Turn on the flat screen, check the latest news on your handheld device, or pick up the old-fashioned daily paper. Headlines trumpet “the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” financial institutions and businesses large and small are going belly up, and home foreclosures continue at record rates. Many homeowners have been forced to reassess their priorities and are finding themselves in living situations they previously never thought possible. Just ask Dana and Shoshana of the series Self Storage, whose circumstances force them to find alternate living arrangements in a storage unit.
These two friends are certainly not the first to create a home in an environment that was not necessarily intended to be inhabited. Since early man dwelled in caves, necessity has been the mother of invention. Whether out of economic need, a desire to live in a more eco-friendly environment, or just plain weirdness, people can get mighty creative about what they call… Home.

1. Cave Land in Festus, MO, USA
In the 1930’s this, now a home, was a sandstone mine and, at one time, the 15,000 square foot cave housed a roller rink and concert venue where Tina Turner is said to have performed. In 2003, the Sleeper Family spotted the undeveloped land on eBay. Their original plan was to build on the three-acre property, but they soon realized that it was naturally insulated, maintaining a year round temperature of around 70 degrees, yielding no need for heating or air-conditioning. Accordingly, they turned the cave itself into their home, dividing the living space into three areas, which includes a three-bedroom chamber in the front of the house and a space in the rear for the kids to ride bikes and skateboard. Recently, the family fell upon hard times, like so many others, was unable to refinance their mortgage, and listed the property for sale on eBay. This bold action brought attention to the family’s quest, and it was finally able to secure a new mortgage. Last year, one of the Sleeper children hosted a party at the cave that appeared on an episode of MTV Teen Cribs.

2. Firehouse 33 in San Francisco, CA, USA
From 1896 until 1974 this was a functioning fire station, complete with fireman’s pole and requisite Dalmatian. Later, in the ‘70s, newer, wider fire engines were produced and the existing firehouse was unable to accommodate their girth, thus the fire station relocated to newer digs around the corner. An entrepreneurial couple later purchased the 4,000 square foot firehouse and turned it into a two bedroom, two-bath home with a six-car garage. It also functions as a place of business. “San Francisco Fire Engine Tours & Adventures” is replete with a shiny red antique fire engine as well as the original redwood lockers used by the firemen.

3. Utrecht Student Housing, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Modern, yet often unsightly, shipping containers in which goods from all over the world are transported, have, in recent years, become a mainstay of the sustainable housing movement. Containers are recycled into apartment and retail complexes, offices, and a wide range of structures here and around the world. Many people see them as the future of portable, temporary housing in areas that have been stricken by natural disaster. Shipping containers can be readily modified with a range of creature comforts and can be connected and stacked to create modular spaces, costing much less than traditional building materials.
These brightly colored and stacked container dormitories were built as a solution to a shortage of student housing. Each unit is painted in bright colors, making the complex look more like a work of modern art than a pile of boxes where college kids live and study.

4. Lego House, Surrey, UK
Whether you were a pretty hip kid or a total geek, chances are you spent some part of your childhood building various things with Legos. Toy collector and British television host James May took his enjoyment of the small, colorful building blocks one step further than most by building a full size, two-story house in the middle of a vineyard. Framed with wood, the only non-Lego component, and using over 3 million donated Lego bricks inside and out, one-thousand volunteers helped build the house which included a fully functioning bathroom and a Lego cat named Fusker – after May’s own feline friend. The construction was filmed for Toy Stories, the BBC show that May hosts.
Unfortunately, home stay in the vineyard was temporary, and the cost of transporting it was prohibitive. So, shortly after it was built, the Lego house had to be demolished and the bricks were donated to charity for legions of future geeks to enjoy.

5. The Silohome, Upstate New York, USA
Back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when the Cold War was escalating, the United States government built hundreds of Atlas missile silos in an effort to prepare for attacks. Most of these silos have long since been abandoned. However, there is one silo, located amid the beauty of the scenic Adirondack State Park near Lake Placid, which found new life as a luxury home. Above ground, the property features a small runway, a hangar, and a spacious living area with fireplace and wrap-around porch. Below ground, the former launch control center was converted into a two-level residence with three bedrooms, 2-½ baths, and an open living area and kitchen, adjoined by a spiral staircase. Star Wars-like doors open to the tunnel which provides access to the silo. The real estate which Silohome sits on includes 20 acres of beautifully manicured land. Although it has been on the market for some time, there haven’t been any takers thus far. How would you feel about living on property that was originally intended to house a weapon of destruction?

