Weird Homes Tour Co-Founder Previews This Year’s Unusual Homes
David J. Neff discusses the tour, giving back, working with his wife and more
By Aaron Parsley
The idea to “Keep Austin Weird” has been around a long time. But as the city has grown and evolved, it’s become harder to spot the quirks and unusual characters that make this city so delightfully peculiar. Thanks to people like Chelle and David J. Neff, though, Austin’s oddities are on full display with the Weird Homes Tour, which they founded in 2014.
This year, their event is online and up and running this week, featuring seven funky homes around town. From now until May 15, anyone who’s curious can take a video tour of the houses on this year’s list and join a virtual panel with the proud homeowners on Saturday. Tickets are $25 per device. For $45, VIP participants may access the tour and will receive a copy of the Neffs’ bestselling coffee-table book, Weird Homes: The People and Places That Keep Austin Strangely Wonderful.
Ten percent of all proceeds from ticket sales go to LifeWorks, which provides housing, counseling, education and employment opportunities for Austin youth and their families.
We spoke with David J. Neff about curating the homes on this year’s tour, expanding the franchise to other cities and working with his wife on the strange pursuit of preserving Austin’s status as a weird city.
Tribeza: How do you find the homes for the tour?
David J. Neff: Well, all weirdos know all the other weirdos, didn’t you know that you weirdo? Seriously, though, we have a great word of mouth system throughout the U.S. and even beyond, so we have a good stream of inbound leads from emails, Twitter, Reddit, etc. We also watch a ton of YouTube videos about strange design and architecture and have our own YouTube channel where people contact as well. Send us an email if you know of a weird home: email@example.com.
How did you dream up the idea for the tour?
Chelle and I were walking through our Crestview neighborhood almost eight years ago when we saw a house that looked like a sad Alamo (does it have a basement?) and thought, “Who lives there? Why was it built? What if they want to sell?” Chelle exclaimed, “Let’s go on the Weird Homes Tour!” When we got home, we realized no one had ever had that idea before. So, a business was born. We are both entrepreneurs; Chelle owns the award-winning Urban Betty Salon, so we jumped in and founded the tour and have even written a book on the subject.
What’s it like to work together as a married couple?
Since we both have other jobs, interests and creative paths, working on Weird Homes Tour is always fun and exciting for us. We have fantastic staff in Kevin, Devan and Carissa who make it much easier to run the business. As you can imagine Covid-19 has been really, really rough on our business and homeowners, but hopefully we are on the other side. Go get your vaccines!
The Weird Homes Tour has expanded to other cities like Portland, New Orleans, Houston, Detroit, San Francisco and plans for San Antonio and New York City. Why did you choose the other cities?
As a social-impact startup, we invest a percent of every tour in affordable housing nonprofits. Each city we are in has a huge affordable housing problem – from Austin to Houston to NOLA to San Francisco and beyond. We love that our startup gives back to something each of these cities needs help with.
Can you tell our readers a bit about each of the homes on this year’s Austin tour?
Havenwald: Owner Michele Ashley used repurposed materials to create this really unique tiny home village out in Dripping Springs. There’s a gypsy wagon, fairytale cottage, steampunk shelter – complete with submarine doors – and a mini gothic Victorian mansion that may or may not be haunted.
Giraffe House: We’ve never known someone that loves giraffes as much as Autumn does. She has a massive giraffe collection and puts giraffe prints on her appliances and clothes. She wears a giraffe costume to H-E-B. And that passion is infectious.
Ebba Springs Wildlife Refuge: Owners Barbara and Sam Atwell have are big proponents of local conservation and have designed their home to support the local wildlife. There are creatively designed bat houses and little nooks built-in for tarantulas, birds, owls, squirrels, you name it. Their love of nature is really inspirational.
West Austin Lighthouse: John and Natasha’s home centers around their love of creativity and their love for each other. The house is filled with their personally created pieces, including some in the master bedroom that … would require adult supervision.
Morningwood: Carl is the epitome of old Austin weird. His home is a collage of all of these really cool, fun and funky items. You can find doll parts, mid-century art from the University of Texas, antique machines that play pianos and so much more. You name it, he has it.
Graeber House: We find it so fascinating that there is this secret mid-century mansion right with the bars on Dirty 6th Street. We guarantee you’ve walked past it without knowing what it was.
Cypress Valley: Dave and Amy built this really fun treehouse getaway out in Spicewood. They have rope bridges, waterfalls and everything else that will make you feel like you’re living right out of Swiss Family Robinson.