Hobbit houses. Gnome homes. Fairytale-like. Enchanting. Fanciful. Whimsical. Imagine little earthy houses sprouting like mushrooms right from the mossy ground of Northern Michigan. These wonderful little homes can be found in the beautiful quaint town of Charlevoix, Michigan. The Mushroom Houses (as they have been lovingly nicknamed for decades) were designed by the homegrown, self-taught architect, Earl Young. And, these unique dwellings are certain to inspire children of all ages to dream wonderful and fantastical things.
I have recently had the pleasure of discovering these buildings on a weekend excursion with my husband (an entire weekend without the kids!!!). If you are interested in admiring these charming little homes in person as well, here are the details of our self-guided tour and a few helpful tips.
First things first, get a map. There are free maps available for self-guided tours at the Harsha House Museum or the visitor center on Mason Street. Or, you can download it here from the Visit Charlevoix website. While the free map was helpful, it does not list specific addresses or provide any additional details about the buildings. We found it extra helpful to purchase A Guide to the Earl Young Structures in Charlevoix, the Beautiful for $5 from the Harsha House Museum gift shop. This 4 x 6 guide book may be tiny in size but it was chock full of interesting details about, both, the architect and the buildings. Additionally, it provided street addresses which let us know with certainty that we were indeed admiring the correct structures.
We started our self-guided tour at the corner of Park Avenue and Grant Street. Eleven of Earl Young’s creations are clustered around the small triangular city block of Park Avenue, Clinton Street, and Grant Street. So we parked our car along the side of the road and walked around to view them all at our leisure. A few highlights from this portion of the tour included:
- Sunset Villa – With its lovely stone work and distinctive oversized thatched roof, you cannot miss it. This impressive structure at 304 Park Avenue was the first Earl Young creation we saw during our walking tour, and wow, it is magnificent!
- The Half House – Appropriately called the Half House, the structure at 302 Park Avenue looks like someone cut a cute little mushroom house right in half. It is said that this home was built by the imaginative Earl Young as a wedding gift for his daughter. Can you imagine receiving such a charming gift?!?
- Abide – I fell in love with this adorable little cottage located at 310 Park Avenue. I’m captivated by its rounded windows with red trim and the way it is tucked in snugly between the trees. It just looks cozy and relaxing.
- The Mushroom House – At 103 Grant Street, you will find THE Mushroom House. It is said to be the most photographed of all the Mushroom Houses. It is a unique rounded structure with beautiful stone work and a rounded wavy roof. It truly embodies the shape and earthy feel of a mushroom. I am bummed to report that I was unable to snap a good picture of this quintessential Earl Young creation. There were too many parked cars in the way.
After walking around this block, we hopped back into our car and drove down Park Avenue to the Boulder Park area. We viewed the structures in this area from our car as we slowly drove by. Many of the neighborhood streets were incredibly narrow, and we didn’t want to block traffic by parking. My favorite highlights from this portion of our self-guided tour included:
- The Sucher House – On Park Avenue, watch along the lake shore for the Sucher House. Like all of Young’s masterpieces, it is a beautiful and unique building. However, I really fell in love with its lovely views of Lake Michigan and the meandering limestone fence wandering through the property.
- Boulder Manor – This magnificent large home is located on Lakeshore Drive. It is beautifully framed by a handful of birch trees and has a number of interesting details that adds to its charm. Two of my favorite details are the beautiful stonework surrounding the arched front window and how the front entrance is carefully hidden behind boulder-clad arches to the right of the front window.
- The Boulder Manor Playhouse – Oh, how I wanted to be a kid again so I could play in this cute playhouse behind Boulder Manor! It is said that Earl Young built this little stone playhouse to keep his daughters and their friends happily occupied while he worked on building the big house. This beautiful small stone structure is complete with a little fireplace and scaled down kid-sized furniture. And of course, the tiny house includes many of Young’s distinctive architectural trademarks such as beautiful stonework, arched windows and doorway, exposed rafter tails and a whimsical walkway.
- The Owl House – On Boulder Avenue, you will find a stone cottage that features two large semi-circle front windows with a centered windowbox between them. It strikes a resemblance to the face of an owl, and thus, this charming structure was nicknamed the Owl House. Its beautiful stonework and whimsical design give it a fairytale-like quality that I was drawn to. Plus, it really does kind of look like an owl.
Finally, we drove back to Bridge Street and headed toward the channel in order to get a closer look at Earl Young’s commercial structures, the Weathervane and the Lodge.
Since most of his structures are privately owned residences, we did not get to see the inside of any of the homes. However, I had heard that their interiors are just as magical as their exteriors. The windows, arches and fireplaces are supposedly phenomenal. So I spent $22 in a Charlevoix gift shop to purchase a copy of the book, Mushroom Houses of Charlevoix by Mike Barton. I’m glad that I did because the pictures in it are gorgeous. It’s true; these homes are just as beautiful inside as they are outside. You can see some of these pictures online at http://www.mikebartonphoto.com/gallery/mushroom-houses-charlevoix/. I bet you will enjoy the pictures as much as I did.
Interested in learning a little more about these unique structures? Read our next post to get a more in-depth look at the Mushroom Houses.
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