PEMBROKE — The large silo situated among pecan trees in Pam DeRensis’ yard attracts a lot of attention. There is no grain stored here, but the windows and door hint that there is something else inside.
“It’s been a fun project,” DeRensis said of her silo house on the Deep Branch Road near Pembroke. “A lot of people stop by.”
DeRensis opens the door with apologies. “My rabbits are in here, so it’s not too clean at the moment,” she said while one of the rabbits munches on a spinach leaf. “They have the run of the place.”
Stepping inside the front door, visitors are transformed as the metal exterior gives way to hand-crafted wood. The walls are cypress, and the architectural millwork and some of the furniture is pine.
There are many ingenious details. A cypress tree serves as a column supporting the second floor loft. The bathtub is a galvanized watering trough, and the kitchen sink is a 10-gallon bucket.
The loft occupies half the silo’s circular footprint, giving a cathedral-like feeling from below the 30-foot ceiling. The floor is a solid 12 inches of concrete.
Almost everything, from the wood cooking stove to the silo itself, was purchased locally. Native folk art is everywhere. Decorated gourds and wood carvings fill shelves, walls and corners.
DeRensis, who is a self-described Army brat with family roots in Pembroke’s Lumbee community, said she got the idea for a silo house from the HGTV program “Extreme Homes.”
From concept to reality, DeRensis fleshed out the details with the help of her workers. Working in the round was the first challenge.
“I designed the interior myself,” she said. “I did not want drywall. I decided to use thin pieces of cypress, three-eighths inches thick, so it would bend.
“I used wood from pallets upstairs,” she said. “Mike Dial from Elrod cut the lumber and made some of the counters and benches. William Locklear made some of the cabinets and fixtures.”
A light fixture is made from a turbine. The front porch is covered with a mesh satellite dish. Clever is an understatement.
Clever, however, did not impress the building inspectors, who questioned the integrity of the structure.
“It’s solid as a rock. This is where I’m going for the next hurricane,” DeRensis said. “I had to hire an architect to certify it. I rewrote the building code book.”
When it comes to infrastructure, another picture emerges. The composting toilet, solar panels, wind turbine and a well serve the 1,200 square-foot building. This silo is off the grid.
“It’s a project,” DeRensis said. “I like to stay busy.”
It’s much more than whimsy, DeRensis indicated, as she talked further.
“I had a plan for this to be a teaching facility as well,” she said. “I hosted a class on solar energy here for kids.
“I spent most of my career with the U.S. Department of Energy, where I worked in environmental management, so I am familiar with renewable energy,” DeRensis continued. “The project also fits with my Native heritage and family farming history.
“Being Native, the environment is my responsibility,” she said. “The earth is home to all of us.”
The silo house serves yet another purpose, more personal. DeRensis is a “prepper.” Preppers are preparing for emergencies, including disruptions in the technology that runs the world.
“I’m not preparing for a zombie attack,” she said with a laugh. “I am more concerned with a disruption to the power grid.
“I was in Washington during 9/11,” DeRensis said. “I saw the Pentagon burning. We did emergency drills every month in the office — shelter in place; go to safe zones. Then, we had an earthquake.”
The experience shook DeRensis to the core. In the silo, she is ready to survive off the grid.
In retirement, DeRensis followed her dream back to Pembroke to find her roots and to share what she has learned with her people. The silo house is just the beginning.
Sitting among the chickens and grape vines is another project, a tiny house on wheels. A story for another day.
Reach Scott Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org.