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Recycle: Build a beer can house

John Milkovisch didn’t set out to be a beer-drinking folk art icon or to build the most beer-tacular house in America, but sometimes life just works out that way.

Milkovisch grew up in the Great Depression, so he learned early not to throw away anything that could be useful one day, and for Milkovisch that frugality extended to beer cans, lots of beer cans.

After aluminum house siding became the rage in the 1960s, Milkovisch got a drunken idea about what to do with the bags and bags of aluminum beer cans stored in the attic of his Houston house. Well, I say drunken, but nobody involved will admit to that, and certainly they cite the fact that he also had to have the idea in the light of morn the next day and many days after.

Nevertheless, it is estimated that Milkovisch took about 50,000 aluminum beers cans — his and his wife Mary’s empties — meticulously sliced off the tops and bottoms of the cans, split and flattened the resulting aluminum cylinders, and re-sided his home in beer can shingles. Label side out.

Mind you, we are talking about the older-style, hefty aluminum cans that left a mark when you crushed them on your forehead, not today’s wimpier, light aluminum cans (kids these days, got it too easy).

Milkovisch worked hard to cut through those cans to make his home into the most shiny patchwork-quilt beer box in America and singlehandedly bolster the home-siding nail manufacture and sales industry while tacking each little square of flattened can to the walls.

It didn’t end there, either. Faced with the horror of having to dispose of the unneeded tops, Milkovisch — who had his wife’s blessing to decorate the exterior of his home any way he wished — stared up into the hot Texas sun and got another brilliant idea. Or sunstroke. Again no verdict on that one.

He strung together the leftover can tops to make long garlands that he hung off the house eaves creating a combination wind chime/awning.

If you are worried that this all sounds like a decorating house of horrors, you will be comforted to know that Milkovisch did have an overall theme for the home’s exterior: The aluminum beer can siding project actually followed another home improvement project in which he replaced all the lawn he hated to mow with cement embedded with the marbles he had saved from childhood and interesting baubles and bits he collected from along the railroad tracks.

All of which was illuminated brightly when sunlight reflected through the beer-bottle privacy fence he built in the backyard.

And if you’re mistakenly thinking, “my stars and land-a-goshin’ that man was a ‘unique’ individual” — and whether you think that nicely or sarcastically — he wasn’t entirely unique at all. Because after Milkovisch’s death in the mid-1980s his sons, worried about their mom’s safety, built across the front yard a privacy/security fence made of concrete and, of course, more beer cans.

The house was so popular, in fact, that the Houston nonprofit Orange Show Center for Visionary Art bought the property about 10 years ago to restore and preserve it right there in the middle of the swanky townhouse neighborhood that had grown up around it.

The house, along with its website and Wikipedia page, have become popular in the past week with the likes of “Today,” Huffington Post and other news or news-related organizations — many contributing information to this column — because the house is now an official historic landmark.

Think about that legacy the next time you shoot down someone’s beer-fueled idea.

(If only that Car Henge idea hadn’t already been taken, I coulda been a contender at


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