Whether I’m exploring a cave, camper, cottage or castle, I never tire of seeing other people’s living spaces. As a professional voyeur, I have been in some pretty cool homes, including the Lascaux Caves II a precise recreation of the prehistoric caves families lived in 18,000 years ago, and the Palace of Versailles, arguably the world’s most gilded home.
I have been in a house that had a river running through it, one with a waterfall cascading through two floors, and another with a tree growing through its middle.
The latter was a case of folks digging their roots in and saying, “We’re not going to cut this down.”
But none of that prepared me for the unusual houses I found when I flipped through the latest edition of Ripley’s Believe It or Not -- Dare to Look!
The book of weird features a home that is a recreation of the fictional Hobbit Hole, except that it’s made entirely out of – get ready – twisted balloons. Even the furniture in this life-size replica of the home of Bilbo Baggins is made of inflated balloons, 2,600 of them.
Another entry features a cottage perched atop a seven-story building at the University of California, San Diego, where it appears to be teetering off the ledge.
“It shows the lengths people in California will go for an ocean view,” quips Ripley’s editor Edward Meyer, who has been editing these books for 35 years, and really has seen it all.
I chatted with Meyer about the peculiar homes he’s seen over the years. This list includes houses carved out of trees, built inside old aircraft fuselages, grain silos and water towers, a house shaped like a shoe (modeled after the nursery rhyme about the woman who lived in one), and another that looked like a flying saucer.
Prior editions have also featured houses with trompe l’oeil garage doors fashioned to look as if you’re entering another world – say, a tropical paradise -- or the proverbial room with the elephant in it, or simply that you have a fighter jet parked in your garage, not a Honda.
“I’m looking for the wow factor,” Meyer said, when explaining which houses make the book. “Whether it’s weird houses or two-headed animals, I want the crowd reaction to be “Wow! I don’t believe that!”
“I like the wow factor in a home, too,” I said, “but my wow runs along the lines of spa steam showers or tricked out dog houses with heated floors. Besides, what about resale?”
“Never an issue,” Meyer assured me. “Nobody who builds one of these houses takes resale into consideration. It’s their pet project, their love, their passion.”
Apparently, there’s no shortage of house passion or imagination in this crazy wide world.
And though I don’t yearn to live in anything so exotic as the houses featured here, I do enjoy seeing houses that push the limits of possible. A flip through Ripley’s new book and a search online for other weird houses turned up these non-traditional dwellings:
• Come into my shell -- A house in Bulgaria was built to look like a giant snail. Meanwhile kindred spirits in Mexico built a home that resembles a giant seashell.
• A place for the paranoid – In New York someone built a safe house from a nuclear missile silo. The home has 15,000 square-feet of underground space built to withstand tornados, hurricanes and nuclear attacks.
• Recycle those bottles – A housing tract in Nigeria has 25 homes built entirely from discarded water bottles filled with sand. Builders stacked bottles on their sides to make walls, and bound them together with mud. The recycled bottles make good insulation, and are inexpensive. Each house uses around 7,800 bottles.
• Exhibitionists only -- A completely transparent multi-story home in Japan, built in the middle of a bustling city, offers a lot of natural light, but not much privacy.
• Just say no – The new Ripley’s edition pictures a house in China smack in the middle of a highway. The owners refused to give up the house when the town wanted to put the road through.
• Bring your own board – Skateboard enthusiasts in California designed a home that would allow skateboarding on all surfaces, including walls and ceilings.
• Yabadabadoo -- Another house in California replicates the cartoon home featured in the Flintstones, bringing the house in Bedrock to life.
• Please slide down to dinner – In Japan, a family built a slide house that lets its residents slide between the three stories, though they can take stairs back up.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.