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Homes in the most unusual places

Marcelle Sussman Fischler, Forbes.com
May 22, 2012
A San Francisco art dealer fled to this desert home, now for sale, in Tucson, Ariz.
Photo: Rick Joy

“Location, location, location” has long been a rule of thumb in real estate. Most often it’s a place with access to the water or a spread that sits in proximity to the latest business development. In Walter Cecil’s case, though, a prime spot on which to live wasn’t near a beachfront or close to shopping.

Fed up with the high cost of real estate in San Francisco, Cecil, an art dealer, fled to a secluded 8.3-acre property in the Sonoran desert. His home, a trio of rusted steel cubes linked by gravel paths, isn’t in your typical neighborhood, but that’s its draw, according to Cecil.

In Pictures: Homes in the Most Unusual Places

“It’s a perfect marriage between good modern architecture and a pristine desert environment,” says Cecil, who after seven years in residence has listed this contemporary version of a yurt home for $875,000.

The desert dwelling’s largest maple-outfitted cube contains the great room and kitchen; the medium cube houses the master bedroom suite and the smallest is a home office and guest room. No need to worry about nighthawks or snakes or other nocturnal “creepy crawly things.” The garden paths are lit at night.

In another unconventional setting, Villa Rockledge, a 5,500-square-foot mansion constructed in 1918, sits perched on a rocky ledge overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Laguna Beach home is too large to be built today. “According to code, you would have to push it back 20 or 30 feet,” said Rosanne Ramirez-Kline, a sales agent with Surterre Properties in the seaside California town.

Read on for more about these and other unusually situated homes:

Festus, Missouri

Caveland has gone from roller rink to concert venue to home.
Photo: caveland.us

Fred and Wilma Flintstone, meet the Jetsons. First a sandstone mine and later a roller rink and concert venue where Bob Seger and Ike and Tina Turner performed, the nearly three-acre property known as Caveland was purchased on eBay in 2003.

Its new owners, according to their Web site, transformed the cave into a naturally insulated two-story, three-bedroom home with a gently curving staircase, hardwood floors and 28 salvaged sliding glass doors on the façade. Most of the rock walls are still exposed in their natural state. Once licensed as a bomb shelter, the cave has a natural spring and city water.

Desert Nomad House
Tucson, Arizona
Price: $875,000

For aspiring desert nomads, this home is for sale.
Photos: Rick Joy

Where to put a contemporary yurt? Rick Joy’s award-winning, art-filled Desert Nomad House is secluded on 8.3 acres in the Sonoran desert at the base of the Tucson Mountains. You won’t even need to dress up when walking the gravel paths that link the trio of rusted steel cubes in small, medium and large sizes housing the entertaining, sleeping and working spaces. Each cube has a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass with panoramic desert and mountain views and close-ups of Saguaro cacti.

Mountain Chalet
Laguna Beach, California
Price: $26 million

Beneath the mansion's ledge are three rental casitas and a private beach.
Photos: Zillow

They can’t build them like this anymore. Set into the bluffs of Laguna Beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Villa Rockledge, a 5,500-square-foot mansion constructed in 1918, is too large for today’s zoning. Valued by Zillow.com at more than $26 million, the historical landmark has a “funky layout,” said sales agent Rosanne Ramirez-Kline, but every room boasts an ocean view. Lower down the bedrock are three rental casitas, a private beach and ocean-filled tide pool. “Some buyers would want to turn it into a hotel,” Kline says.

Stiltsville Houses
Key Biscayne, Florida

Only seven of the original 27 Stiltsville houses remain.
Photo: Forbes.com

Sure, there are awesome mansions and amazing waterfront properties on Key Biscayne, once home to President Richard Nixon’s winter White House. But to live in a home with wraparound porches smack in the turquoise waters, trade the glitz for Stiltsville, a neighborhood of wood stilt houses about 10 feet above the shallow water on the edge of Biscayne Bay in Biscayne National Park. In the 1940s and 1950s, Stiltsville was a Miami hotspot, with social clubs among the original 27 cabins. Hurricanes have taken their toll: only seven houses remain.

WW II Ruin
Hamm Westfalen, Germany

A modern German home sits atop a piece of World War II history.
Photos: Amort Architektur

A five-story World War II bunker pockmarked by several air attacks but structurally sound provided a vertical, urban plot with great views for a residential penthouse built on top of it in 2008 by Amort Architektur. As a historical landmark, the bunker remains unpainted and unchanged in stark contrast to the contemporary brick, wood and steel dwelling with cantilevered decks on top.

Click here to see more photos of homes in unusual places.

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