Designed by maverick American architect Bruce Goff, the Ruth Ford House — known variously as the Round House, Coal House, and Umbrella House — is a creative tour de force. It could not look less like neighboring houses in suburban Aurora, Illinois, where it was built in 1947-49, and local people took it as an architectural affront. Fortunately, as the photo below attests, the owners of the house were undaunted -
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A colony of Wallace Neff’s bubble houses (“maisons ballons”) in Dakar — as they look now -
And as they looked in 1949, when they were built -
Cecil Alexander’s circular house in Atlanta, on the cover of Florida Architect in April 1958. Finished in 1957, the house was featured in Life magazine in November of that year, and in Progressive Architecture in November 1959.
Back in the late 1950s, when living in the suburbs was understood to be the common aspiration of mankind, the magazine Suburbia Today asked this question of its readers. In an article about the “unusual suburban home” of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Benson, whose circular floor plan offered ample open space for entertaining guests, it gave an appealing glimpse of life in the round.
Stunning views, tasteful furnishings, elegant cocktail parties — a round home was modern and glamorous, the magazine suggested.
The Walter Bensons wanted their house to be round so that they could get maximum exposure to their magnificent views. To live way, way up on the top of a mountain in a house that seems to melt in with its surroundings; to look freely all about you and see the mountain ridges to the side, the bay and ocean below, and the teeming city across that you must be part of and yet can turn away from at will — this was the dream of the Bensons.
Built in 1950, the house was said to be in terrible shape in 1998 when it was bought and restored by actress Kelly Lynch and writer Mitch Glazer. Lautner principal Helena Arahuete led the restoration, and the original builder, John de la Veaux, came back to assist on it.
The swirling living room is stunning.
The circle-studded facade of NYC’s Dream Downtown Hotel -
The hotel is the latest incarnation of an iconic 1966 building designed by Louisiana architect Albert C. Ledner, known for a sort of playful, oddball modernism. Just off Ninth Avenue, stretching between West 16th and 17th Street, the building was recently transformed by Handel Architects. The building’s 16th Street facade, above, was covered in shiny stainless steel, as was its 17th Street facade (on the left, below, in its original red-brick cladding).
The building’s circular motif — equally in evidence in the adjoining Ledner-designed structure, the white tile and concrete Maritime Hotel — reflects the structure’s history. Both buildings were originally annexes to the headquarters of the National Maritime Union: the porthole windows were a coy reference to life at sea.
Ledner, whose use of circular forms extends from his professional to his personal life, or vice-versa, lives in a round house of his own design in New Orleans.
Somehow in putting together my list of round houses for sale I overlooked the most fabulous of them all: Seymour Harris’ Tukal, in Hampshire, England. At an asking price of £12 million (over $18 million), it is easily the world’s most expensive circular home, but unlike some of round McMansions currently on the market, it’s more than just an ostentatious display of wealth — it actually has style and daring.
Yes, it’s monstrously large — and yes, it has its own lake, 10-acre garden and private dock — but beyond the glitz are some appealing ideas about structure, transparency and the flow of space.
Designed by architect Seymour Harris in 1962 as home for himself and his wife, the house in its current iteration might be best understood as an asynchronous collaboration between Harris and architect Nic Bailey. Harris moved to the Bahamas in 1968; the house suffered through a series of bad owners and unhappy renovations, and Bailey was brought in to salvage it several years ago, when the house was bought by its current owner, Mike Browne.
You can find round and circular-form houses for sale right now in the US, UK, Australia and Canada for prices ranging from $87,500 to $10 million. On the lavish — and arguably garish — end of the spectrum, there’s this 1980s luxury villa on Hamilton Island, in Australia, and the “Corbetta Estate” in Los Altos Hills, California (which was the cooler and much more fun Corbetta Party House in a former incarnation).
Bringing up the low end of the market, at a modest 696 square feet in size, is one of the many small post-war round houses in Des Moines, Iowa.
A few other houses stand out -
- A 1961 modernist home in Highland Park, Illinois, above, is stunning. Designed by architect George Keck, the house encompasses a pool with a retractable roof.
- This mid-century modern house in Ontario, Canada, has some style. The listing photos are not great, but I can make out a nifty fireplace and a nice curving staircase.
- Everyone wants their own island, right? Especially one that’s only a half hour from Manhattan.
- Possibly designed by Gilbert Spindel, this Arkansas property has lots of potential, and comes with nearly an acre of land. (Advice to the future buyer: replace the garage with something that doesn’t clash with the house, rip out the homey, faux-colonial decor, and take some design tips from Spindel owners.)
You can also find two round houses for sale in the UK, one in Portland, Dorset, selling for £925,000, and the other in Sidmouth, Devon, selling for £849,950.