For most of us, a home is all about safety and security. But the properties featured here display anything but those qualities. How about a house set in the middle of a highway, or one hanging off the side of a mountain, or another set in the extreme conditions of an Antarctic ice shelf? Read on to find out about a collection of houses whose locations fascinate and horrify.
20. The Lagangarbh Hut, Scottish Highlands
It’s called the Lagangarbh Hut, but this remote stone-built Scottish hideaway is more like a small cottage. The house is set close to the River Coupall, which runs through the magnificent, dark hillsides of Glen Coe. The National Trust for Scotland has owned the property since 1946 and rents it out. Surprisingly, its four rooms can sleep up to 20 people, but don’t expect the lap of luxury or much in the way of privacy!
The hut was once the home of a family of crofters: smallholding herders and farmers. For anyone by the name of MacDonald, Glen Coe is a notorious and mournful place. In February 1692 the clan hosted a group of Campbells there, freely giving them traditional Highland hospitality. One night the guests rose up against the MacDonalds, massacring 38 men, women and children. Others of the clan escaped across the heather through a blinding Highland blizzard.
19. The HemLoft, Whistler Forest, Canada
The Whistler Forest is a nature reserve in British Columbia, Canada. It’s a wild place of mountains, forests and lakes, although it’s also home to various lodges and hotels that cater to hikers and winter sports fans. The land is publically owned and one thing that means you can’t just decide to build yourself a home there.
But Joel Allen did it anyway. Working in secret, he built himself an incredible tree house in the forest. He constructed his egg-shaped timber dwelling high in the trees using his impressive carpentry skills, naming it the HemLoft. In fact, building a home off the ground is probably quite a good idea in an area that’s famous for its black bear population.
18. Chemosphere House
If living in something that looks like a sci-fi space ship that’s crash-landed on a steep hillside overlooking Los Angeles appeals, then the Chemosphere House would suit you perfectly. But if you suffer from vertigo, then it might not be your ideal home. That’s because it is precariously cantilevered from a slope that has an angle of around 45 degrees.
The uncompromisingly modernist property was built by the architect John Lautner in 1960. Lautner, who died in 1994, was, “One of the most important American architects of the 20th century, and perhaps one of the most misunderstood,” according to the Los Angeles Conservancy. Perhaps unsurprisingly the man who commissioned the home, Leonard Malin, was an aerospace engineer.
17. Solvay Hut, The Matterhorn, Switzerland
The Solvay Hut is a flimsy-looking timber structure perched on a ledge on the sheer face of the famous Matterhorn in Switzerland. Built in 1915, it’s the highest structure on the mountain. At an altitude of about 13,000 feet, the Solvay Hut is some 1,500 feet below the Matterhorn summit. The shack is an emergency refuge for mountaineers and can accommodate up to 10 people at a pinch.
Born in 1838, Ernest Solvay was a Belgian industrialist who was also a keen climber. He donated the wherewithal to build the Matterhorn’s Hörnli Hut, 2,400 feet below the one named after him. In 1976 the Solvay Hut was updated with the addition of an emergency telephone. But as you’ll find if you ever spend a night there after getting into difficulties on the Matterhorn, there’s little else in the way of facilities.
16. Elliðaey Island, Iceland
Elliðaey is one of the Vestmannaejar group of islands, which lie in the North Atlantic off the south coast of Iceland. The tiny green spot of land had just one house, which lacks both electricity and running water. So if it’s solitude you crave, then this is the place to head for. Bizarre stories have swirled around this splendidly isolated property. One was that Icelandic songstress Björk owned the house. A romantic idea, but utterly false.
Another unlikely tale had it that a billionaire had bought Elliðaey Island as a refuge in the event of a zombie apocalypse. But there’s no truth in that either. In December 2020 British tabloid the Daily Mirror revealed the rather less dramatic, although still weird, truth about the house and island. Although inhabited up until the 1930s, the island has no permanent residents today. But it is visited by puffin hunters each year, and they stay in the lonely house while they slaughter the unfortunate seabirds.
15. Volcano House, California
Fancy living at the top of a volcano in a home perched 150 feet above the ground? Well, Huell Howser of TV fame back in the day did, so he commissioned architect Harold J. Bissner Jr. to build the Volcano House in 1968.The house is set on the edge of California’s Newberry Springs, close by the dunes of the Devil’s Playground in the Mojave Desert.
The house perches atop the cone-shaped volcanic outcrop, and to reach it, you drive up a spiral roadway that runs around the cinder rock. The circular configuration of the dome-shaped dwelling gives sublime all-round views of the surrounding desert and mountains. Living there, you’d just have to hope that the volcano was definitely dormant. Otherwise, things could get distinctly uncomfortable.
