One of the things that I’ve always loved most about Virginia is the architecture. From graceful old Victorian homes on tree-lined streets to brick bungalows in city neighborhoods to farmhouses set against country landscapes, Virginia is full of beautiful homes and elegant buildings. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a few that break the norms. These 10 homes are perfect examples of people who looked at the blueprints just a little differently and came up with timeless creations that demand a second look. They are full of creativity and ingenuity and in some cases, they are simply daydreams come to life.
1. Bull Run Castle (or Miller's Castle), Aldie
They say a man’s home is his castle – but for John Miller, a castle is his home. In 1986 Miller built his very own castle/antique store/bed-and-breakfast combo right off Route 15 in Loudoun County. Miller has since sold the property and it is closed to the public. But that doesn’t mean you can’t look – and lucky for you, it can be seen from the road. Trust me, it may not be Windsor Castle, but it definitely provides a distraction from the afternoon commute.
2. Newport New Middle Ground Lighthouse, Hampton Roads
The oldest example of caisson construction in Virginia, the Newport News Middle Ground Light is also called a "sparkplug lighthouse." It has 5 stories of living space with a working lantern at the top. A private party purchased the light in 2005 and have now restored it into a vacation home. Not a bad place to spend a holiday.
3. The Hollensbury "Spite" House, Old Town Alexandria
At only 7 feet wide, about 25 feet deep and featuring approximately 325 square feet over two stories, the Hollensbury House was built by John Hollensbury in 1830 to keep horse-drawn wagons and those who were up to no good out of the alley next to his house. The house, now occupied by "actual" residents, has gouges from wagon wheels through the living room and the walls are, in fact, just painted exterior walls from the adjoining houses.
4. The Richmond Dairy Apartments, Richmond
Located in the Jackson Ward neighborhood of Richmond, the former Curles Neck Dairy building, featuring 3 giant milk bottles, now houses 1- and 2-bedroom apartments, as well as a few luxury lofts. The building was abandoned in the '80s but thanks to innovative thinkers, became housing in the early 2000s. The perk? Providing landmarks will never be difficult when giving directions to your house.
5. Charles M. Goodman House, Alexandria
What started as a two-story 1870s Victorian-style farmhouse became an avant-garde masterpiece when Charles M. Goodman added his eye-catching addition in 1954. Goodman, a popular D.C. suburbs post-WWII architect, created the addition in the "International Style." Goodman also designed Reagan International Airport, as well as other suburban communities, some of which are on the National Registry.
6. Evans House, Salem
Built in 1882, the Evans House in historic Salem only has 1 1/2-stories although it looks much larger. Created in the French Empire style, the home features an "L"-shape and a striking tower-like pavilion. The Evans House was added to the National Register of Historic Places 1972.
7. Swannanoa, Nelson County
In 1912, Richmond millionaire and philanthropist, James Dooley, built Swannanoa as a summer home. The Italian Renaissance Revival villa was modeled after a building in the Villa Medici, Rome and featured the most lavish, modern fixtures available, such as Georgian marble, gold plumbing fixtures, Tiffany windows (including a 4,000 piece Tiffany stained-glass window made in the likeness of his wife), Sally May Dooley, an elevator, and electricity. The house was only occupied by the Dooleys for a short time before their deaths, where it went on to serve briefly as a country club from 1929-1932. Now the home is privately owned and hosts small group tours, open houses, and weddings.
8. The Wedding Cake House, Martinsville
G. T. Lester of the Lester Lumber Company in Martinsville, designed and built this unique home in 1918. Commonly known as the "Wedding Cake House" - one can only assume because of its tiered design -- the house actually falls under the title "Exotic Revival." Whatever you call it, it looks simply delicious.
9. Virginia Tech's LumenHAUS, Blacksburg
This award-winning "tiny" house features innovative solar panels that charge an array of batteries to power the home's automated shade systems, radiant floors, and LED lighting. With a flexible floor plan, this home maximizes a small space, while minimizing its footprint. Designed by a faculty-student team from Virginia Tech's School of Architecture and Design and several College of Engineering departments, the house won the International Solar Decathlon in Madrid, Spain, in 2009.
10. Melrose, Fauquier County
Built c.1853 by Scottish brothers, James and Edward Murray, Melrose "Castle" served as both a Confederate hospital and a Union Army camp during the Civil War. This real-life castle comes complete with a three-story tower, parapets, and a spiral staircase leading to the roof. The home cycled through a number of owners until it went into foreclosure in 2013. Sorry to say for all of you who dream of owning your own castle, you missed your chance when the house sold again later that year – at a discount, no less. I guess for some people, fairytales do come true.
When it comes to privately-owned homes, there is certainly an element of privacy that must be respected. So I can only imagine that there are countless other homes out there that we we don’t know about, but that are creative works of art in their own right. Maybe you even live in one yourself! Tell us about some of the more, ummmm…”unusual” homes you know of in the comments below!