Upcycling as a Lifestyle (With Emphasis on Style)

When most people subscribe to recycling and reusing as environmental goals, bins taken to a recycling center are part of their efforts. Bob and Tam (Walrath) Polzer have practiced thinking BIG about recycling during their renovation of two homes since their marriage in 1986.

The Rockwood house before renovation.

The ’78 graduates first purchased a rundown, unkempt house on Rockwood Drive in Painesville in ’86. Before any remodeling could begin, they unloaded enough trash to fill two 10-yard dumpsters. A most unpleasant task came with realizing the home had been inhabited by heavy smokers and at least 20 racoons.

The Rockwood house under construction. That’s Bob on the turret.

The couple began extensive remodeling by salvaging what they could from a variety of sources. For example, trim for an enclosed back porch came from a barn torn down in Geauga County. Wood used to build a cabinet showcasing Bob’s leaded glass came from an outhouse in West Virginia. For seven years, the couple was the focus of the neighborhood because they had resurrected a run-down Queen Anne Victorian into a showplace.

When their son and daughter born in ‘92 and ‘93 came of school age, the new parents wanted to move to a quieter neighborhood and began looking for a house that had more land and space. They discovered an affordable story and a half colonial house surrounded by five acres in Perry. After their Rockwood home sold within four hours of going up for sale because of its curb-side appeal, they moved into the Perry house right away.

The Perry Village house before construction.

Within a week of moving in December of ‘96, Bob enclosed the awning on the back of the house, creating a beautiful backyard view by using old windows that their neighbor (George Murphy) on Rockwood was going to discard. Again, “reusing” became the watchword to renovate and create new buildings on the Perry property, making the Rockwood home seem to be “just practice.”

Before beginning the renovation of the house, Bob began collecting materials destined for the landfill from all over Lake and Geauga counties so he could build his barn. Having a keen eye to spy roadside finds and being unafraid to dive deep into a dumpster (or afraid to be known as a cheap bastard), he resurrected many things to help construct his masterpiece. For example, he salvaged wood from old buildings and used wood from a shipping cradle for a pump at the Cleveland Water Crib to create the basics for a beautiful, rustic-looking post and beam barn. It sits two hundred feet back of the house.

The Bar Barn Band Bandoramas.

A compulsive planner, Bob designed the barn’s first floor to be his woodshop for his R.A. Polzer Construction Company (which came in handy when renovating the Perry house). The upstairs of the barn he prepared for storage (which also came in handy since they lived there after tearing off the roof of their house). The second floor now is a showcase for his collectibles and for daughter Eva’s sculptures as well as a great space for friends to gather for their “Better Than a Bar Barn Band Bandoramas.”


After he tore the roof off the house, Bob wondered if it was a good idea to leave the bathroom so “exposed.”

After “completing” the barn in ‘97, Bob realized the roof of the house needed to be replaced. So, using his imagination, he sat in the front yard and sketched with a pencil on a 2 X 4 in hand the house’s future Gothic architecture. It became what the neighbors call the “Castle of Perry.”

Although much of the house’s history was lost before it turned into a residence in the 1920s, evidence, such as newspapers and billing receipts were found behind the walls. Grooves in the wood demonstrating patrons’ pathways led the couple to believe the house was initially a general store (H.H. Shepard and Sons, circa 1880s).

After beginning the roof tear-off, Bob says his thought process was, “As long as I am up here to replace the home’s roof, I might as well add a full second story.” After “sawzalling” off the entire old half story at the floor line, he thought, “We might as well add a third.” Eventually, keeping the original house inside for as long as possible, he not only went up but over and out. In the heat of demolition, the couple decided to move the family into the second story of the barn, which became their residence for six months while constructing.

The Perry Village house under construction.

The new structure’s additions were many: a foyer having wormy chestnut panels Bob built using wood from a chicken coop in West Virginia, a natural pine-clad walk-in pantry (a favorite of Tam’s), plus a re-designed kitchen having trim and cabinets made of cherry wood from trees fallen for the development of Rt. 90. The wood had been stored for years in the ‘50s by a Leroy resident, Roy Marx. Bob enhanced the kitchen cabinets by making leaded glass pieces from wavy glass found in window panes thrown out in Painesville City.

Bob designed a staircase with an intricate railing of cherry. He also designed and built a library (using the same cherry wood from the Rt. 90 project); a hallway (using the tongue and groove heart pine wood salvaged from the original house’s west wall); and a second story laundry room (another of Tam’s favorites).

A bedroom and a bathroom were the next focus; they have a 1920s era look using salvaged fixtures from various places, including a claw-foot tub from a house in Perry. Still on a roll with the additions, Bob constructed an office so that Tam could grade her English classes’ papers in peace. The office stairs led to a tower with a sky light (another of Tam’s favorites, where she does yoga and meditates), and a full attic.

