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Photo courtesy of the Weird Homes Tour

Halloween weekend is an oddly fitting time to go on a self-guided tour of architectural and interior design weirdness. But for these homeowners — whatever their chosen themes — they’re not costumes. These homes take commitment, from lifelong collections to murals to soil-based walls and a community endeavor. Weirdness is a state of mind, but it’s also a lifestyle that takes a long time to build, and most of us could use inspiration.

The most recent Weird Homes Tour took place in 2019, so October 29 will be a triumphant return for the odd Austin event. (Surely Austinites can understand the difficulties of having many strangers in personal homes for the past two years.) When the Weird Homes Tour says “weird,” it means it. These homes blow the sort-of-wacky out of the water, often appearing more like museums than someone’s primary residence.

Photo courtesy of the Weird Homes Tour

The Weird Homes Tour is returning for the first time since 2019, with classics on the roster. (Pictured: "The Bloomhouse.")

“We are beyond excited to bring back the iconic Weird Homes Tour to Austin post-pandemic, and we couldn't be happier having our friends at [Modern Architecture + Design Society] in the driver's seat for this event," said tour founder David Neff in a press release. "Austin is awash in too many eggshell white condos, and this event, full of color, wild collections, and gorgeous content will continue to open Austin's eyes on what's possible for design.”

This year’s tour offers seven locations, a few of which have been longtime partners of the tour and appear in the coffee table book, Weird Homes: The People and Places That Keep Austin Strangely Wonderful. As the title suggests, the homes are only half of the experience. Visitors drive from house to house, and explore the interiors with the homeowner present, often happy to answer questions.

No one puts this much effort into interior design to be tight-lipped about it. Plus, it takes a pretty interesting person to, say, paint her driveway and back fence like the ocean and all its inhabitants; create a larger-than-life mermaid mosaic; and pour an epoxy countertop over at least a carry-on’s worth of vacation souvenirs. Lois Goodman has put more than 20 years of work and memories into “A Mermaid's Oasis of Color,” and can be recognized around town in her similarly bedazzled art car, tarot cards likely on hand. Artist D. Warden put similar blood, sweat, and tears into his mostly upcycled artist’s studio, “The Keep.”

“Morningwood,” an even more curatorial space, houses “ancient cars, ancient beads, doll parts, pulp erotica, and forgotten esoterica,” among many other items crammed into a shed or given places of honor in the house itself. The homeowner, Carl McQueary, runs an estate services team, and absolutely brings his work home. So does the live music and events producer Luis Zapata, whose “Music Home” contains more than 30 guitars and 8,000 vinyl records.

A more austere space can be found in the “Bloomhouse,” a 1973 structure known for its sculptural form (which looks oddly like Zero the ghost dog in 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas). The wavy, white plastered form is designed to evoke “the symbiotic interaction of man and nature,” and is a tourist attraction that offers roughly $2,000-minimum stays. The “Community Inn,” another stay accessible to the public, is decorated with goods by formerly unhoused artisans who live in the surrounding neighborhood, in a very Austin twist on tiny houses and co-op living.

Tickets ($40) for the October 29 tour, taking place from 10 am to 4 pm, are available on Eventbrite. More information about each home is available at weirdhomestour.com. Each listing includes short descriptions, photos, and even videos on some of the longer partnerships. The Weird Homes book ($19.99) explores each selected house in much greater detail.

Photo by Leonid Furmansky

9 of Austin's most thoughtfully designed homes open their doors on self-guided AIA Homes Tour

Home Away From Home

It will never stop being delicious to get that little insider’s peek into someone’s home, even if it’s part of an official tour. For the curious and the creative, the AIA Austin Homes Tour returns for its 36th year of inspiring mental notes about storage hacks and wall colors this weekend, on October 22 and 23. Spend all the time you want staring at the perfect pots and pans display and skip the stairwell you could never commit to — this is a self-guided tour.

This is the tour’s first year as in-person-only after going virtual and hybrid in 2020 and 2021. Tour takers will explore nine new and recently renovated homes by local architects from Westlake to Pleasant Valley.

