A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Switzer House, a futuristic house that was painted shocking pink and looked like a space ship. The West Van house only survived 11 years and was sacrificed for the Upper Levels Highway in 1971.
Here are five of my favourite eccentric houses that still stand (or did at the time of research).
1. The Hobbit House(s)
There are two in Vancouver and one in West Van designed by Ross Lort in the early 40s, and against all odds, all survive. Hobbit house at King Edward and Cambie is now part of a town house development. The future looked shaky for The Hobbit House on West Broadway when it sold to a developer six years ago, but instead of razing the place, James Curtis did a deal with the City where he sunk close to a million dollars into renovating the house, designated it, and in return was allowed to subdivide and build a second house on the large lot.
2. The Rotating House
Barney Oldfield (1913-1978) was a mechanical genius and inventor. In 1969 he built a 12-sided rotating house out of steel on the Old West Saanich Road on Vancouver Island. This house rotates at a complete 360 degrees, can spin at two speeds and reverse. His other inventions include a specialized 24-ton logging truck, bulldozer blades and a custom-built aerodynamic car he built in 1940 called “the spirit of tomorrow.” When I took this photo in 2010, the house was still in the Oldfield family, but renters had hooked up a television in a way that interfered with the houses mechanics and stopped it from turning.
3. Chuck Currie’s Polka Dotted house
Technically, the only thing that’s eccentric about Chef Chuck Currie’s house is the paint job. But it’s so startling that it rates a spot on this list. Chuck bought the house at 3rd and Lakewood in 1989 and painted it white with huge red polka dots a few years later. It was a joke, he says. A friend who owned a painting company went on holidays and came home to find that his friends had painted his house with purple polka dots. Chuck loved the idea and thought it was a great way to spruce up his neighbourhood.
4. The Steel House
When I wrote about this house in December 2010, Shaun Torontow, its designer and owner had it for sale. I suspect he still does. At 35 feet long and three levels, the house comes in at just over 1,000 square feet. And at just nine feet wide, it’s one of the skinniest houses in Canada (The Sam Kee building in Vancouver’s Chinatown holds the record at just under five feet). Shaun, an artist and welder, built his house out of steel and outfitted it with steel furniture, a bathroom that looks like a laboratory and an elevator to an underground pool.
5. Paul Merrick’s Tree House
Architect Paul Merrick designed this West Vancouver for his family in 1974. The original structure was less than 900 sq.ft. Later Merrick added a major addition incorporating cedar stone and glass and recycled building materials. There are soaring ceilings, multiple levels and exterior decks that blur the indoors with the outdoors. Because it’s built on a rocky promontory and nestled within private forest much of the house has the feel of living in a tree canopy. The current owner describes it as “part tree house, part Winnie the Pooh.”
“Living in this house is a lifestyle, it is your life and it becomes who you are,” she told me for my chapter about West Coast architects in Sensational Vancouver.
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