Bob set up hoists and pulleys for himself and Tam, to raise the plywood and other lumber needed to close everything in. They assembled the roof from the inside out. Double four vinyl clapboard barn-red siding and cedar trim, painted in “terratone”, wrap the house and are set off by a green front door, which Bob built. As Tam describes it, she loves that the house seems to have colors that “exude the warmth of an Indian blanket.”

The completed Perry Village house.

Throughout the years, Bob created trim to dress each room apropos to a by-gone era built with pride and craftsmanship. He also built eclectic furniture pieces using salvaged material. Some of Tam’s favorites are the following:

  • an 18th century style slant-front desk out of wood from a walnut tree once standing in their front yard;
  • a coffee table from two old wooden ironing boards; organizer bin units from a dumpster dive at Blackmore’s in Painesville;
  • a planter from an early 19th century door and cast iron legs of a dilapidated wood-burning kitchen stove;
  • a plant pedestal from the front porch columns of the Celery Cottage owned by Painesville City resident Paul Hach;
  • an antebellum bed’s head and foot boards, using lumber from two tall trees and wormy chestnut salvaged from his parents’ garage in Leroy;
  • and a wine rack from a case of wine his great-grandparents had purchased when just off the boat from Ellis Island.

Over the years, he even added the elegance of a leaded glass piece for each window showcasing shields from many European countries.  And the list goes on and on.

Although neither Bob nor Tam is ever likely to consider the five-acre masterpiece “finished,” it has so many completed projects that it is difficult to imagine what might be next. Almost all the materials salvaged from the house found new purposes in other buildings the couple wanted on the property. Some wood became a playhouse for the kids, which evolved into a sheep barn for daughter Eva’s 4H project, and then a storage area for cans to be recycled and to hold gardening supplies.

A “tractor house” combined with a “Chevy garage,” built using the house’s original roof sheathing, studs, joists, and rafters, stands to the back left of the property. The couple even went so far as to salvage the wrought cut nails from the wood to use again. Inside, the Chevy garage is decorated with vintage license plates; and featured is Bob’s ‘57 Chevy, which he bought his senior year at RHS and renovated for 27 years to car-show completion. The tractor house has housed a ‘39 John Deere L and a ‘49 John Deere M. Now it is cover for Gertie, the couple’s John Deere Gator; farming implements; and tools; and equipment for maintaining the garden and property.

One item used frequently for the garden is a trailer that his grandfather built in the ’40s, which Bob converted into a water wagon.  Close to the driveway is a fiberglass nickel ride carousel horse Bob salvaged from an over-grown field in Perry. He placed the horse on the property’s original stone well and built a post and beam well-head over it. The couple surrounded it with flat river rocks and red street-paver bricks salvaged from downtown Willoughby’s Main Street.

After passing by a very long garden behind the barn, one finds a large implement shed, which over the years has housed many projects including a ‘50 T-O 20, a ‘53 Ford Jubilee (Julie), a ‘60 Cub Lowboy, and a ‘61 Massey Fergusson (Maggie). Bob resurrected all of the tractors and even displayed some at the fair and tractor shows and drove them in the Perry Memorial Day Parade.

The garden.

Although the couple has scaled down the garden size recently, it once was 1 ½ acres. It is in itself a marvel of design with raised beds containing plants grown from harvested seeds.  Each bed is enclosed with ¼ inch hardware cloth and Irish Spring soap to secure the plants from varmints.  Even 20/20 vision would struggle to find a weed.




The results of the summer gardening.

By mid-summer the garden is a manicured wonder of vegetables that the Polzers freeze and can every year. It is unlikely that they will ever buy a can of tomato sauce, spinach, Swiss chard, hot sauce, onions, garlic, beets, grape juice, or peppers of any kind.

Everything on the property seems so perfectly planned and cared for that it is rather surprising to find a “wild area” to the right of the garden. However, the nature-loving couple wanted a mini- park to enjoy, so they let an area of trees and wild plants grow and created only walking paths within. It is the perfect retreat for a loving pair to share quiet times as a reward for their hard work. Walks, winter brush burnings, and Gertie rides throughout their woods are their “dates.” It was a magical place for their children, and now their grandson, to explore and enjoy.

Understanding Bob and Tam’s impressive accomplishments can best be appreciated by knowing that both demonstrated talent and leadership skills early in life. Both earned membership in the RHS National Honor Society. Although their relationship did not become serious until several years after they graduated, their interests and work ethic seemed meant to bring them together.

Bob’s leadership was apparent in junior high school when he was Student Council president. At RHS he was class president in 10th and 11th grades and Student Council president in 12th. He was on the track team and in the audio-visual group.  He joined the marching band when Director Robert Capella needed a sousaphone player for the RHS marching band. An enthusiastic native of Leroy, Bob was also active in 4H, baseball, and participated in many community events.