The work of nine architects is represented on the tour by The Austin Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Austin):

  • Cuppett Kilpatrick Architects
  • Candace Wong Architecture + Design
  • Dick Clark + Associates
  • Erica Heroy Architecture and Design
  • Lake|Flato
  • Forge Craft Architecture + Design with Hugh Jefferson Randolph Architects
  • Furman + Keil Architects
  • Lemmo Architecture and Design
  • Studio Steinbomer

A list of addresses on the website gives sneak peeks into each home, with photos, a short description, and a pre-tour webinar to make sure viewers catch important design details.

Eco-friendliness is a throughline: one residence at Bull Creek was awarded a five-star rating by Austin Energy Green Building thanks to work by Studio Steinbomer, and another by the Forge Craft-Hugh Jefferson Randolph partnership applies passive house standards for a minimal footprint in “a hot, humid climate.”

House Zero by Lake|Flato is not just a smart design, but a careful experiment. “House Zero is a demonstration project and field trial for a proprietary concrete wall printing system,” says the description. “This climate-responsive new home, which includes an accessory dwelling unit, connects inhabitants to a native Texas landscape and diverse Austin neighborhood fabric. The design team collaborated with software developers, robotics engineers, and material scientists to create a new set of architectural innovations and strategies for printed concrete construction.”

Something most of the houses share is a connection to past structures and the historical importance of their lots. The Wildflower House by Erica Heroy Architecture and Design remodels a house from the 1950s, while the Vastu House by Dick Clark + Associates updates the owner’s childhood home using design principles far older than even the original structure.

“There is no better way to experience architecture than to explore it in person, and I’m thrilled that we can offer that to the public again for the 36th anniversary of this tour,” said AIA Austin Executive Director Ingrid Spencer in a press release. “From the range of home sizes, budgets, styles, and innovative and sustainable technologies featured on this tour, there will be something to inspire and delight everyone.”

Tickets ($45 general admission, $50 day-of) are available at aiaaustinhomestour.com. VIP tickets ($95) include a swag bag and access to a VIP party on Friday, October 21.

Photo by Leonid Furmansky

The AIA Austin Homes Tour includes nine homes that merge Ausinites' interior spaces with well-loved surroundings. (Pictured: Stenger No. 2 by Candace Wong Architecture + Design)

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Documentary Turn Every Page deep-dives into historic publishing partnership

Movie Review

There have been many famous partnerships in the world, from musical ones like Hall & Oates to business ones like Bill Gates and Paul Allen. But one of the more underrated partnerships is that between authors and editors, a relationship that can be mysterious for those not well versed in the process.

The new documentary Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb, takes deep dive into the ineffable bond between Caro, author of The Power Broker and four (and counting) biographies of Lyndon B. Johnson, and Gottlieb, his longtime editor at publishing company Knopf. Caro is notorious for taking his time with his books, releasing only one about every 10 years since 1974.

The film, directed by filmmaker (and daughter of Robert) Lizzie Gottlieb, features a variety of “talking head” interviews from people as diverse as Conan O’Brien, The New Yorker editor David Remnick, and President Bill Clinton, but cedes the majority of its time to hearing from the two men themselves. Both have lived extraordinary lives, but – despite their strong connection – in very different ways.

It would be fair to call Caro “obsessive,” as his career has focused on hefty non-fiction tomes devoted to just two men. The Power Broker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning, 1,300+ page book about urban planner Robert Moses, goes into great detail about how Moses shaped the landscape of New York City, and not always for the better. He has also published four volumes of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, all detailing Johnson’s life before he was president. The yet-to-be-published fifth volume is highly anticipated, to say the least.

In addition to the books of Caro, Gottlieb has edited books by Joseph Heller (famously providing the title number for Catch-22), John Cheever, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Ray Bradbury, Michael Crichton, Bill Clinton, and many others. Astonishingly, he has also had time to write eight of his own books, serve as editor of The New Yorker, program both the New York City Ballet and Miami City Ballet, and more.

