look like homes in story books,” Phillips told local news outlet KTRK-TV last month. “I just love story book architecture.”
Cowboy Boot House boasts all the rental property standards plus handsome handcrafted flourishes. (Photo: Har.com)
Renting for $1,200 month, Cowboy Boot House is targeted toward non-smoking, artistically inclined renters. (Photo: Har.com)
A right fit?
When Phillips mentions the influence of storybook architecture, naturally a nursery rhyme about a woman of a certain age with an unmanageable brood and some questionable housing preferences comes to mind. But this being East Texas, no ordinary shoe-home will do. It had to be big and it had to be a cowboy boot.
Sure, the Cowboy Boot House isn’t a classic work of programmatic architecture in that it’s a rental home and doesn’t mimic the primary function of the building nor does it advertise the business being conducted inside. It’s not a milk bottle-shaped building that sells dairy products or a knitwear boutique housed in the belly of a 50-foot tall concrete ram.
But in a part of the country where Fryes and Stetsons are just as ubiquitous as Uggs and Adidas, it’s not like the Cowboy Boot House is completely out of context. It’s a weird sight, but this is also a town where used car lots, apartment complexes and even churches have the word “cowboy” in their names. This is the town that was once home to the one-and-only Texas Prison Rodeo. It fits into its surroundings as much as a footwear-shaped house can. (What are considered to be the world’s largest cowboy boots are located 200 miles away at the North Star Mall in San Antonio although, height-wise, Phillips' single boot might be given them some new competition. "A Tribute to Courage," Huntsville's 67-foot-tall concrete statue of Sam Houston is one of the tallest freestanding statues in the U.S., by the way.)
Other Phoenix Commotion projects include the Cork House, the Bone House and the Budweiser House. (Photo: Har.com)
Phoenix Commotion keeps costs down by recruiting volunteer labor and relying on reclaimed materials. (Photo: Har.com)
On that note, it would appear that the Cowboy Boot House — completed in January and listed as a rental shortly thereafter — hasn’t seem to yet find a perfect fit when it comes to tenants. Maybe the thought of the looky-loos that come with living in a local landmark is discouraging; maybe it’s the price; maybe there's no decent BBQ within walking distance; maybe community swimming pools and carpeting are bigger draws in Huntsville than roof decks that are accessible via a spiral staircase built into a colossal cowboy boot; maybe this is just simply a truly hard shoe to fill.
Speaking to the Houston Chronicle in January, listing agent Dalene Zender explains that the property owner, who commissioned Phillips to design and build the boot, is looking to rent specifically to a working artist. “It’s really an amazing space with handcrafted, artistic touches throughout,” she says.
Whatever the case, the Chronicle also reports that Phillips, perhaps inspired by Seattle’s beloved '50s-era roadside attraction, Hats ‘n’ Boots, is already working on the design for a cowboy hat-shaped house to be built next door. Yeehaw!