Where Do All Junked Cars Go?

updated 11/11/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/11/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

MANY CALIFORNIANS CLAIM THEY practically live in their cars. John Picard, 34, goes a step further: He lives in cars, practically. "These are cars from the '60s that were in the junkyard," he says, his arm making an expansive sweep around his 2,400-square-foot ultramodern home in Marina del Rey. "Now they are my house."

Actually, Picard's answer is a bit of a dodge. His walls aren't made from hubcaps and fenders per se but by a company that manufactures recycled-steel framing material from junked cars and discarded cans and washing machines. In fact, Picard's entire house—a space-age, two-story metal cube that sits incongruously in a neighborhood of traditional stucco homes—was built using recycled material and modern technology to produce a domicile that's environmentally correct and comfortable too. The woodless construction alone, Picard estimates, "saved about 100 trees."

But wait, there's more. Other "ecohouse" features include filtered air and water, a computer that monitors the interior temperature, energy-efficient lighting, and a roof-mounted, sun-tracking, 14-foot by 14-foot solar panel that supplies most of his home's energy needs. "My house," he notes proudly, "has the potential for zero utility bills"—provided the sun always shines.

A builder and designer by trade, Picard spent $200,000 (not including the cost of the lot) on his dream house. His intent was not to create some kind of monument—"This town is full of show-off cases," he says. Rather, he explains, "I wanted to do an energy-efficient house that everybody could construct."

Picard inherited his interest in building from his father, John, who was president of a Los Angeles architectural firm. The younger Picard attended Orange Coast and Pierce colleges, where he studied business management and computer science. In 1981 he went to work for the Gersten Companies, building homes in Malibu and Beverly Hills, and in time he was tapped for such jobs as restoring multimillion-dollar mansions for entrepreneur Marvin Davis and movie mogul John Huston.

Although he landed some of the most lucrative building jobs in town and led the life of a Porsche-driving yuppie, Picard wasn't emotionally satisfied. "It was no challenge for me anymore," he says. "I was as ungrounded as one can be." Then in 1988, he was hired to build an environmentally hip home for L.A. recycling king Gary Petersen. Intrigued, he began boning up on ecological issues and, encouraged by friends like dolphin crusader Sam LaBudde and actress Tatum O'Neal—"She was always saying, 'Why don't you build your own house?' "—he decided to try something new. Designing Picard's ecohouse took a year; construction took lour months. Picard now shares the finished product with housemate Katrina Cirio, 25, a production coordinator at Columbia Pictures.

Picard hopes that his ecohouse will inspire similar construction in the future. "I know it changes people when they see and understand it," he says. "It brings quality back into building, and it's good for the environment." And for Californians, there may be an added consideration: This house of steel could well be earthquake-proof. Says Picard: "This is where you want to be during the big one."

VICKI SHEFF in Los Angeles

From Our Partners