Lizzie Gottlieb gives each man plenty of space to tell their own story, with perhaps a slight bias toward her father. Caro is 87 and Gottlieb is 91, yet neither shows any significant mental decline. In fact, their ability to recall the many important moments of their lives and continue to ruminate at a high level is intimidating, and a testament to their intellectualism.

Among the many amazing stories that made the cut of the film are how Gottlieb had to get Caro to cut 350,000 words – or around 700 pages – from The Power Broker just for it to be small enough to be bound, and another about how Caro, in his extensive research about LBJ, discovered just how Johnson literally stole a primary election in his first run for the Senate.

The mark of any good documentary is its ability to engage viewers who may not be intimately familiar with its central subjects. While it’s the professional lives of Caro and Gottlieb that are most notable, the film includes just enough information about their personal lives to make them into full human beings, unlocking what for many have been mysterious figures.

Turn Every Page may be most interesting to those who have read and loved Caro’s books over the past five decades, but there’s enough there to open the film wide for the uninitiated. The lives of Caro and Gottlieb are large, and the documentary provides a great glimpse into how they became that way.

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Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb is now playing in Austin at AFS Cinema.

Photo by Martha Kaplan / courtesy of Wild Surmise Productions, LLC and Sony Pictures Classics

The young author and editor in Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb.

Austin arcade plans a trailer park murder, and it's your job to solve the mystery

Is this a game to you?

We would say there’s been a murder at the arcade, but it hasn’t happened yet. Pinballz, an arcade, bar, restaurant, and overall gathering place for Austin nerds, is planning a crime for one guest to commit at its Lake Creek location on February 9, and many others will be implicated. Guests will gather in character for a sit-down Southern meal, learn about the crime, tease out the clues, and eventually apprehend one of their own in “Trailer Park Tragedy,” a murder mystery dinner game.

Dinner is a form of theater in itself, bringing together a cast of southern classics: barbecue brisket and ribs, charro beans, corn bread, potato salad, house salad, and Texas toast. This trailer park is vegetarian friendly, with black bean burgers available to swap out. A recent Halloween event featured “feetloaf” and spider sliders.

“Last Valentine's Day we did a really fun murder at a wedding,” says food and beverage manager Mitch Alloway. “And we kind of wanted to go a different direction with Valentine's Day [this year] … We thought this would be more fun and spunky and goofy. We decided to go trailer park status with a ‘PBR-sponsored event,’ basically. It's going to be barbecue; it’s going to be some fun cocktails … and it'll be a fun time.”

A downloadable game book of the same name and similar details appears in game company Night of Mystery’s catalog, but Pinballz is taking the game to the next level, allowing up to 60 guests and ensuring that everyone has a unique character; not so easy at a friend’s house, but no big deal for the Pinballz staff member who will be hosting the game.

Although it’s a little different than the role-playing games patrons may be used to during the bar’s weekly Dungeons and Dragons sessions — since there is a prescribed series of events and a place to land at the end of the game — this event also gives visitors a chance to get into character and even costume.

“We get a good 80 percent diehard fan base that come in and they deck out, they dress up; They really get into their characters,” says Alloway. “And then there's usually that 15-20 percent that … it's their first time coming in or they're just not sure how to really feel the vibe.”

Characters from the original game sheet include a smooth-talking motorcycle buff, a few harried mothers (including a hairstylist and a grifter), and a security guard who never made it through the police academy but still wants to brag about his position of power. The game includes a disclaimer that offending players is high on its list of priorities.

Regardless of crime solving or method acting prowess, this kind of event exists to get people out of their shells and social circles. With a goal to work on, it’s a rare opportunity in a growing city to connect with others on a night out with none of the herculean sense of initiative it otherwise takes. Alloway guesses that 12-16 people come to every murder mystery, having met as strangers and progressed into friendships through enjoying the event together.

Pinballz, in addition to flooding the senses in the way only an arcade can, is a believer in this kind of night out and puts special effort into planning more throughout the year. There are murder mysteries about once a quarter, and starting at this event, each location will be staggering its mysteries. After the Lake Creek trailer park mystery, Pinballz Kingdom in Buda is hosting a Mardi Gras-themed mystery (February 23), and the original in North Austin is planning an '80s prom theme for April.

