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What is the Kaleva Bottle House?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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The Kaleva Bottle House is a house in Kaleva, Michigan which is built from glass bottles. This remarkable structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, and it is also listed by the State of Michigan as a historic site. Visitors to Kaleva often make time to visit the Kaleva Bottle House, which is open to the public for tours on some days during the summer months, and by special arrangement.

The house was built in 1941 by John J. Makinen, a Finnish immigrant who conveniently happened to own a bottle manufacturing company. As the bottoms of the bottles testify, many of the bottles used in the Kaleva Bottle House came from Makinen's factory. To build the house, Makinen laid the bottles on their sides and cemented them together, in a technique known as bottle wall construction. The bottoms of the bottles face outwards, and Makinen arranged the bottles carefully to create colored patterns and designs, spelling the words “happy home” on the front of the house.

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In addition to looking quite intriguing, there are some distinct advantages to bottle wall construction. Bottle walls are very thick, by their nature, providing lots of insulation, which can be very useful in Michigan's climate. In the winter, a bottle wall house would be warm, and in the summer, the thick walls would help to keep the house cool. Bottle wall construction is also very solid, and fire resistant, although of course the home is roofed with wood and fitted on the inside with wooden fixtures.

Alas, John J. Makinen passed away before he could move into the Kaleva Bottle House, and the home ultimately ended up being acquired by the Kaleva Historical Society, which opened it to the public after an extensive remodel. The Kaleva Historical Society also uses the home as a museum, housing various artifacts of interest from Michigan's history. Many of these artifacts are related to Kaleva's Finnish community and founders.

Bottle houses can also be found in other regions of the world, and people continue to build them, or to use bottle wall construction to create accents in their home. The Kaleva Bottle House has become particularly famous thanks to the meticulous preservation of the structure and the efforts of the Kaleva Historical Society, which works hard to preserve the history of the region.

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