DC’s Funkiest: The Mushoom House

When I think of DC homes, cute comes to mind. Perhaps not in my price range, but I imagine the lovely little row homes or houses with historic charm but renovated class. House-wise, DC is filled with good stuff. But…if you dig a little deeper, it turns out DC has its fair share of weird too. Or at least one really well known weird home. There’s always one, right?

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In the DC area (nearby in Bethseda), the credit goes to the “Mushroom House,” also fondly referred to as the “Flinstone House” and “Smurf House.” The Mushroom House wasn’t always so strange – in fact when Edward and Frances Garfinkle originally bought the place (a little less than 50 years ago), it was pretty much a traditional 2-story stucco home. As time went by, the family had changing needs – such as an apartment for their mother. When they renovated, they took the notion “go big or go home” to heart. They did both.

The renovation, which happened in 1974, doubled the size of the home. And, they didn’t stop there – they also covered it in “free-flowing, polyurethane foam.” The family, who wanted something absolutely one-of-a-kind, would stand out each day during the building process and poke and prod the builders to stretch the foam a little more here, contort it a little more there. Rumor is that they didn’t intend for it to look like a mushroom, but I’d take that with the same grain of salt you use when your 2nd grade boy comes home with an ”accidentally” inappropriate art project. Whether intended or not, there is no denying it looks like a mushroom. And so the name stuck, and so did the public’s general interest.

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The Garfinkles seemed to revel in the home’s abnormality. They called it their “giant thermos bottle” since even with a 30-foot high ceiling, the home managed to stay well insulated. Even though they love their home, they have admitted to Bethesda Magazine that it was no menial endeavor – it actually almost propelled them into financial ruin. “We did this when we were young. Looking back on it, it was probably kind of dumb,” admits Mr. Garfinkle. From an outsiders perspective – and compared to other strangers mistakes in youth– building a really weird house seems on the tame side, but I guess to each his own. I am interested to see what Mr. Garfinkles mid-life crisis looks like, though.

Needless to say, multiple publications have chronicled the Garfinkles troubles. Yahoo! Real Estate reports that they had originally projected the renovation to cost $30,000, but it actually ended up costing double that amount. Plus, they also had to pay to repaint their neighbor’s car, which was mistakingly covered in foam during construction. I imagine that went hand-in-hand with some awkward neighborly conversations and at least a dozen apology pies…or so you would think.

The home’s unconventional look leaves some weird shapes for owners to work with on the inside. The house has three bedrooms and three bathrooms. It consists of 2,672 square-feet and doubles as both their humble abode and a quirky landmark of the area. Speaking to the homes funky nature, Garfinkle comments:

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

Even though the Garfinkles may be the owners, the mastermind architect behind the project was the late Roy Mason, who was considered futuristic for his time. The majority of his career came to fruition in the 1970s and 1980s, during which he used low-cost materials and alternative energy sources. Particularly relevant to his work for the Garfinkles, Mason had been known by his teachers as “the marshmallow architect.”

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Even though we can probably rest assured that the Mushroom House will always hold a special place in the hearts of the Garfinkles, they no longer call it home. In May of this year, after six months on the Bethesda market, the home was sold to an anonymous buyer for $920,000. It was originally listed in October for $1.2 million.

While the Mushroom House certainly has its charm, I’m not sure I could live in a home that looks like a giant piece of fungi. The only question we can ponder now is: who was the anonymous buyer? If we’re placing bets, I’m putting my money on Papa Smurf. Welcome to the neighborhood, my dude.

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