World's Wildest Houses II
Check out these crazy houses—from the world's largest tree house to a California junk castle
We've shown you the Bubble House in France, the Pickle-Barrel House in Michigan, and the Toilet-Shaped House in Korea. Now, we bring you 12 more wacky houses. Keep reading to visit the Free Spirit Sphere tree houses in Canada, see the Mushroom House in California, look at the Hobbit House in Wales, travel to Hawaii's Onion House, and more.
Alnwick, United Kingdom
Inspired by a survey's findings that one-third of children "aren't allowed to climb trees," the Duchess of Northumberland commissioned what would become one of the largest tree houses in the world. It was crafted with materials from sustainable resources and features rope bridges, walkways, decking, a restaurant, and educational facilities—all wheelchair accessible. And, don't worry, wood braces and concrete provide additional support. The 6,000-square-foot Alnwick Gardens Treehouse was built among a group of mature lime trees on the grounds of the Duchess' home, Alnwick Castle. The castle is as famous as the tree house: It was used as The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the first two Harry Potter films.
Hammacher Schlemmer made good on its promise to offer "the best, the only and the unexpected" with this $91,100 floating suite. (The suite is no longer part of the company's inventory; its website lists it as "Sold Out") Each UFO-looking structure offered 150-square-feet of living space. It was designed to be anchored permanently at any location, and provide panoramic views above and below the water, with beam lights illuminating underwater views at night. A diesel generator provided 220 volts of electricity to power the central air system and Bose stereo. The unit also featured a minibar, King-size bed, bathroom, and a 6½-foot-wide sunbathing terrace that doubled as a bumper to protect your investment from reckless jet-skiers. The price covered delivery to any U.S location, "white-glove" assembly, an official water launch, and new-owner training by a four-man crew.
Peter Kaschnig wanted to see what would happen if he surrounded himself with just one color. So he painted everything on and inside his house—even houseplants—blue, a color that has healing and calming effects according to some research. The project has made the neighbors anything but calm, though. They've called Kaschnig's experiment "ridiculous" and the attention it has brought to the neighborhood "a real nuisance." But Kaschnig told The Sun, a British newspaper, "The results exceeded my expectations. It really does have an amazing impact on the senses to have everything in one color. It changes the whole 3-D impact of a room." Color perceptions are largely subjective, but studies in the 1940s and '50s showed that exposure to the color blue stimulated areas of the autonomic nervous system and caused blood pressure to drop, producing feelings of tranquility. A more recent study published by Science suggests that blue also enhances creativity.
Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada
(and anyplace else, too, if you want to buy one)
Tom Chudleigh is the inventor, manufacturer, and distributor of these tree-mounted spheres, and he wants to give you a bird's eye view of nature. Inspired by sailboat construction and riggings, he made his first wood sphere prototype in the style of cedar-strip canoes, which calls for assembling beautiful, thin strips of wood and sealing them with epoxy resin and fiberglass cloth. To get to the unit, you climb a spiral stairway that's wrapped around a tree trunk , then cross a suspension bridge to the front door. According to Chudleigh, the spheres "use the forest for its foundation, so occupants have a vested interest in the health of the grove." Free Spirit Spheres are set up at a "treesort" in British Columbia, Canada, and are available for rent. Safety is ensured by extensive tree examination for size and health, and a complex rope webbing system that evenly distributes each unit's weight between three trees. If you want to order your own sphere, Chudleigh suggests consulting an arborist before choosing between a wood unit (wired, insulated, heated, and plumbed) for about $150,000 each and a fiberglass unit (insulated and wired) for about $45,000 each.
Wales, United Kingdom
It wasn't Simon Dale's intention to build a so-called Hobbit House, but he's embraced the name his DIY woodland home was given by the media. Dale, who had no previous building or architectural experience, built the turf-roofed structure with the help of friends and family in just three months. He used sustainable practices and eco-friendly, reclaimed materials. The house is on land provided for free by an owner who was looking for caretakers to live on-site. One of the caretaking duties played nicely into Dale's building plan: He used wood from the trees he thinned out for framing and details. About his home's resemblance to something a Tolkien character might live in, Dale told The Independent newspaper: "I'm no literary expert, but hobbits seem to be a representation of humans living in a sustainable sort of way. I'm happy with that."
