For one glorious day each year, creative Houstonians roll out the red (or fur-lined or whimsical) carpet, inviting us inside their rule-breaking homes and work spaces to give us an eye-popping look at what it means to color — and live — outside the lines.
This year's Houston Weird Homes Tour® is giving us another chance to wonder in amazement at the myriad different ways that hippopotami can serve as home decor in Sue Shefman's Hippolotofus House, to get creeped out (but in a good way) at the mummified sculptures and paintings in Sharon Kopriva's Artist's Haven, and to see what happens when art car/rock star Bonnie Blue gets a little carried away with the paint. Selia Qynn's Secret Garden with its amazing backyard habitat remains on the tour, too, as well as Kelly Gale Amen's KGA Compound that juxtaposes the extreme in a perfectly eclectic mix of highbrow and lowbrow.
New on the tour, and proof that sometimes weirdness does runs in the family, is the High Water House. Owner Drew Shefman is the son of Sue Shefman (the hippopotamus lady); he and his wife Pam were flooded during 2015's Memorial Day flood and 2016's Tax Day flood and finally said, "Enough is enough."
"They’ve built it to be anti-flooding. They decided to raise the home probably ten feet in the air and so think of them as kind of master engineers," says David J. Neff, CEO of Weird Homes Tour. "They survived [Tropical Storm] Harvey by finishing the lift the day before the hurricane hit." Neff adds that, by necessity, they have become experts in what to do and how to prepare for a flood, and will be sharing that wisdom by handing out checklists to visitors on the tour.
Also new this year is the House of Luminosity, the home and studio space of glass artist Kim Clark Renteria, founder of Lighthouse Glass. "She’ll be doing a little bit of work that day; you can see her other work as well," says Neff. "She works in the studio and tries things out and experiments with stained glass in her own home and also produces pieces."
There's much to ogle on the tour, but this is definitely the year to spring for the VIP upgrade. VIP ticket holders get to tour the work-in-progress, LEGO brick inspired Shipping Container house on McGowen owned by Will Breaux.
"He’s doing it all himself; it’s definitely a work in progress. It will be super interesting, maybe [we should] skip a year and come back in 2021 as he finishes it," says Neff, who says there is a simpler version of a shipping container home on the New Orleans Weird Homes Tour but that Breaux has gone all out. "A lot of people go minimal; he’s gone maximal. He’s got 11 containers for three stories, over 2500 square feet of living space."
But wait, there's more. This year's tour actually has two VIP stops, though the second one will be time-shifted since it's located out in Katy. Photos can't do it justice, but homeowner Joe Axline has merged his passion for airplanes and freedom by converting the fuselages from two airplanes, tricking them out with a living room, kitchen, bath and bedrooms. He's not done yet, and he can't wait to give VIP ticket holders personal tours of Project Freedom and sharing his dream of adding a mini control tower and a mini terminal, all connected with walkways.
This is only the third year that Neff has organized the Weird Homes Tour in Houston, but he's already made a difference in our community. Neff reinvests a portion of ticket sales in the local nonprofit, New Hope Housing, an organization that in turn helps to provide affordable, permanent housing for people on limited incomes. Earlier this year New Hope Housing celebrated the grand opening of Reed Rentals, adding 187 units of family housing with one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
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"The more money we raise, the more we can write a check," says Neff. "[New Hope Housing] is actually building things. That's really cool to see."
Neff makes the same sort of investment in all of the cities that host tours: Austin, Portland, Detroit and New Orleans. "Affordable housing is always our cause, every city we go into. It's always about affordable housing and people going out to tackle the problem," adds Neff.
Want more weird? Purchase the coffee table book, Weird Homes: The People and Places that Keep Austin Strangely Wonderful Book, on the tour or on Amazon.com. Neff says it chronicles more than a dozen homes from their five years in Austin, as well as the strange and interesting personalities of the homeowners, and shows that we don't have to stick to eggshell white or shiplap to be creative.
Weird Homes Tour® Houston is scheduled for 10 a.m.-6 p.m. October 6, weirdhomestour.com, $30 to $55.