Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Two Lawrence residents are expected to be featured on HGTV’s “Home Strange Home.”
Nick Schmiedeler and his “Kansas Rust Cottage” are slated for episode 108, which is tentatively scheduled to premiere at 11 p.m. Jan. 27, according to representatives of HGTV. Randy Walker’s “Museum of Odd” is slated for episode 107, which has yet to be scheduled.
There is a euphonium hanging from a tree in front of Nick Schmiedeler’s house.
What’s stranger is that this euphonium is barely noticeable among all the other objects dangling from the same tree, and the tree next to it. And arranged beneath the trees. And affixed to the front porch. And — keep walking — lining both side yards and filling the back.
Cast-iron bathtubs, sewing machines, license plates, a bicycle with fan blades for wheels, a massive concrete pod, an animal bone on a chain, a muffler (is that what that is?) — they hang, perch, peek and tower like wild creatures in a crowded wood.
A strange place to call home, indeed. Schmiedeler, who lives at 710 Missouri St., is one of two Lawrence residents scheduled to be featured on upcoming episodes of HGTV’s “Home Strange Home.” He and collector Randy Walker of 1012 New York St. — aka the Museum of Odd, a house that’s basically been turned into a giant cabinet of curiosities — are slated to appear in separate episodes premiering after the first of the year.
HGTV describes the show as a “sneak peek into some of the strangest, wackiest and most unusual homes across America.”
“Once I saw (Walker’s) sock monkey collection, and his dynamic personality, I just knew he needed to be featured on ‘Home Strange Home,’” said Loren Ruch, vice president of programming partnerships, via email. “ Schmiedeler ... had so many fun contraptions and art pieces that would dazzle our viewers. He’s a hip, modern-day mad scientist in the form of an artist.”
Schmiedeler and Walker expect footage from their homes to be blips in episodes anchored by bigger and stranger homes from across the United States.
The “stranger” part, however, is debatable.
Walker’s curiosities fill every nook, shelf and antique cabinet he can seemingly cram into his 1910 bungalow.
Inside the front door, a velvet Victorian sofa is heaped high with hundreds of sock monkeys — from tiny to oversized, with a few wearing clothes or hats.
“I’ve got, probably, over 600,” Walker said of the monkeys, which are mostly vintage. “I quit counting at about 400.”
Within arm’s reach are a number of brownish-gray spheres, each specimen displayed under a glass dome of matching size.
“These are cow hairballs,” Walker said. “I don’t know if you know what they are — you’re looking at probably the largest collection in the U.S.”
The collection totals seven, the largest with a 7- to 8-inch diameter. Since most people, in fact, do not know what they are, Walker explains that the balls, found in the stomachs of deceased cows, are created by an accumulation of undigested hair that eventually calcifies to a pumice-like texture.
Next to the sideboard where the hairballs are displayed, nude female figurines from circa-1940s Japan overflow a corner cabinet. These are the type of figurines that put breasts to use — such as one for salt and one for pepper, or both with holes for moonshine to pour out.
Walker’s affinity for “politically incorrect stuff” also includes dozens of beer-can men lining his kitchen walls, a couple with can-bodies that slide up to reveal anatomical correctness.
“What I’ve been after is American kitsch,” Walker said. “Not only to celebrate it but to show you how absurd this stuff is ... It’s like, ‘Who is coming up with this crap?’”
Walker — a lifelong fan of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! — started picking junkyards and holding his own garage sales as a teen. He moved into thrifting, briefly ran a second-hand store on Massachusetts Street and continues stocking booths in antique malls around the area. He also organizes estate sales.
Gilded mid-century lamps, velvet Elvises, velvet panthers, tiny black gloves worn by Tom Thumb, an Adolf Hitler head sculpted in elephant dung, miniature porcelain flamingos, child-size caskets, a jackalope head, a one-square-inch scrap of a sheet Elvis slept on stuck to a “Certificate of Authenticity” — they’re all on display at the Museum of Odd.
Walker, who gives tours of his house for $1, said his collections are constantly changing.
“I don’t own this stuff, I just rent it for a while,” he said. “It’s all in one big circle.”
Schmiedeler’s house itself is a mashup of found objects.
Before he moved in 16 years ago, the previous owner used 200-year-old beams from a cabin in rural Douglas County, bricks from Ottawa and other collected construction materials to expand it from a tiny “shack” to a livable-sized home, Schmiedeler said. Rolling with the log-cabin theme, Schmiedeler years ago set out a piece of driftwood he found by the Kaw that reminded him of a person, then some rusty things he thought were interesting.
“It kind of took off from there,” he said.
Most of Schmiedeler’s decorations come from junkyards, but he picks up some he finds discarded in alleys (Schmiedeler’s the one who started the Facebook group “Man!!! Look at this thing I saw in a Lawrence, Kansas alley!!!). A few — like a stoplight in the side yard — were left in his yard by anonymous donors.
“People are throwing out good stuff all the time,” he said. “We try to repurpose quite a few things. Anything that looks interesting I usually grab.”
For Schmiedeler, who works at the Kmart Distribution Center, junking, sculpting and decorating are hobbies. Besides the objects that fill his yard, he makes and sells metal sculptures online at vollskulptur.com.
In either case, he likes things that move — such as the fan-blade wheels on the bicycle in the tree. Children who visit have dubbed it “Squidward’s Bike” after SpongeBob SquarePants’ sidekick, a squid who rides a similar-looking one under the sea.
“It’s kinetic, and it will go,” Schmiedeler said. “I wanted to make it kind of come alive.”
He also likes things that might make people smile — or just go “hmmmm.”
The humanlike hunk of driftwood now has a pair of headlights for eyes. And one of the cast-iron bathtubs is half the length of a regular bathtub. Schmiedeler wonders if it was meant for a child, but he’s not sure.
And the euphonium? It’s from a junkyard, too. Schmiedeler laughs when he describes the fed-up musician or parent who he imagines — but will never know — might have put it there.