Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Strange Houses

My guy and I love to drive around different towns and look at houses. I'm always checking out the architecture, while he evaluates the property and the landscaping. Since both of us have worked in the past as house painters (there, another bit of professional trivia you didn't know about me) we always talk about the color choices and condition of the exterior paint. This is yet another way in which we're totally boring, but it's one of the few hobbies we share and we think it's fun, which is all that matters.

Since getting more into photography, I've been taking the camera along with me on these drives to snap shots of unusual houses. I especially like small houses versus the big ostentacious McMansions; people who live in little places tend to be less uptight and more creative in their choices. For example, I was fascinated by the long, narrow windows and green roof tiles on this little house (click on any image to see a larger version):

I have to do a little research and find out why those windows are so narrow (probably antiques, and had something to do with weather conditions and/or cost.) I liked seeing the two chairs set out by the flowering shrub, too -- they're facing west, so I'll guess whoever lives in this small charmer likes to come out and watch the sunset.

Here's another home in the same neighborhood:

I can't say the pea-green exterior color, blue roof tiles and the red brick chimney do anything for me, but there was a definitely a castle-type feel to this one. Very stately for a single-family home. I wonder if the owner feels a bit like the ruler of a small kingdom.

Occasionally we'll spot odd things people have on their doors, in their yards or do to things around their home that I also photograph. One of the weirdest I've seen was the very strange fruit of this front-yard tree:

I know in Alsace the makers of brandy put empty bottles on the buds of pear trees so the fruit grows into the bottle (then they pick the bottle and fill it with brandy, and the effect of seeing a whole pear in the bottle is pretty neat) but I'm mystified as to why you would stick wine bottles into the trunk of tree.

When you're creating living spaces for your characters, you're generally concerned about the interior, where most of the action probably happens. But don't forget about the outside of the home -- if someone were to drive by your protagonist's house, what would they see? Adding some personal details and quirks like color choices, architectural features and even something as strange as wine bottles stuck in a tree can give the reader another glimpse into the personality of your character.

Small details can be just as fun to play with as the larger features, too. I thought one of the creepier house shots I took for the photoblog last year had excellent story potential. While standing outside a tea room to read the posted menu, I noticed a trio of suspicious-looking characters hanging out in the corner of one front window:

These cheesy vandals have since relocated from the tea room into one of my novels, because the moment I saw them I knew they were something that my protagonist would paint on one of her window frames. I just didn't know until I saw the real thing.


  1. Oh, I adore the green roof tiles on the first pic. They add so much character!
    Thanks for the idea about the singular details.
    (And the mice are priceless, lol).

  2. The tree with all the bottles is a bottle tree. I've usually seen them as metal trees with bottles on the branches, but this looks like a similar beast.

    It stemmed from some religion (Voodoo?), I believe, and the theory was that the sun shining through the bottles would attract evil spirits. The bottles would then trap the evil spirits, keeping the people in the house safe.

    They're mostly decorative now, and not uncommon in some areas of the South.

  3. These are all so unique. I love cottage style houses. I always wanted a house with a thatched roof (in reality probably not.)

    Doesn't wine grow on trees?


  4. I really need to take more photographs. Of something other than my children. I'm a visual person and story ideas are everywhere! Thank you for reminding me.

  5. That first house is just lovely. Skinny windows and all. I think I could be quite happy in a house with character like that. The other one? Um...not so much unless the outside got a whole new color scheme. :op

  6. I love unusual houses and weird floor plans. Thanks for the pics :)

  7. The first two houses have such character! I like the roof on the first one, too, just like raine.

    Very entertaining post!

  8. For more information about Bottle Trees, please check out-

    Felder is a local gardener in MS. He has a bottle tree in his yard, and has many pictures of Bottle Trees from around the south. I'm happy you got to see one on your drive.
    While I don't currently have a bottle tree in my yard, I plan to add one this spring. Already have the bottles saved up for it.

  9. I love architecture and paint colors! There's nothing I love more than driving in old towns and seeing what people have done. And I'm another one who isn't keen on McMansions. I need character and nooks and crannies. Werid things that make me wonder why they chose to do it that way.

  10. Being from the midwest, I'm used to big farmhouses, Victorian painted ladies, things like that. My aunt's house was one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and was, well, very square. Now that we live in the South I just can't figure out why every single house, just about, is only single story. Old, new, doesn't matter. I should say, in the part of the south I am living in, this seems to be the norm.

  11. Oh! I love those houses!! They have so much character!

  12. A bit further down the street from my parents' home, there lived a man who was a secret alcoholic. Every morning, he would go to the baker's to buy bread and the newspaper. He'd also buy a small bottle of liquor to drink on the way home. He usually finished his bottle somewhere around our house and just threw it away, so his wife wouldn't notice he'd been drinking.

    The empty bottles were lying around on the roadside, in the meadow across the road, sometimes even in our or the neighbour's garden. One day, my father picked up twenty discarded bottles or so, tied them to strings and hung them all from a tree by the roadside to shame the litterer into stopping. It didn't work and there were more bottles. They went onto the tree as well.

    The man died some years ago. Oddly enough, the tree died soon afterwards.

  13. There is a house in a nearby town that has what is apparently called "rolled eaves" - similar to - and I've fallen totally in love with the look. And finding that pic spurs more inspiration - take a look at the spiderweb window.

  14. Ah, it's visible on Google Maps streetview! Here's a link to the house that started me on the hunt for more like this.
    But after seeing that spiderweb on the house in Portland, (about 80 miles west of this house), I'm even more curious if the one I admire has any neat secrets.

  15. We have a very interesting house near where I live. Imagine the house you pictured, but painted a deep purple color, with a green roof, and the wooden supports int he eaves painted bright yellow. It should be horendous but somehow it works.

    Or maybe I am conditioned to like it. I grew up on an island where a whole section of one of the towns is made up of "gingerbread houses," which are tiny Victorian houses painted in an array of interesting colors. The only place I've been where a hot pink house right next to a house in robin's egg blue is completely normal.

  16. We also have in my town what we call the Rainbow House. It's often used as a landmark when giving directions.

    I've been told by someone who did some of the work for the woman who owned it that 1)she was quite an interesting personality, 2) there are even more rainbows that you cannot see from the street, 3) that she frequenting made changes and additions.

    The pics on Google Maps do not do this house justice, but you can see the landscape - it perches on a steep hill above the downtown area.

  17. Oh, and one more picture. This one shows the gardens in bloom, adding to the effect.

  18. OK, I am SO sorry for yet another post... but I just couldn't resist! I found one that shows the side view, garage, flowerpots and all.

    And matching cars.

    And an upper view of the house. Lights, towers, astroturf?!

    And a few last little additions:

    House is boring, other then it's one of a pair of incredibly skinny houses. The yard decor is another matter entirely.

    Another oddly skinny house:

    This was the quilt shop. Sadly, the quilt shop moved about a year ago, and the building is no longer purple.

    And I'll go away now. (Can you tell I love interesting houses?)

  19. Anonymous7:47 AM

    Near where my grandmother lives in Lincolnshire, there are three houses in a row made for old railway carriages. I managed to find a photo of one of them. Each one is slightly different.


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