Last year, I went on the first Weird Homes Tour, a self-guided excursion through exceptional and unconventional homes all over Austin. After snooping (courteously) through the houses, I wanted to know more about the people who lived in those spaces day-to-day. First, I interviewed Stefanie Distefano of Flamingo Ranch, where I learned how she transformed a 420 square foot house into a mosaic work of art. Then I journeyed across the plank to a treehouse at James Talbot’s Casa Neverlandia to hear about how he created an eco-friendly wonderland.
On May 23, 2015, Casa Neverlandia returns to the 2015 Austin Weird Homes Tour as the location of the VIP party. Other returning favorites are Professor Dumpster’s 33 square foot genuine dumpster home, the beehive-shaped Earthbag House and the artsy Freeman House. Six additional homes will make their debut this year. I was lucky enough to meet three of the homeowners and sneak a peek at their odd abodes.
The Queen of the Weird
I was shocked to see the first weird home is an apartment in a new and seemingly normal complex on Riverside. Aralyn Hughes led me to her unit through the pool area where she jestingly asked a few lounging men, “Do you have the day off or are you just men of leisure all the time?” It was then I knew that Aralyn is full of playful personality which would surely extend into her home.
Growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, Aralyn thought she would become a homemaker. When she turned 30 and realized she didn’t want to have children, she divorced and her life transformed from traditional to weird. She started her own real estate company and built a house near the corner of Enfield and MoPac. It was obviously odd since it had huge lettering spelling out “Keep Austin Weird” across the façade, along with bright colors inside the home. After 27 years, Aralyn decided she wanted to have more freedom to move around, so she downsized her possessions.
The reduction of “things” hasn’t left her with a lack of interesting objects. Her walls are filled with paintings (many she painted) full of bold acrylic colors. I couldn’t help but notice so many faces throughout her space. She has many masks and dolls (even one in the bathtub), but the most intriguing to me was her childhood doll sitting next to her old dollhouse. Aralyn has kept these precious bits of childhood memorabilia as a time capsule.
Many of Aralyn’s art projects serve as commentary on the domestic life women can be encouraged to lead. She recently compiled an anthology called Kid Me Not featuring personal essays by women in their 60’s who chose not to have children. She’s also a performance artist and is the subject of a documentary film called Love in the Sixties.
Aralyn’s apartment shows the possibilities of adding to the bones of an apartment. Downsizing does not narrow down who you are, especially when you have such a big personality to begin with.
The Music Home
Was I in the right place? I walked up to the lovely but very normal looking home in a South Austin suburb and was greeted by Luis Zapata. Once inside The Music Home, I was quickly swept away by Luis and partner Mapy Ramos’ warmth and inviting nature.
Each of the rooms in this home hold special meaning for the couple. Reoccurring themes include water, meditation spaces and music. Luis is a live music producer and event planner who has lived in the home for five years. His love for music is evident through the row of guitars in the living room, a photo collage of 80’s bands upstairs and an extensive record collection in the media room.
Mapy has only lived in the house since October, but she has transformed the space in a short amount of time. As a makeup artist, she has an artistic eye, and is mindful of the meaning of color and the feeling it gives a space. She practices meditation and has carved out spaces in the home to focus on meditating.
One unique meditation space is their living room. They have a large fish tank with an altar underneath. Beside this shrine is a table encrusted with seashells. Luis bought the piece when he spotted it at a thrift store and considered how much time and energy the maker must have put into it.
Visually, my favorite room was the garage, which holds a gorgeous piano and a makeup chair complete with movie star lights around a mirror. This space encompasses the loving cohabitation of the couple by providing a vibrant room for both of their passions. It even exhibits their Peruvian culture through an alpaca rug on the floor.
The backyard is quiet and calm, providing a wonderful spot to relax and observe nature. A creek runs along the back while a garden, chicken coop and quail pen sit closer to the home. There is even a hole where they can cook pachamanca (meaning “earth oven”) in the Peruvian tradition.
Their home, outside and inside, is comfortable and I can easily see why musicians visit to play music and other friends visit to meditate. The Music Home will continue to evolve with plans to further transform the space. Mapy affectionately calls it “their little obra de arte.”
Under the Sea
I knew I had found the right home when I spotted two eclectic art cars (one in progress) in the driveway. Lois Goodman met me at the door of her home in Zilker and I thought she looked familiar. After walking through her hand-embellished mermaid gate and into her home, I spotted a display of pens and pendulums. Then, I remembered meeting her at Cherrywood Art Festival where I highlighted her partner, Stan’s, work. I recalled her friendly and intriguing character and almost two hours after I sat down on her couch, I realized I had hardly interviewed her about her home!
When I got back on task, I learned that Lois moved to her Zilker house in 1993 and immediately painted all the walls white because she thought that’s how it was “supposed to be.” Now the house has 26 colors carefully selected to feel in synch. The bathroom is particularly captivating with its color scheme. Multi-colored LED lights underneath the sink and the dichroic tiles in the shower make the small space feel vivacious.
Lois likes to meld her ideas with insight from friends and experts to create a dynamic but livable space. She worked with a furniture maker to fashion her bedroom furniture and built-in cabinets and shelving throughout the home. This helps give the house a cohesive feel, but Lois sometimes thinks the furniture makes her space feel “very normal.” Nonetheless, her trinket oddities, like a large collection of salt and pepper shakers and major projects like her collaged kitchen countertops, are far from the norm.
Outside I met Lois’ three cats – one white, one black and one black and white. I also saw why her yard has been featured on the Yard Art Tour. She requested that her fence not be cut straight, and after seeing its wavy shape, she went with a sea theme instead of her original idea of decorating with shadowboxes with artwork inside.
When I asked Lois if she grew up in a weird home, she paused and replied, “No. I don’t know how this happened.” I have a suspicion it happened because she has such an imaginative mind and a great openness to creative possibilities.
Your Chance to Visit These Weird Homes
Purchase your tickets now on the Weird Homes Tour website. Basic tickets are $25.00. VIP tickets are $37.00, which includes the VIP party at Casa Neverlandia with food and drinks from 6-9 PM on the same day as the tour.
Austin’s Weird Homes Tour is a startup that aims to celebrate old and emerging Austin culture. They want to give back to the community, so 10% of each ticket goes to Caritas of Austin Affordable Housing programs!
@MadameKLM wants to know:
Are you ready to step inside the weirdest homes in Austin?