“We don't like to drench our calendars with these, because it does take time to plan, coordinate, organize — and we want to make sure that it's not something [that happens] every single week and then it takes away the creative aspect that our team members get involved [in],” says Alloway.

Aside from regularly scheduled murders and D&D adventures (spiced up with dice rolls to find out what $8 drink a patron will receive), the bars are also embarking on more comedy nights, and have started a popular live wrestling series. The chain also organizes whiskey tastings and tournaments for widely-played video games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Brothers.

“We are a very eclectic group of nerds,” says Alloway. “I'm a nerd for food and beverage, and events. We have some nerds that are for drama. We have some people that are nerds for Pokemon. We're basically a massive mob of nerds that have decided how we want to create this venue of like-minded people … where we can kind of take our passions and bring it into one weird unique setting.”

Pinballz will host “Trailer Park Tragedy” at its Lake Creek location (13729 Research Boulevard) on February 9 at 7 pm. Tickets ($35) for the 18-and-up event are available at pinballz.com.

5 Texas cities visit high rankings on best family-friendly vacations list

FUN FOR THE FAM

Austinites looking to create lasting memories with their families don’t need to look further than their own state. In a new report from lawn care company Lawn Love, Austin scored No. 29 in the Best Cities for Kid-Friendly Vacations, behind Houston (No. 8), San Antonio (No. 10), and Dallas (No. 11), and ahead of Fort Worth (No. 44).

200 of America’s largest cities were ranked using 23 metrics, including affordability, family-friendly accommodations, attractions, transportation options, and more. Austin did better than average on most metrics except affordability (No. 115 of 200). In an odd order for any Austinite that's tried to take a bus to a cool bar, the city scored best for "getting around" or ease of transportation (No. 30), followed closely by "having fun" (No. 36).

Houston, the highest rated Texas city, was classified as the third safest city for kid-friendly vacations, and earned the No. 6 spot in the category of “getting around." In the category of most amusement and theme parks, Houston ranked No. 5 in a three-way tie with San Diego, California and Denver, Colorado. With fun attractions like the Houston Funplex or Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Splashtown, it’s not hard to see the magnetism for children. Houston also tied at No. 3 with Baltimore, Maryland in the category of most children’s hospitals.

San Antonio was hot on Houston's heels, just making the top 10 with its highest ranking in "having fun" (No. 5), the highest of any Texas city. It also had a high ranking in safety (No. 8), and all its scores were above average, including the lowest ranking in "eating" (No. 97). The Central and Southern Texas city competed with the Northern Texas city of Dallas, which did best in "staying" or the number of family-friendly accommodations (No. 11), price notwithstanding. It also did well in "having fun" and safety (both No. 14).

Fort Worth lagged behind these four Texas counterparts, but still made the 78th percentile and beat cities like Killeen (the worst in Texas at No. 192). It did very well in "staying" (No. 16) and better than average in all other metrics than eating (No. 116), which sees to have dragged the overall ranking down significantly.

When planning your next vacation, Christina Sharp, faculty member at MiraCosta College in California, says there are no rules that say all family members have to agree on what to do.

"Let folks carve out time for themselves and the activities they want to do and ensure that there are activities for everyone to do together," she suggests. "My 92-year-old father-in-law didn’t want to go to the beach – and that was fine. We went while he read. But we all did take walks, eat meals, and watch TV together – and it was wonderful."

Sharp also recommends families plan ahead when deciding their mode of travel, and to limit use of technology once at their destination in order to connect and bond with each other.

The full top 10 list of best US cities for kid-friendly vacations includes:

  • No. 1, New York City, New York
  • No. 2, Orlando, Florida
  • No. 3, Miami, Florida
  • No. 4, Las Vegas, Nevada
  • No. 5, Chicago, Illinois
  • No. 6, Tampa, Florida
  • No. 7, San Francisco, California
  • No. 8, Houston, Texas
  • No. 9, Los Angeles, California
  • No. 10, San Antonio, Texas

More information about Lawn Love’s report can be found at lawnlove.com.