Austin doesn't have a lock on weird, and the inaugural Weird Homes Tour Houston – with thousands of hippos, an old fire station and an eclectic mix of tramp and outsider art – just might prove the point.
If you've ever driven past a house that's peppered with whimsical lawn sculptures, or wondered how some of our most talented local artists live, then this self-paced tour is your backstage pass to weird and wonderful.
“For us, we really started it to highlight artists, to really let artists show off their work, their architecture, their design,” says David J. Neff, co-owner of Weird Homes Tour™, along with his wife, Chelle Neff (who founded the tours in Austin). The Houston tour is co-produced by Houston-based Lott Entertainment.
With so many big-box stores here in town, it's hard to break out of the mold and do something different when designing your personal living spaces. “I hope people come and take home some of the interesting design aesthetics,” says Neff. “You might not build a slide, but you might do a fascinating skull painting.”
Signing up for the tour gets you the addresses to at least six houses, and you can decide how long you want to explore each stop's nooks and crannies as you drive your way along the tour. The artist homeowners are present, which makes for some great conversation: Why, exactly, did you decorate your house with 2,000 hippopotami?
“I think Erma [Lee]'s house will be spectacular. She's been a fixture in Houston for such a long time,” says Neff about the outsider artist with a magical garden who put down roots at a historic fire station. “The bed frames, a lot of the art she does, folks kind of hire her to do weird, whimsical and interesting landscaping.”
Neff says he's also interested in Sue Shefman's house. “She has the Hippolotofus house. It's a society of people who love hippos; [they] have been around since the 1980s, and Sue has around 2,000 hippos in her house. People will be fascinated trying to count them, the ones that are hidden in the art.”
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In addition to Victoria and Jay Wehnert’s 1897 Victorian farmhouse, the tour also takes the curious to Dawn Fudge's 8,000-square-foot warehouse (purchased from the Tejano band La Mafia), art car artist Bonnie Blue (famous for painting people on rocks, including Bill Murray), outsider artist Barbara Kimzey (she's quite the collector), and the 5,000-square-foot home/studio of Beverley and Wayne Gilbert (we're sworn to secrecy on this one).
You also won't want to miss the private digs above Dean's and notsuoH, with an opportunity to explore 10,000 square feet of stuff featuring art installations and leftovers from previous tenants dating back to 1929 (including remnants from four clothing stores, a jewelry store and a pawn shop). This also is where the exclusive after-party's going down, making the VIP upgrade a must-do.
While the Neffs' first goal was to support artists, they also are longtime advocates for affordable housing. They're giving 10 percent of ticket sales to the local nonprofit Avenue CDC, with a focus on the near Northside and Washington Avenue communities.
First Annual Weird Homes Tour Houston is 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. October 8, with a VIP party from 6 to 9 p.m. For information, call 512-308-6215 or visit weirdhomestour.com. $25 to $45.