The 10 most interesting houses in Detroit

Detroit has its share of stunningly gorgeous houses. One need only walk around the Berry Subdivision, Canfield Historical District, Palmer Woods, or any of the city's many beautiful blocks for examples. 

Most of these mansions were constructed in classic architectural styles during Detroit's boom years in the first half of the 20th century. While the number and extravagance of homes has since declined, therefore somewhat bypassing the more imaginative architectural movements of the latter half of the 20th century (and 21st century), Detroit still has its share of interesting, unusual, and downright bizarre houses.

Here's our list of the 10 most interesting houses in Detroit. 

1. 2126 Pierce in East Poletown

You don't have to travel far from Eastern Market to reach an urban prairie. Just a half mile across the Dequindre Cut sits 2126 Pierce St.—a house that would stand out even if it weren't the only one on its side of the block. It's also unusually narrow and has an eye-catching blue and red mural painted on the exterior.

There wasn't much new residential being built in Detroit in the early 2000s, but this 900-square-foot home was. Designed as a thesis project by two Cranbrook Architecture Master's students, it was constructed using inexpensive materials for just $40,000. But by 2015 it had already fallen into a state of disrepair. That's when new developers bought the property, renovated it into a micro-bed and breakfast, and added the mural.

2. Harbor Island home

The canals of Jefferson-Chalmers on Detroit's east side are one of the more unique features of the city. Perhaps the canals are what inspired people to build so many interesting houses there (as you'll see if you keep reading).

Jefferson East, Inc. describes Harbor Island, a fascinating little block on the southern edge of Jefferson-Chalmers, as "one of Detroit's most private neighborhoods." Like many streets in the canal district, there's access to a creek that flows into the Detroit River, and many of the homeowners are boating or kayaking enthusiasts. In a sense, every house in the canal district is interesting. 

But this house is particularly interesting seeing as its one of the rare examples of Spanish Colonial Revival in Detroit. Also the homeowner owns a sailboat.

3. Home on Ashland in Jefferson-Chalmers

Not far away on Ashland Street, right next to the Grosse Pointe border, sits this relatively normal, single-family home. We chose it because of the way the fence, made of doors and window frames, is situated along the sloped street. The perspective and creativity makes it seem like a house out of a Tim Burton movie.

4. Quonset hut homes, part of the True North development on the near west side

Interior of a quonset hut

The most recently constructed homes on this list, the Quonset hut community, True North, got lots of media attention when they went on the market earlier this year. And for good reason.

Quonset huts—long, half-cylindrical residences made of corrugated steel—were originally designed for the military, but have since been repurposed for residential uses.

True North near Grand River Ave. and 16th St. consists of seven quonset huts, each with their own unique dimensions. The huts have open floor plans and wide, sliding doors that open up to the other houses and the attractive landscaping.

5. Geodesic dome on the border of Mexicantown and Corktown

Architect, author, designer, and futurist Buckminster Fuller was one of the stranger figures in popular culture during 1950s and 60s. He collected and documented every item and moment in his life in a project called the Dymaxion Chronofile, practiced sleeping in 30-minute intervals every six hours (which he called Dymaxion sleep), and gave speeches that lasted hours.

But his lasting legacy is undoubtedly the geodesic dome. These structures, which are an assemblage of polyhedrons, essentially a bunch of triangles, distribute structural stress allowing them to stand with just their shell. They're incredibly striking structures, though perhaps of limited use.

Detroit has two geodesic domes right behind Michigan Central Station, originally built in 1999 by Jack White's brother. They actually went up for sale in June this year, advertised as a potential residence and going for nearly $400,000.

6. The Feld House in Palmer Woods

The lot this property sits on was first purchased in 1924, but sat vacant until Dr. David Feld and his wife Barbara Meathe decided to build a house in the 1950s. And they certainly built something special.

Designed by Kessler & Associates, the 2,700-square-foot house has two distinct levels—patterned brick forming the lower, with stucco on the upper. Because of it's sloping roof and horizontal figure, it's nicknamed "The Butterfly House." In 1958, this mid-century modern was recognized in a design competition by the American Institute of Architects.

7. Home on E. Outer Drive in East English Village

You can find numerous unique and beautiful houses along E. Outer Drive, but none more so than this Art Moderne oddity. Its wood siding gives the house a rustic feel, almost like a cabana, which is an interesting contrast to its streamlined, flat sides and curved corners.

The house went up for auction in 2015 through the Detroit Land Bank Authority, which it described as "a solidly-built architectural masterpiece," and sold for $56,300. It needed extensive repairs back then, but we're confident it would sell for a lot more now (Zillow estimates its worth at over $134,000).

8. Home on Seminole St. in Indian Village

On his architecture blog, Love in the D, Jonathan Peters says of this house: "Not even Indian Village, known for its stately Tudor, Georgian, and Victorian mansions, could escape the mid-century wave of the '50s and '60s."

It's certainly unusual to see a house with these rectilinear forms coexisting alongside mansions built at the turn of the century by such Detroit architectural giants as Albert Kahn and Louis Kamper. This home was designed by Donald Paul Young, a prominent local architect.

9. Roger Margerum House

An ode to the 45-degree angle. While that's an unusual thing to design a building around, it certainly made for a fascinating result.

Roger Margerum was an African-American architect who worked at some of the most prestigious firms in Chicago and Detroit before starting his own. In the mid-2000s after living in apartments his entire life, he decided to build a home for himself. But only if it was architecturally significant.

Influenced by the modernist designs of Mies van der Rohe, Margerum emphasized geometry and simplicity. Detroit Home Magazine described his house as, "essentially a cube deconstructed then reconfigured in a series of 45-degree triangles." This effect is emphasized by how the exterior sections are painted, and also how the house doesn't directly face the street—not surprisingly, it's set at a 45-degree angle.

10. Dorothy G. Turkel House

The most renowned house on the list, maybe in all of Detroit, if only because it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

But it's distinct and beautiful in many ways. Wright coined the term "Usonian" to describe this style of home, characterized by their modest size, L-shape, use of native materials, and cantilevered overhangs. (Wright also coined the term "carport," which incorporate these overhangs.)

Those features hold more or less with the Turkel House. In a profile of the home in 2013 for the Detroit News, Maureen Feighan writes: "Made of more than 6,000 concrete blocks in 36 different patterns and threaded together with steel bars, it's one of only seven Usonian automatic homes Wright designed, the only one with a second story, and the only Wright-designed house in Detroit."

Got suggestions for more interesting houses in Detroit? Comment below or tweet us @modeld. If there's enough, we'll make a Part 2. 

All photos by Anthony Lanzilote
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