Kailua Kona, Hawaii
This estate, owned by a member of the McCormick Spice Co. family, wasn't nicknamed after the company's dehydrated onions. Instead, the Onion House moniker came courtesy of an angry neighbor overheard complaining that "The damned thing looks like an onion!" In 1959, Elizabeth von Beck, niece of the founder of McCormick, commissioned Kendrick Bangs Kellogg to create a structure that would be as eccentric as she was. Von Beck approved the design, but contractors deemed it unbuildable. So Kellogg decided to build it himself with the help of friends such as Bill Slatton, who was a welder on Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West house. Following the design principles of organic architecture, Kellogg created lava rock walls and let in light with stained glass and translucent fiberglass roofs. The house—with its view of the Kona coastline's spectacular sunsets—features two arching "onion" domes and is surrounded by gardens, pools, and ponds. Von Beck's niece, Beth McCormick (who is also the current owner), restored the house in 1984 after it fell into disrepair and faced foreclosure. The Onion House is currently available for vacation rental.
As a child, Michael Rubel built elaborate forts using things he found in a nearby junkyard. His childhood hobby became a grown-up obsession. In 1959, he purchased the former fruit-packing house of gentry farmer and Singer Sewing Machine CEO Al Bourne at a bargain price. Rubel went on to build a five-story castle on the property out of found and reclaimed materials. The 25-year-long DIY project included the addition of drawbridges, turrets, cannons, and towers (shown). It all started when Rubel's mother, a Greenwich Village Follies and Ziegfield dancer, moved in with him in the 1960s and started throwing extravagant—and loud—parties, whose guests included the likes of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Alfred Hitchcock. To escape the ruckus, Rubel built himself a room out of cement and empty wine bottles. The castle is now owned by the Glendora Historical Society, and tours can be arranged.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
If you're going on a beach vacation, why not go all out and stay in a larger-than-life seashell? Owner-artist Octavio Ocampo created this 5,500-square-foot home in 1997. The seashells-by-the-seashore aesthetic doesn't end with the exterior: Details such as a bathroom sink made of conch shells with coral faucets and a shell-shaped showerhead finish the look. Made primarily of concrete with recycled and found materials, the property—complete with a private pool and housekeeper—is available for vacation rental.
Rochester, New York
This may look a still from a science fiction film, but it's actually just a mushroom-looking abode in upstate New York. Designed by architect James H. Johnson in the late 1960s as his take on organic architecture, the elevated structures are connected by a network of halls. A "cave" addition, made in 2002, features intricate interior tile mosaics on walls and floors. Though the house is commonly known as the Pod House, or even the Mushroom House, its design was inspired by the Queen Anne's lace plant.
If this house evokes memories of The Flintstones, you're probably not alone. When a rotary spray gun for cement was invented in the 1970s, architect William Nicholson decided to try something new: He inflated aeronautical balloons, then sprayed them with cement. There was one major setback: Someone on the job didn't watch the weather forecast that day. A heavy rain after the first spraying led to a collapse of the original structure. According to locals, the house was originally off-white; the owners painted it a loud orange, making it stand out all the more. Like many wild houses, some neighbors thought the building was an eyesore. This one was even reported to the Hillsborough neighborhood's architectural review board. But to many others, it'll always be fondly known as the Flintstone House.
How many beer cans does it take to side the exterior of a house? With the help of his wife and neighbors, John Milkovisch drank enough brewskies to find out. He started reusing the empty cans as a type of "aluminum siding" in 1968 and finished the job 18 years later. Ripley's Believe It or Not estimates that over 50,000 cans adorn the house, which is now owned by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. Aside from keeping all these cans out of the waste stream, the extra layer of recycled insulation had the added benefit of lowering the family's energy bills. The house is open to the public on weekends.
La Jolla, California
This oceanfront house was designed and built by Dale Naegle in 1968 for Sam Bell of Bell's Potato Chips. Naegle was instructed to build a futuristic-looking, earthquake-proof structure. The tram that carried people from the roadside down to the house was eventually taken out of operation, leaving visitors to trek to the house on foot. The Mushroom House was part of a larger building project that started in 1955 with a house at the top of the cliff that, according to Modern San Diego, was demolished in the 1990s.