14. Just Room Enough Island, Thousand Islands
Just Room Enough Island, also called Hub Island, is one the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River, near New York’s Alexandria Bay. The Just Room Enough moniker is entirely accurate: this American islet is tiny. Much too small, you’d think, to have a house on it. But that is just what there is.
As Andrea Sachs put it in a 2010 piece for the Washington Post, “The speck of land squeezes a house and a couple of wrought-iron benches pushed hard up against the shingles onto its banks. One misstep and you’re swimming.” The Sizeland family built the house and planted a single tree on the island in the 1950s. Apparently, they were hoping for an isolated hideaway, but their plan was spoiled by the huge numbers who came to gawp at their strange home.
13. Holy Trinity Monastery, Meteora, Greece
For monks wishing to dedicate their lives to devotional prayer and spiritual contemplation, the Holy Trinity Monastery could hardly be better placed. This extraordinary UNESCO-listed structure is located just outside the town of Meteora in central Greece. The monastery is improbably perched on an inaccessible peak which is surrounded by soaring, otherworldly rock formations.
A monk called Dometius established the Holy Trinity Monastery – known to Greeks as Agia Triada – in the 15th century. The only way up to the building is via 140 steps carved into the unyielding rock face – hot work in the Greek high summer. If you’re a James Bond fan you may well recognize Agia Triada since it was used as a location in the 1981 movie For Your Eyes Only.
12. Teahouse On The Tree, Japan
This whimsical looking structure is billed as a teahouse. Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori designed the Teahouse on the Tree, and it was constructed in 2004. It’s located in Japan’s Nagano prefecture and sits on a hill called Chino. Up to six people can enjoy the tea ceremony in it as they sit on the tatami mats that furnish the tiny house. Attached to a chestnut tree, the teahouse is about 30 foot tall to the top of its chimney, which serves a fireplace where the tea is prepared.
In fact, this is not the only extraordinary teahouse that Fujimori has designed: there’s one in Germany, two more near the one pictured here and others elsewhere. Speaking to Wallpaper* magazine in September 2020, Fujimori explained that, “When designing teahouse architecture, you have to create a separate world that is distinct from everyday life. The key is to let something float above the ground.”
11. Korowai Tree House, West Papua, Indonesia
The Korowai people live in the inaccessible jungles of Indonesia’s West Papua and only came into contact with the outside world as recently as the 1970s. According to a 2006 article in Smithsonian magazine, they were one of the last tribes anywhere in the world known to practice cannibalism. It’s a controversial claim, with some anthropologists asserting that this gruesome custom is many years in the past.
The Korowai’s lofty wooden houses, built atop towering trees, look like frighteningly flimsy and high-risk homes. But the high-altitude dwellings do have some entirely practical qualities, such as avoiding the hordes of mosquitoes below, as well as other jungle threats. The structures perch more than 100 feet above the ground at the top of wanbom or banyan trees and can accommodate families with as many as 12 members.
10. Alpine shelter, Slovenia
This futuristic Alpine shelter enjoys a spectacular position at the foot of Skuta Mountain in Slovenia. Building it required the logistical muscle of the Slovenian Army, with soldiers airlifting the construction materials to the site. The building is wrapped in concrete, and the glass gables afford superb views across the mountainous landscape.
Students from Harvard working with Slovenian architects OFIS came up with the design and their creation is specifically aimed at withstanding the harsh winter conditions in the high peaks of Slovenia’s Kamnik Alps. Once the structure had been prefabricated off-site in three sections, these were flown in by helicopter and assembled by 60 volunteers in a single day. Up to eight mountaineers can shelter in the building.
One of America’s best-known architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, designed this breathtaking house perched on a wooded hillside. Eric Kaufman was the man who commissioned the architect and the building was completed in 1938. Its truly outstanding feature is the fact that it actually stands above a 30-foot waterfall, hence the name Fallingwater.
Built as a holiday home for the Kaufman family, the modernist house is set among the idyllic glades of Pennsylvania’s Bear Run Nature Reserve. Consisting of three stories, each floor is cantilevered from the hillside, and a series of balconies wrought from reinforced concrete extend over the waterfall. The plan was for the house to sit naturally in its surroundings: there’s even a large natural rock protruding into the living room.
8. Katskhi Pillar
The Katskhi Pillar is set in Georgia: the European nation, not the U.S. state. This 130-foot natural limestone column supports a truly implausible looking manmade structure: a church built between the sixth and eighth centuries. The sacred building is dedicated to a monk, Maximus the Confessor. Maximus is considered the leading theologian in Byzantium in the seventh century.
The tiny church has three monk’s cells, a burial vault and, perhaps surprisingly, a wine cellar. To this day, monks climb a hair-raising metal ladder that runs up the side of the rock formation to the church for daily worship. Father Maxime Qavtaradze was the final monk to actually live atop the Katskhi Pillar, which he did for some 20 years until 2015.