He even exhibited some good-natured “reverse sexist thinking” by convincing the Girls’ Athletic Association that it should not discriminate against males. After he joined, the group’s name changed to the Riverside Athletic Association. (Perhaps having six sisters had given him some practice in standing up for his rights).

Tam was both athletically inclined and talented in literary pursuits. She ran track, was on the basketball team and was a cheerleader each year at RHS. An early interest in photography and journalism led her to the RHS (student) Log, for which she took many pictures, wrote articles and was a page editor. She was in the play “Anything Goes.” Her ready smile, affable nature and loyalty earned her the homecoming queen title her senior year.

Bob and Tam at the Sadie Hawkins dance in 1977.

Both Tam and Bob describe themselves as “just friends” when they were in high school. One year they attended a Sadie Hawkins dance, but otherwise their relationship was casual through graduation.

Bob went to Lakeland for two years and was very active as a DJ for WLCR, Lakeland’s radio station. Initially, inspired by his drafting class, he intended to become an architect. Later he decided he’d rather be more hands-on. He ran Wildwood Construction with Tam’s twin brother for a couple of years. Later, he honed his skills in all of the trades by working for D. Evans Construction, Rowan Concrete, Royal Centaur Construction, Hi-Tech, Graper and Warmington, and Raines Construction before or while running his own business, R.A. Polzer Construction.

Passionate about music, dance, and his heritage, he became an active member of S.T.V. Bavaria, a German dance club in North Olmstead. As a schuhplattler, he traveled and performed in Toronto and around the United States with the group.

Tam went to Lakeland Community College for one year, then transferred to Kent State to earn her Bachelor of Education Degree with a major in English and minor in journalism.  She went on to Cleveland State for her Masters. Tam spent a year and a half substitute teaching at RHS, Perry, Mentor, and Fairport. She became a full-time English teacher at RHS in 1983 and retired in 2013. She also coached girls’ basketball, cheerleading, and was advisor to the student literary publication Prospectus and Teen Institute.

Throughout her life, Tam has been interested and trained in various healing arts. Years ago, she became a Master of Reiki (an energy healing modality now accepted in many hospitals for patients and staff), and she offers Reiki sessions in her home.

Having more time after retiring, she is performing feel-good, informative presentations on self-help strategies (meditation, gratitude, etc.),  journaling and angels. The sessions have been well-received in various libraries, schools, senior centers, and healing centers. She has also been able to self-publish three books: The Kitchen Fairy, a story about love and family; Reflections from the Wilde Side, a unique, non-fiction collection of poetry and prose about mental illness and addiction; and Pathways to Epiphanies, an eclectic short story collection about characters finding insight. The books can be found on Amazon. More information about Tam, her presentations, and her books can be found on her website: https://tampolzerauthor.wixsite.com/eclectic.

Tam and Bob at their wedding in Hell Hollow.

Her deep loyalties to the RHS school system have been lifelong, having grown up in the township with her father Bill as the RHS long-time drafting teacher. Her three sisters and brother Tim also graduated from the high school. Bob’s six sisters as well as his mother attended Riverside.

As so often happens, it was a class reunion, their 5th, that finally reunited the two long-time friends once again. The marriage day was one of the best kept secrets among the faculty at Riverside: Tam took a personal day off from school and met Bob, her brother Tim, her life-long girlfriend, Bob’s roommate, a few family members, and a minister in Hell Hollow Park in Leroy on a Monday morning.  She came back to school a married woman.

Biographical material about these two accomplished people is never complete without including their mutual love of the outdoors and of other people. They love hiking whenever they can and have gone on the Hocking Hills’ annual winter hike for many years. Bob plays drums and Tam writes songs and plays guitar. They often have musical get-togethers with friends; and Bob is now in a band called Word of Mouth, an eclectic rock group which plays in many places throughout the area, including at Leroy Days.

Their children are also creative people. Alois (Louie) is a writer and musician (Keyboard/saxophone), and daughter Eva is a ceramic sculptor and works for Curated Storefront.

Bob plans to build a green house on skids this winter out of old triple track storm windows from Ed Nemeth’s nursery house on Madison Avenue, and Tam plans to continue working on her fourth book, a novel.

It would be impossible to count the number of Polzer friends who have helped them “build” their life together and who have been touched by their optimism, strength and generosity.

You can find more information about the couple and their daughter on the following sites.

Facebook: Polzers Projects, Tam Polzer, Tam Polzer author, Natures Way by t.e.  Band: Word of Mouth

Instagram: heirloomsbybinboxbob   tampolzerauthor  eva.polzer

Etsy: tampolzerauthor

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