FUNKY BUT FUNCTIONAL
Draw Inspiration, If You Dare, From Houston's Weird and Wacky Homes
By Barbara Canetti • Photos by Thanin Viriyaki Photography
Bonnie Blue’s southeast Houston house is weird. She knows it, her neighbors know it and so do the droves of visitors on the annual Houston Weird Homes Tour™.
Blue, a self-taught artist best known for her award-winning art cars and thousands of “Women That Rock” painted stones, has used her house as a canvas and decorated the outside — and parts of the inside — in a delightful, colorful array of whimsical butterflies, flowers, hot air balloons and dizzying geometric shapes.
The Weird Homes Tour started five years ago in Austin, says David Neff who, along with his wife Chelle, conceived the idea of a circuit of interesting houses after seeing some very strange domiciles during a walk in Austin, including a house that looked like the Alamo.
“It got us wondering about these houses. We are entrepreneurial and thought this might be an interesting project,” Neff says. They arranged the first tour with several houses in Austin and then took their idea to Houston three years ago. They also organized Weird Homes Tours in New Orleans, Detroit and Portland, and are looking for additional cities.
“Houston was a natural location for this tour. The beauty of Houston is its arts – the museums, the Art Car Parade, the Orange Show and lots of other places where an awesome circle of people gather,” Neff says. They advertised locally, asking for submissions with photos from Houstonians who thought their home was weird. And the applications started coming in.
A committee was formed to make the choices. Not all the houses are like Blue’s, who is a compulsively creative folk artist and will paint comical faces, flowers, pets or designs on anything that is put in front of her. Some of the homes warehouse funky or rare art, collections of oddities and busts of historical figures. Each homeowner takes advantage of every square inch of wall and floor space for their collectibles. Rooms filled with life-sized sculptures of people or pets, or a house jam-packed with painted portraits or a wall of poetry or a polka dot cow are just some of the interesting collections on the tour. There is a multi-colored house, with its companion Art Car painted in a rainbow of colors, as well as a house filled with thousands of hippopotami. One homeowner created a fence made from men’s neckties and another furnished a chicken coop. Some of the homeowners are painters, sculptors or performing artists and their houses show their inspiration of the “kooky, odd and unexpected,” Neff says.
“When you enter one of our homes you will feel like Alice passing through the looking glass into a new world. When you enter our homes you become enveloped in a place with different rules, different truths,” says Neff.
Because the sponsoring organization is a social impact company a portion of the ticket price is donated to local non-profits, including New Hope Housing, an award-winning organization that has, since 1993, provided affordable and permanent housing to people with very limited means.
Blue says she purchased her 89-year-old house 26 years ago. It was falling apart and required a complete refurbishment. She has always been an artist and spent most of her career in photo restoration, but loved doodling and painting for fun. At her home, that also is an art gallery and studio, she began painting the rickety picket fence in the front.
“Instead of just white, I painted flowers on it. Then I painted the back wall with hot air balloons and other designs,” Blue says. “I didn’t plan on this — it just evolved.”
In stages she continued to decorate the exterior: a painted garden along the bottom of the house, some butterflies kissing a sunflower, a piercing eye staring from the gable window and a series of colorful geometric shapes and sizes. Then she tackled the garage, painting it a bright blue (appropriate for an artist named Blue) and splashed plump clouds all over the wall along with a cheerful sun and a giant dragonfly. She calls the garage The House of Blue. Most recently she painted a matching couch and chair and put them on the front porch.
“The neighbors were interested, but I think they enjoyed watching the house change,” she says.
Neff tells us that the homeowners on the tour are driven by that “think different” spirit.
“Most of these folks want to inspire other people and impress them with their home. This is the most personal canvas an artist can have, their home.”
Houston Weird Homes Tour™
$30, self-paced, self-driving tour
October 6, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
2018 WEIRD HOMES
Bonnie Blue’s Art House
Kelly Gale Amen’s KGA Compound
Sue Shefman’s Hippolotofus House
Selia Qynn’s Secret Garden
Sharon Kopriva’s Studio
Will Breaux’s Container House
Drew and Pam Sherman’s Flood-proof Home
Alan Corman’s Art Loft