When Architects Go Rogue: The Oddest Homes in the Midwest

If you’re bored with ramblers and split levels, have I got a post for you. This is my love letter to the homeowners and architects that have a completely different idea of what the word “home” means, the wild cards who take curb appeal to a whole new universe.

Want to see charming little Hobbit houses? Check.

How about a castle? We’ve got plenty. Do you prefer historic or modern stylings?

Want to see a few options that are so odd they’re almost impossible to categorize? Right this way.

I’ve enlisted a little help from my fellow travel bloggers (and one totally game realtor) to bring you some of the strangest and most wonderful homes in the Midwest. So the next time you think your neighbor’s new siding color or strange balcony display is a little too outside the box for your taste, remember these homes and realize that, on the continuum of unusual houses, your neighbor’s place isn’t even in the same league as these heavy hitters.

Photo by Mike McCaw with Spacecrafting

247 10th Ave. S.
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Know anyone that’s looking for a 3 bedroom, 3 bath castle in a major metropolitan area? If so, give Jeffrey Dewing a ring. He’s currently showing this truly unusual, modern day castle in downtown Minneapolis, just steps away from U.S. Bank Stadium. The sheer novelty of this place has been attracting lots of online buzz in my home state, in part because the interiors look like a Harry Potter/steampunk dreamscape.

When I started researching unique architecture in the Midwest, this property is the one that made me laugh out loud in the best possible way. I love it when homeowners create their vision, no matter how specific or unusual it may be — or how complicated it might be when it comes time to sell. And I think it’s great that, unlike some of the houses that are now operating as museums, this one can still be the perfect home for one very particular buyer.

And if you decide to buy this house, I’d love to see how you decorate it! Because seriously, exactly which shower curtain does one pair with a modern castle interior? Inquiring minds want to know…

Photo by Jim Hammer via Flicker.

The Castles of Ida Grove
Ida Grove, Iowa

If old school castles are more your thing, head south to The Castles of Ida Grove in Ida Grove, Iowa. This little Iowa town is the home of Midwest Industries, a small farm and marine equipment company headed by Byron Godbersen, who was (to put it mildly) a bit of a castle enthusiast.

He built his own home to like a castle (with a watchtower, moat and drawbridge, naturally) and oversaw the construction of many other castle-inspired company buildings as well. (What do castles have to do with farm equipment, you might ask? Who knows?! And listen, I’m going to tell you right now, looking for reason is only going get harder the deeper into this story we go.)

In addition to creating castle replicas, the good Mr. Godbersen also found time to create a lake from a cornfield, and install within it a half-scale replica of the HMS Bounty.  He also dreamed up a suspension bridge with stone towers (that you can climb up into to check out views of the nearby golf course and creek), and set into motion the creation of a several castle-inspired buildings in town, including an airport hanger, a skating rink and a newspaper’s headquarters.

Most of these buildings are privately owned, so tours are limited. But the good folks of Ida Grove are clearly used to travelers poking around (the buildings are highlighted on the city’s tourism website, after all), so you can get some cool exterior shots.

Photo by April Berry

Charlevoix Mushroom Houses
Charlevoix, Michigan

Speaking of cool exterior shots, I seriously, audibly squealed with delight when I saw April Berry’s photo of this almost impossibly twee little house. It’s one of more than two dozen unique homes created by a self-trained builder named Earl Young, who labored over his creations over the course of more than 50 years.

The Charlevoix Mushroom Houses have a certain magic about them. They’ve been called Hobbit houses, while other people look at them see a fairytale world of gnomes and princesses, kind-hearted huntsmen and pink cheeked villagers. They really do look like they’ve sprung straight from the pages of a child’s storybook.

Young’s wavy eaves, wide, sloping roofs and cool, curved shapes use locally sourced materials and blend in seamlessly with the world around them. He built these houses himself, painstakingly fitting one stone upon another and designing each element to appear integrated into the natural environment. The dreamy structures look organic to the landscape because they are.

These homes are privately owned as well, but residents are used to the region promoting them as an attraction. If you’re headed to Michigan, I highly recommend heading to April’s blog, Minivan Adventures, and checking out her charming Self-Guided Tour of the Charlevoix Mushroom Houses to help you plan your trip. (It’s a fun read for armchair travelers too.)

Photo provided by The House on the Rock

The House On The Rock
Spring Green, Wisconsin

For those that want a little (okay a lot) more rich dude eccentricity with their architecture, I present the House On the Rock for your humble consideration. Legend has it that this unusual house, built on a rock ledge above a Wisconsin forest, was inspired by a conversation between the builder, Alex Jordan Jr. and Frank Lloyd Wright.

I can imagine the home’s exterior as an homage to Wright. But after Jordan laid out a few neatly designed rooms, he ditched Wright’s design sensibilities and jumped head first into his trademark style, an aesthetic that reads like a  kitschy, extravagant, childhood-obsessed fever dream.

This sprawling complex is packed to the gills with Jordan’s favorite things. There’s The Infinity Room, where you can stare at the forest below your feet. There’s the massive sculpture of a giant squid battling a 200-foot tall model of a whale. (Yes, you read that correctly. It only gets weirder from here. Stay with me.)

Then, of course, there are the automated music machines, the vast rooms full of vacant-eyed dolls and the circus themed room with its pyramid of elephants. There are suits of armor and towering organs and mannequins dressed as angels hanging from the ceiling. There’s also a two-story carousel which seems to feature pretty much everything except carousel horses, because Jordan was many things, but he certainly was not basic.

It is truly difficult to wrap your mind around the scale of this place and to capture Jordan’s gleeful enthusiasm in a single photo. Your eyes seriously don’t know where to focus. I mentioned this to Lisa Dunham Trudell and she said it’s like that in person too. Her husband Tim Trudell’s guide to The House on the Rock  for their blog, “The Walking Tourists” attempts help us all get a handle on the sensory overload.

Photo by Patrick Emerson via Flickr

S.P. Dinsmoore’s Garden of Eden
Lucas, Kansas

What do you picture when you imagine the Garden of Eden? If you said an eccentrically designed log cabin surrounded by giant concrete sculptures depciting themes like the crucifiction of labor, well, start your pilgrimage to The Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas, my friend! Mr. S.P. Dinsmoore was one of your kind.

The farmer, Civil War veteran, free thinker, artist and social activist created his home/folk art wonderland after his retirement at age 64, stopping only when he went blind. His sculptures (which riff on political and religious themes) tower over the exterior of the building like gnarled trees rising to the heavens. They’ve drawn travelers (and their handy, project-fueling tourist dollars) to Dinsmoore’s home ever since he began crafting his own vision of paradise (and confounding his neighbors) on a prominent corner lot in 1904.

If you like what you see and want to pay your respects to Dinsmoore, you can. He’s still there, watching over his creation indefinitely in a handmade mausoleum inside the house, like the ultimate permanent art installation. Rumor has it he used to take breaks and stretch out in his coffin, just to get a feel for how it worked with the room.

Huh. Well then…I’m really not sure what tops mummified remains in the competition for the strangest home (and I’m absolutely sure I don’t want to know), so this ends our impromptu tour of the weirdest homes in the Midwest. If you have homes to nominate, be sure to let me know in the comments!

What about you?
What’s the strangest home you’ve ever been in?
Have you ever visited any of the houses on this list? How would you describe the experience?
Which one of these houses intrigue you the most and why?

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