109 Mason St.
Charlevoix Michigan 49720United States
Midwest Living Recommends
Located throughout Charlevoix, these stone homes with undulating roofs are the brainchild of Earl Young, a turn-of-the-century architect inspired by local rocks as well as his beloved Lake Michigan.
"Mushroom Houses," the name given to 26 mid-20th-century Charlevoix homes, are the brainchild of Earl Young, a local architect. The houses, also known as Fairy Houses, were inspired by rocks he collected as a child as well as his love of Lake Michigan and the woods nearby. Featuring names like "Enchanted," "Abide" and the ever-so-apt "Half House," they are ingenious, impractical and unforgettable. Though none are open to the public, the Charlevoix Chamber of Commerce offers a handy driving-tour brochure. The rooflines' windswept curves resemble a breaking wave, often punctuated by chimneys that border on cartoonlike. Though one critic called them suitable for Smurfs, the houses are more haunting than whimsical, with undulating lines and heavy stone facades culled from local quarries. Young, a largely self-trained architect, sought inspiration, like Frank Lloyd Wright, through nature and attempted to integrate it in his designs. Utilizing limestone, fieldstone and sandstone, Young's elaborate stone residences celebrated local materials as well as the lake on which he lived. In 1924, Young purchased a large piece of property on Lake Michigan and began to build on the land he named Boulder Park. Five years later, he had built 10 homes, which he advertised simply, if ungrammatically: "There is no use paying rent. You can buy a house at the prices I have places for sale for." Though invited to design residences elsewhere, Young refused to build houses outside Charlevoix. Unfortunately, the houses were not always sensibly designed. For example, the draping rooflines often obscure windows and require residents to duck while entering. Complaints of impracticality did not bother Young, who retorted, "I design the roof first, and then shove the house under it." Additionally, the unconventional Young worked without blueprints. Driving by the houses does feel a bit awkward -- they are private homes, after all -- but it's a fun way to see some of Charlevoix's pretty residential areas and to learn a bit more about the town's most famous native son.