Extreme Homes

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Photo by Stacy Zarin-Goldberg

Oddest House

The Mushroom House | 4949 Allan Road, Bethesda

Some call it the “mushroom” house. It’s also been known as the Smurf House, the Hobbit House, the Flintstones House. It’s even made it into a book, Weird Maryland (Sterling, 2006), by Matt Lake, and onto numerous websites featuring architectural oddities.

But to Edward and Frances Garfinkle, it’s home sweet home. More than that, the 1923 house, designed by futuristic architect Roy Mason, is an expression of their whimsical nature. With a polyurethane foam coating hiding the original stucco exterior, it’s a bloated fantasy of a house.

The Garfinkles bought it in 1967, and a few years later decided on a do-over. “We were kind of misled into thinking it was an inexpensive way to build. It didn’t turn out that way,” says Ed Garfinkle, 77. In fact, it almost ruined them financially. “We did this when we were young. Looking back on it, it was probably kind of dumb,” he says.

Nonetheless, it made their 2,672-square-foot dwelling a quirky landmark, an unconventional outlier amid the monotonous streets of traditional suburban homes off Western Avenue. “It’s all curves and arches and 30-foot ceilings,” Garfinkle says. “Most people looking at it from the outside think it’s a very dark house, but it’s anything but. There’s a pond inside the house and skylights. It’s very bright and cheerful.”

By the front door there’s a bathtub filled with firewood and a “One Way” sign with arrows pointing in opposite directions, along with a sign from the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park that instructs visitors not to “Annoy, Torment, Plague, Badger, Harass, Heckle…or Ruffle the Animals.”

Garfinkle says he has suffered none of those things from curiosity-seekers who gawk at the house or ask him questions when he’s in the front yard.

“One good thing is that it probably slows the traffic down on our street,” he says. “The cars don’t go flying by as much as in the rest of the neighborhood. It’s better than a speed bump.”

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