7. Drina River, Serbia
This house set in the middle of the River Drina where it forms the border between Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina dates back to 1968. In that year, a group of swimmers decided that the rock it’s built on was a good place to chill out. But the rock lacked a certain something: a house! So the water sports enthusiasts set about building one, undeterred by the obvious disadvantages of the site.
Using boats and kayaks, the intrepid band transported all the timber and other building materials piece by piece to the middle of the Drina. For keen swimmers, this house is a dream come true. Wake up in the morning and dive straight into the river for an exhilarating swim. Although it has to be said that the potential dangers of storms and flooding are all too apparent.
6. Skylodge, Sacred Valley of Cusco, Peru
When it comes to accommodation, there can be few more thrilling, or terrifying, places than Skylodge. The four transparent pods that make up Skylodge hang from the side of a mountain cliff 1,300 feet above the floor of Peru’s Sacred Valley of Cusco. The only way to get there is to climb, which will take you around 90 minutes, assuming you know what you’re doing.
Three of the capsules are sleeping accommodation – they even have private bathrooms – and the fourth larger one houses the kitchen and dining area. It’s worth pointing out that when you wake up in the morning the only way to get to your breakfast is to climb across the rock face to the dining room. A truly invigorating start to your day.
5. Casa do Penedo, Portugal
It’s easy to see why some have described this property as a “real-life Flintstones house.” The Casa do Penedo – house of stone – actually only dates back to the 1970s rather than to Hanna-Barbera’s fictionalized Stone Age. Nevertheless, it’s an intriguing structure, taking full advantage of natural features in northern Portugal’s rugged Fafe Mountains.
The eccentric dwelling, set at an altitude of some 2,600 feet, is sandwiched between four massive boulders. It took two years to build and was completed in 1974, when it was used for a time as a holiday home, although it now serves as a small museum. And it’s certainly well defended since as well as being nestled between huge granite rocks, its windows and doors are said to be bulletproof.
4. Halley VI Antarctic Research Station, Brunt Ice Shelf, Caird Coast
Living in the Antarctic exposes humans to some of the most extreme environmental conditions anywhere on the planet. And that’s why nobody lives there permanently. But each year scientists travel to this hostile region for research and spend months there. This large red capsule, part of the Halley VI Antarctic Research Station, is the place that they call home while in the Antarctic. It’s located on the Brunt Ice Shelf on the Caird Coast.
The entire research station, composed of eight modules, can be hauled over the ice by tractors. This is just what happened in 2017 when a large unstable chasm in the nearby ice threatened the safety of the scientists and support staff. Despite the 14-mile relocation, since then the station has not operated during the winter season. The precarious condition of the ice near the station makes over-wintering just too risky.
3. Nail House, Wenling, China
“Nail house” is the term given to homes that are situated in the middle of urban or highway developments in China. What happens is that property owners with legal title refuse to sell to the authorities, so large-scale construction projects proceed around the stubborn residents. This nail house is in the Chinese city of Wenling in Zhejiang Province.
As you can see, this particular nail house sits proud right in the middle of a freshly built freeway. The occupants of the home were Luo Baogen, a duck farmer, and his wife, both in their 60s. The local government had offered them $41,300 to move, but they’d spurned the deal. Eventually, after prolonged negotiations, Baogen agreed to move, and the house was finally demolished in December 2012.
2. Old Mill of Vernon
Clinging to the remains of an ancient and mostly demolished bridge, this picturesque property looks just about ready to plunge into the river below. The Old Mill of Vernon sits above the River Seine, about 50 miles downriver from the French capital Paris. It was built in the 16th century atop a 12th-century bridge, which at one time had five mills driven by the river waters below.
A flood in 1651 so damaged the bridge that it was no longer usable. By the 19th century, when a new bridge was built just upstream, all that remained of the original bridge was the part that still supports the Old Mill. The ancient building was almost lost thanks to damage during World War Two fighting, but the good folk of Vernon rallied round and found the funds to restore their precious mill.
1. Hanging Monastery of Mount Heng, China
This unlikely looking structure cleaves to a cliff about 250 feet above the ground on the sheer face of Mount Hen in China’s Shanxi Province. The Hanging Monastery, also known as the Xuankong Temple, might look ready to crash to the ground, but in fact it dates back more than 15 centuries.
The structure, built in 491, is just over 100 feet long and includes two three-story pavilions and a 30-foot bridge. It’s said that the building was started by a single monk, Liao Ran, although others later came along to help with the construction. The altitude of the monastery means it sits in glorious silence, ideal conditions for monks seeking undisturbed contemplation and meditation.