April 29, 2018
Community First! Village in Austin Texas includes micro homes with heart for men and women who are coming out of chronic homelessness.

The most poignant lines of the author David Neff’s dedication in the book that he and his wife Chelle Neff have so lovingly created are their mission statement that “the book is dedicated to all the affordable housing groups/nonprofits we invest in”. Their story is laudable. The Neffs, who are co-founders of Weird Home Tours in Austin Texas, embarked on a journey to look inside weird houses to satisfy their curiosity, and then organized a house tour so that the public could join in. Part of the profits from the tours is directed to community improvements. Many communities around the world have homes that stand out as strange, irreverent, innovative or just plain fun. These homeowners are artists who reject the “normal” status quo, and pour their heart and soul into their personal living spaces. What can we learn from such innovation?

Casa Neverlandia, shown here, is home to artist James Talbot. He and his family and friends have been working on this magical abode since 1979. You’ll discover secret passages, fire poles, an elevated foot bridge, rope railings and ladders. The shell of the A-frame is part of the overall artistry constructed of basic building materials that have been given fresh colour and form. Rainwater collection tanks and solar panels are used for maintenance – there is no air conditioning or heating systems.

The following three examples are not pictured here as space does not allow, but my guess is that you will want to see the book if weird is your thing.

Nestled in the classic Austin weirdness zone, artist Lois Goodman’s home literally overflows with bold colours and eclectic collections. The bathroom is uniquely lit by 109 dichroic glass tiles. Titled Under The Sea, the home’s walls shimmer in shades of blue. A handpainted sign nestled in some outdoor greenery near her ‘rock star’ rock garden states “Be Strange, Not a Stranger.”

“When we learn to realize the uniqueness and beauty in everything, then we can understand that nothing is ever ordinary,” says Barbara Irwin, owner of Barbara’s Birdcage. Irwin is a found object artist who transforms castaway items into unique works of art. Dozens of found bird cages are repurposed as tiny stages that hold a wild variety of vignettes, many made from old dolls. Her collections not only fill the home’s whimsical interior, but also decorate the exterior walls and surrounds.

Analyn Hughes lives in a ‘normal’ apartment building, but her space is where Non-Conformity flourishes. Hughes is known as Queen of the Weird in Austin” A life-sized (papier mache?) pig glamorously festooned with a hairband sits on top of the stainless steel fridge. The fridge door is decorated with handmade fabric flowers and a tiny doll’s head is framed with coloured pencils and titled ‘She led a colorful life”.

What can weird or strange teach us? Is it beneficial on a larger scale? A development of Mobile Loaves & Fishes called Community First! Village shows us it can. The inhabitants of the Village are men and women who are coming out of chronic homelessness. The housing options available to the residents of this community vary from professionally-designed micro-homes, RVs, canvas cottages, airstream trailers and even tipis. A new medical facility and other support services are part of the community complex.

You might, as is the author’s hope, “take away design, architecture, and art tips and tricks to add flair to your everyday spaces.” But for sure you will be entertained and delighted by the magnitude of talent, imagination and artistry each home represents.

Written by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please email decorating questions to house2home@debbietravis.com. Follow Debbie at instagram.com/debbie_travis, facebook.com/thedebbietravis, debbietravis.com.