Unusual Homes

They’re not the kind of houses you’ll find in the typical American neighborhood—and that’s what makes them so fascinating.


Skinny House: A narrow dwelling with mile-wide malice.
According to local legend, Boston’s Skinny House was built out of pure spite.

The over 100-year old Skinny House is located across from the historic Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in Boston’s North End. The residence is so narrow—just over 10 feet at the widest—that the main entrance had to be placed in the alley between the house and its neighbor.

One local legend has it that the late 19th century house was deliberately built to block the view and sunlight of an adjacent house. Supposedly, a builder did this to take revenge on a combative neighbor.

Another story says a Civil War soldier returned home to find that his brother had built a large house on the land the brothers had inherited from their father. Filled with anger and left with a parcel of land too small to build on, the veteran constructed a house that was just large enough to block the sunlight and his brother’s view of the harbor.

The house tapers to 9.25 feet at the back, and the interior walls are only 8.4 feet apart. At its narrowest interior paint, the home is 6.2 feet across, close enough for an adult to touch opposite walls at the same time. There are only five doors throughout this four-story home.

Today, Skinny House is a vacation rental where history buffs and travelers find peace and quiet despite the home’s troubling past.

If the shoe fits…
This quirky home was built by a footwear magnate as a marketing gimmick.

Inspired by the nursery rhyme about the old woman who lived in a shoe, Colonel Mahlon M. Haines, a footwear-store mogul, built a boot-shaped house in southeastern Pennsylvania. The Haines Shoe House was built in 1948. Although it has no permanent residents, the home nonetheless features a living room, three bedrooms, two baths and a kitchen. The house is 48 feet long and 25 feet tall, with rooms on five different levels.

Haines, who owned 40 stores in Pennsylvania and Maryland, decided to use the giant shoe house as an advertising gimmick to attract new customers.

Drivers along Route 462 often do double takes when the stucco boot comes into view. Turning down Shoe House Road, they can see that the footwear theme extends to the shoe-shaped mailbox, the high-tops incorporated into the fence’s design and even to the boot-shaped doghouse.

Although the Colonel died in 1962, his likeness, etched in stained glass, greets guests at the main entrance. After all, he was the soul of the house—or is that the sole?

Filling a need for strength.
Modeled after a tooth, this home was built to withstand brushes with storms.

A molar, one of the strongest things in the human body, inspired former dentist Mark Sigler’s unique home design. His customized Pensacola Beach, Florida home is flood-proof and able to withstand gale-force winds.

After seeing the main floor of their previous home carried away by storms three times in five years, Sigler and his wife got a grant to rebuild and enlisted renowned architect Jonathan Zimmerman to design their new home.

Named “Dome of a Home,” it is 72 feet x 54 feet and three stories high. Its curved lines and round shell allow wind and water to move around and underneath it. Its aerodynamic walls are only three to four inches thick and can withstand wind pressure better than a home with much thicker walls. The ground floor, used for parking only, allows storm waters to pass-through. The main floor has three bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. The third story has a master bedroom, a bath and a honeymoon suite with a deck.

The Sigler’s original “Dome of a Home” was so successful that they began designing other dome dwellings. Their custom design company, Dragon Speed, specializes in structures that protect against nature’s worst while accentuating its best. These domed houses not only withstand inclement weather but they also borrow from the environment and boast the latest technology for in-home comfort.

Solid as a rock.
For a Missouri family, home sweet home is a massive sandstone cave.

Remember the Flintstones and their stone house in Bedrock? A Festus, Missouri man and his family can top that. William Sleeper and his family live in an actual cave. Their home is a 15,000-square foot cavern, but the family is hardly roughing it. Dubbed Caveland, the home boasts all the luxury amenities of a traditional house, including city-run water, sewers, electricity and natural gas.

William Sleeper bought the cave and surrounding 2.8 acres of property of eBay for $160,000 in May 2004. Sleeper custom-built the entire residence over the next five years with the help of friends and relatives. The three-bedroom, two-bathroom, loft-style home is divided into three sections: The front chamber contains the main living area including the bedrooms and a full-service kitchen. The middle section has a bathroom, laundry room and large storage area. The back portion boasts a concert stage from the cave’s earlier days.

Between the 1800s and 1930s, the cave was the site of a limestone and sandstone mine. In 1960, Festus resident Sue Morris paved the mine floor, turning the grotto into a roller-skating and concert venue that hosted musical greats, like Ike and Tina Turner. The venue closed in 1985.

Sleeper later listed the home for $300,000 on eBay in order to secure financing for a home repayment loan. Fortunately, a private investor stepped forward to help the family keep their incredible home.