We can all probably think of at least one Ann Arbor house that catches our eye every time we walk, bike, or drive past.
We may stare because they’re particularly ornate, oddly shaped, historical, or architecturally striking. They make us wonder what life lived within their (sometimes peculiar) walls might feel like, and whether a house has the subtle power to shape its occupants.
Who knows? But to explore this notion further, we’ve put together this list of Ann Arbor's 10 most interesting houses – according to us, of course. Let us know your favorites in the comments.
1. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Whiteford-Haddock House
3935 Holden Dr.
Although Frank Lloyd Wright's best-known Ann Arbor design is the Palmer House (227 Orchard Hills Dr.), locals recently learned of another, lower-profile, Wright-designed residence called the Whiteford-Haddock House. Wright designed the structure, but it wasn't built until 1979, many years after his death. Since the end of May, when a $1.2 million listing went up for the angular, wood-and-brick, 1,300-square-foot home, we’ve all been secretly daydreaming about the great books we’d write, the memorable dinner parties we’d throw, and the brilliant insights we’d have, if only we lived in this gorgeous, magazine-spread-ready, tastefully rustic bungalow.
2. The Inverted Parabola House
826 Spring St.
That’s not the official name or anything, but the house at 826 Spring St. is distinctive for its uniquely-shaped roofline (which a friend of mine recently compared to a musk ox). With both palladian windows and a doorway arch that visually echo the roof’s curved shape, not to mention a green-toned roof, this house is likely to always draw the gaze of passersby.
3. The Eberbach House
1115 Woodlawn St.
This Italianate villa is a beaut, and always puts me in mind of my all-too-brief visit to Siena, Italy. Built in the 1860s, the house began life as a farmhouse that offered Eberbach Drug Store owner Christian Eberbach’s children – who otherwise lived on South Fourth Avenue – an opportunity to run around in the countryside. (Eberbach, a pharmacist by trade, also oversaw a farm, founded Hutzel Plumbing Company and Ann Arbor Savings Bank, and was an early organizer of the Republican Party back in the days of Lincoln.) The house’s showstopper is the three-story tower rising up from its point of entry. You look at that third level and picture yourself enjoying a bird’s eye view of the street, or setting up a home office or reading room there.
4. Castle House
1909 Linwood Ave.
When I asked friends to suggest their favorite Ann Arbor houses on social media, this is one of the houses that was mentioned again and again. Constructed with what appears to be fieldstone and painted white, the pint-sized castle features four merlons at the center of its facade. The house sticks out among its far more conventional-looking neighbors. When looking at it, you can’t help but wonder why and how it was designed in this rough-hewn regal style, and why its original tenant wished to literally make their home their castle.
5. Bridge House
2950 Trillium Lane
Written up in The Wall Street Journal in 2011 (and the winner of a couple of design awards), Ann Arbor’s so-called Bridge House was designed by Connecticut-based architect Wilfred Armster. The reason for the name is obvious: the home looks like a long, dark-gray covered bridge, suspended over a dip in the grassy landscape. Two narrow, staggered rows of windows give the house a kind of space-age private train car vibe. More than anything else, the house’s visual impact always reminds me of sci-fi classics like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Inevitably, when a house starkly defies our expectations of shape, we wonder how it looks inside, and how it feels different from our usual experience in domestic spaces.
6. Dome House
5299 W. Ellsworth Rd.
Moving from sleek sci-fi to fantasy, there’s the monolithic Dome House on West Ellsworth that, were it smaller, would appear a reasonable place to house elves, Smurfs, or a Tim Burton character played by Johnny Depp. Construction on houses like these involves laying a concrete ring foundation, inflating a giant balloon that becomes the exterior, and then continuing the building process from the inside. Would curved walls bend my perspective? Would I miss the hard angles I’m accustomed to? I have no idea. But hanging art would be infinitely more challenging.
7. The Mothership House
300 Brookside Dr.
This mid-20th-century house (designed by an architect who lived in it), which I dubbed The Mothership years ago, caught my eye because at first glance, it’s all roof and no house – but the windows along the top and bottom ultimately give it a spaceship vibe. When you view the house from the side, and see that the back forms a slanted triangle facing the opposite direction (with even the chimney slanted in a visual echo), you can’t help but want to ring the doorbell and ask for a tour. In my younger days, I often wondered, "Wouldn’t it be dark in there?"
8. Kempf House Museum
312 S. Division St.
I’m cheating a little here, since this isn’t used as a residence any longer. But every time I go to a Sonic Lunch show, I end up slowly walking past the Kempf House Museum and imagining what Ann Arbor was like when the building’s original owners lived there, right in the heart of what would become downtown. The Greek revival house, built in 1853, looks like a mini-temple with its square columns and floral iron grilles. The German-American Kempf family, who lived in the house in the late 19th and early 20th century, were musicians, so it seems only fitting that their former home is the backdrop to a popular local music tradition today.
9. Tetradecagonal House
2875 Gladstone Ave.
A friend tipped me off to check out this dark brown corner house, which has a large 14-sided, or tetradecagonal, section. The building immediately reminded me of the single-car-garage-turned-family-room in my own home that was long and narrow and so oddly proportioned that I couldn’t, for a while, figure out how to place furniture within it. I have to imagine I would face an even tougher challenge with a 14-sided space.
10. Block House
814 Pauline Blvd.
This white-painted cinder block house at the corner of Pauline and Seventh makes me think of every public school gymnasium I spent time in as a child. (It’s as if the rest of the school fell away, and the walls of the gym somehow remained standing.) More than that, though, the simple, aggressively no-nonsense design of it – just a cube with absolutely no flourishes or detailing, other than columns of what appear to be glass block windows flanking the door and one metal sculpture attached near its roof – always disarms me with its stark minimalism.
If you want to see these homes for yourself, check out our handy Google Map:
Jenn McKee is a freelance writer with a long history of covering arts and culture in the Ann Arbor area. She also has a pair of blogs: The Adequate Mom and A2 Arts Addict.
All photos by Doug Coombe except photo of 3935 Holden Dr. courtesy of Howard Hanna.