Can the innocuous armadillo inspire the building of a Monolithic Dome? I wondered about that when I drove to Clifton, Texas to interview Jim Gibbons and see his new dome home. After all, the armadillo is both Texan and the inhabitant of an impenetrable, dome-shaped shell. And, as I soon learned, those are qualities Jim admires. He likes the security of a sturdy structure — it was what attracted Jim to Monolithic Domes — and he likes memorabilia and art that reflects Texas, including armadillos. In fact, a table display of Jim’s finest specimens greets you at the entrance to his living room, while other armadillos strategically hover about the grounds.
Walkway introduces Texas motif
Actually, the Texas motif of Jim’s three, interconnected Monolithic Domes begins before you reach his front door and the armadillos. His walkway is laid with concrete stones shaped like the state of Texas. They lead you into the living room of the central dome (28′×14′). Two slightly larger domes (32′×14′ each) flank this living area. The west dome houses three bedrooms and two bathrooms, including a roomy master suite with Jacuzzi tub and separate shower. In the east dome, Jim has a den, office, kitchen, dining and utility areas.
A bachelor designs his dome digs
Jim is a bachelor and a retiree from what he calls “a real fun job.” He was an air traffic controller whose career included five years with the military and 25 years with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), working at airports in Texas, Oklahoma and Puerto Rico.
Jim said he got interested in domes “way back when Buckminster Fuller first began writing about them.” In his travels, he made a point of visiting some Geodesics and talking with their residents. “Problem was that they leaked,” Jim said.
He then looked into prefabricated, plastic domes, shaped like orange sections that you could put together and make as large as you wanted. “But getting financing on anything like that was almost impossible,” Jim said.
Later he heard about Monolithic Domes, but doesn’t remember where. “I think I may have just stopped by at Italy — at Monolithic’s headquarters,” Jim said. “I was impressed. I guess it was the story about the tornado and the power pole that was slammed into one of the domes, and all it left was just a little rip. And the economy of the insulation — what you could save on utilities — impressed me.”
Jim cut construction costs by becoming his own subcontractor
In November 2000, Monolithic Constructors, Inc. began preparations for constructing the dome shells. Meanwhile, Jim began looking for other experts to do the rest of the work, such as electrical; plumbing; central heat and air conditioning; interior walls, textures and fixtures; and a septic system. But, Jim said, doing the research and finding his own small army of experts really paid off: “I found that I saved at least 40%.”
Other cost savers
Jim cut decorating costs by doing his own floor finish. He said, “A friend of mine has a business called The Stamp Store in Oklahoma City that makes all these different kinds of finishes for concrete floors, counter tops and even vertical surfaces. They have, what I call, rubber forms that produce different patterns.”
For his floor, Jim chose an acid stain that he hand-sprayed directly onto the concrete. Once that dried, he applied a sealer, using a lamb’s wool applicator. The result: an eye-catching, lustrous, dappled bronze that complements the home’s Texas motif.
Although Jim likes the look, he regrets letting others talk him into waiting to do the floor finish until after the interior walls and cabinets were set in place. He said that doing it that way, prolongs the process by forcing you to work in sections, so you can leave walking paths. Jim thinks it would be more efficient to apply the stain before other objects are placed within the dome’s interior and doing the sealing after.
Asked about his utility costs, Jim said that he has two air conditioning units, one in each of the flanking domes. "The first summer I was in, I set my thermostat at about 72 degrees and I ran them both day and night for the whole month of June — just to see what it was going to cost. Well, a fella in town has a house that’s about 100 square feet larger than mine. His bill was $412. Mine was $92 for the whole month of June 2001.
“But,” Jim continued, “the heat is not that good.” He was disappointed to find that his winter monthly electric bill, which included heating, averaged $150.
Local artists help decorate the dome
For someone who loves Western art, as Jim does, Clifton, Texas is a real treasure trove. Settled by Norwegians and Germans in the mid 1800s, Clifton trumpets itself as the “Norwegian capital of Texas” and as a small, but world renowned art community, whose residents include members of the prestigious “Cowboy Artists of America.”
Jim has taken advantage of all that talent. One of his artist friends helped Jim create stained glass pieces, with which he decorated his front entrance and some of the dome windows. Other artisans fashioned works within the home, such as an almost life-size cowboy with a head that once belonged to a steer and a body made of very, very stiffly starched clothing.
Note: This article was originally written and published in June 2003