6. Montesilo, Woodland, UT, USA
Used grain bins are easy to transport and can be purchased quite inexpensively. They have existing walls, a roof, and concrete floors. Montesilo, created by the union of two corrugated grain silos, teaches us to look at existing products in new ways. At only 1,800 square feet, the designers created additional space by cutting cubbyholes into the walls for bedrooms equipped with mini-entertainment systems. This modern home is situated on the Provo River with magnificent views of the landscape. Montesilo was built with a southern orientation to capture and retain solar heat for use during the winter.

7. The former Golden Gate Lutheran Church, San Francisco, CA, USA
This stunning Gothic Revival-style building is now one of the most extraordinary and largest single family homes in San Francisco. Built in 1909 in San Francisco’s famed Mission District, this church fell on hard times in recent years when its dwindling membership did not have the money to finance needed renovations. Enter businessman Siamak Akhavan who purchased the church for $2.25 million and invested another $3 million in it, turning it into a three-bedroom, 2-½ bath, twelve-room home. Its features include an enormous living area, which includes the original sanctuary (with soaring, hand-painted ceilings, arched windows, and most of the original stained glass windows), custom mahogany wood finishes, four fireplaces, and a new chef’s kitchen. The Master Suite includes a marble Roman tub room, dressing room, and incredible 360 degree views from the tower meditation room. It’s back on the market again, too. Asking price? A cool $7.5 million.
8. The Ship Residence, Put-in-Bay, OH, USA
Anyone who has ever seen the movie Sleepless in Seattle is surely familiar with houseboat living – a preferred lifestyle which, some say, takes a serious commitment. I’d say there is no greater commitment to a nautical way of life than this home on the shores of Lake Erie – a former Great Lakes Shipping Boat, The Benson Ford. Built by Henry Ford and named after his grandson, the ship was scheduled to be scrapped after fifty years of service. The top front section of the boat, which included walnut paneled staterooms, a dining room, and galley designed by Henry Ford for his own enjoyment, drew the interest of an Ohio couple who thought the elegant quarters would make an off-the-hook residence if only it could be separated from the rest of the ship and brought to dry land. After grueling long days with torches and cranes, the quarters were finally removed, then floated by barge to South Bass Island, and lifted again by crane up a steep eighteen foot promontory to its new home on solid bedrock. The Ship Residence, as it is now called, is a private residence with beautiful lake views.

9. Little Trump, Benoit, MS, USA
Moving on from boats to planes, this Boeing 727’s name is a reference to Donald Trump’s $16 million corporate jet, also a 727. When hairstylist Joan Ussery’s previous home was heavily damaged in an ice storm, her brother-in-law, an air traffic controller, suggested she look at the recently retired aircraft. It was love at first sight, so she plunked down $2,000 for it. She paid an additional $4,000 to have the 727 airliner moved and then did 90% of the remodeling work herself. The plane is 12 feet wide and 127 feet long and has 99 windows.
The now three bedroom 1-½ bath home also has a large storage area in the cargo hold beneath the living area. Perhaps Ussery’s favorite feature is the whirlpool bath, providing gorgeous views of the lake from the cockpit windows.

10. House in the Clouds, Suffolk, UK
By now you know that the conversion of old structures into new living spaces is becoming more commonplace, but a 30,000 gallon water tower? This one has a strange history in that it was built with a house on top in an effort to create visual interest for the locals who worried it would be an eyesore. When the water tower outlived its usefulness after nearly one hundred years, it wasn’t difficult to figure out what to do with it. Indeed, it was bought and converted into a real house – outfitted with windows, stairs and everything else needed to provide the new homeowner with what have to be some of the best panoramic views for miles around. What, no elevator?

11. Fire Tower Home, Western MT, USA
If the most important thing to consider when buying real estate is location! location! location!, then fire towers that once served as critical protection to our natural forests might feed your dream of having a luxury mountaintop home with incredible views. Though they are most often located in remote and isolated areas, fire towers are built to withstand the elements and are easy to remodel for vacation homes or for year round use. The upsides: no neighbors, stunning views. The downside: carrying your groceries up all those stairs!

12. Toilet House, Seoul, South Korea
Sim Jae-duck is a Korean politician with an unusual preoccupation. You see, this gentleman has made a career out of beautifying public restrooms. Thinking of how to push forward his cause of better worldwide hygiene and sanitation, Sim tore down his former home to build the $1.1 million building. A toilet theme is central to the 24-½ foot tall bowl-shaped house. A luxury lavatory at the center of the 4,520 square foot home is on display through a floor-to-ceiling window made of glass that becomes opaque at the touch of a button. In all, there are four bathrooms that feature a whirlpool bathtub, urinals and large glass showers. When guests enter to do their business, a motion sensor activates classical music.
If you’re interested in Toilet House, take one of the home tours that are offered for a $1 donation to The World Toilet Association which promotes better bathroom hygiene and sanitation worldwide.