Look inside three weird homes and meet the women behind them.
Story and photos by Brianna Caleri
On April 20, the sixth annual Weird Homes Tour invites thousands of visitors behind the doors of some of Austin’s most fascinating personal homes. The tour is self-guided and visitors can spend as much time as they want in each house, soaking up the weirdness and chatting with the homeowners.
Austin Woman toured several homes for an exclusive look before the tour, including a special off-tour stop at the home of Co-founders Chelle and David Neff, the always popular Under The Sea House and the OMG House, back for the second time with renovations.
Chelle Neff | Weird Homes Tour Co-founder
Chelle and David Neff were walking around their Crestview neighborhood in 2013 when they saw a home that resembled the Alamo. As home-tour fans, the house prompted them to look for a tour of weird homes in Austin. They found nothing and the next morning David Neff suggested they do it themselves. In 2014 they got married, bought the house they live in now and produced their first Weird Homes Tour.
Chelle Neff was always interested in interior design, and even considered pursuing a degree in the subject. When she discovered how expensive it would be, she decided on cosmetology instead and now owns Urban Betty Salon, which recently opened its second Austin location. She says her home isn’t weird, “but it might be in 20 years!”
Chelle Neff believes most homes don’t start weird, they’re “made weird,” and that process can’t happen in a vacuum. Inspired by a beautiful bookcase on the tour, she added a bookcase in her own home that takes up a full wall, showcasing doll heads in jars and a glowing sign spelling “weird.” A modern, romantic touch in the same room is a framed tweet, memorializing the time David Neff introduced himself via Twitter.
“Sometimes when you go in a person’s house, you see more of their true essence,” Chelle Neff says.
Their own home essence proves the couple is cool, stylish, grounded and have an easy sense of humor. It’s clear they’ve been inspired by the tour, and Chelle Neff wants the same for visitors on the tour in expanding locations.
From the inception of the tour, the couple knew they wanted to give back to the community. As the tour came into focus, it quickly became clear that many of the homeowners were struggling to keep their beloved houses as Austin gentrified around them. Even homeowners who had paid off their mortgages were being crushed by property taxes. This year, the tour is partnering with Lifeworks this year, a nonprofit that aims to give youth and families self-sufficiency and fight homelessness.
The tour’s homeowners show a spectacular dedication to providing entertainment and inspiration on the tour, often adding features just to delight the visitors. The Weird Homes Tour is no longer “pure nosiness,” as Chelle Neff put it. A community is growing, and Austin is becoming even weirder.
Lois Goodman | Under The Sea
Self-appointed glue master Lois Goodman is not an artist; she prefers the term “respected creator.” Her ornate art cars are recognizable around town, but she stays out of the spotlight inside her beautiful Under The Sea home. The open layout of the home channels feel-good energy and the bright wall colors complement the thousands of tchotchkes and wall-hangings.
Goodman teaches classes on harnessing your own intuitive senses and feels that every object in a house contributes its own unique energy. She notices if one piece is missing or misplaced and makes decisions carefully about how to most harmoniously organize each feature.
“[Home] is an energy,” says Goodman, explaining the importance of honoring smaller energies in the house.
Her house is organized by category, with a teapot shelf, a salt and pepper shaker display, space dedicated to her favorite band the Rolling Stones and a collection of eccentric, handmade mobiles in the covered driveway.
The Under the Sea theme is inspired by Goodman’s back fence, which a friend cut in an abstract shape that she thought resembled the ocean. Goodman says she has always been “a water girl,” and includes “mermaid” in her long list of self-identifiers. The most breathtaking feature of the house is the massive, mosaic mermaid gate greeting visitors at the entrance, which Goodman created herself by gluing the tiles on top of a painter’s sketch. Even though she can’t color between the lines, she has a strong artistic eye that is especially attuned to color, and she tries not to overthink anything. But she has two hard rules about mermaids: no blondes and no skinny fish.
Goodman hopes her house can give visitors permission to use color in their own homes, and she hopes people take their time to let the home work its magic.
“I want people to take their time and take in everything,” she says. “Because there’s something in every corner.”
Sandy Robertson | The OMG House
The OMG House is Randy Robertson’s project, but his wife Sandy Robertson’s touch is scattered throughout the home. In a real OMG twist, Sandy Robertson calls herself a minimalist, despite the house overflowing with articles from an array of time periods and cultures. Visitors are greeted by a suit of armor and a fish tank with a saltwater reef and across the hall is a music room stuffed with an entire dive bar’s worth of memorabilia.
Although Sandy Robertson’s influence isn’t immediately apparent, her love of Marilyn Monroe brings the entire upstairs to life and the backyard is complete with a coop for 13 chickens and a brand new She Shed.
Years ago, she fell in love with a feral chicken who laid eggs in their planter. On Valentine’s Day in 2015, Randy Robertson adopted six chicks from the general store, she did some research and the two of them built a chicken condominium with three floors.
“It would probably be a little boring,” says Sandy Robertson, reflecting on the minimalist path her home life could have taken. “I would have to then find excitement outside of the home. …. Now we don’t go to all these things because a lot of people come here.”
Randy Robertson’s pursuit of his wife’s interests is perhaps the most heartwarming aspect of their home. One day, he bought a poster of Marilyn Monroe, with whom Sandy Robertson identified for her charm and determination, despite struggling to deliver even a single line as an actress. He started bringing home art to match and now the entire upstairs is covered with images of the star. He even bought a clapperboard, which he painted with information he dug up on Monroe’s 47-take line, “It’s me, Sugar.”
The She Shed, though, really is Sandy Robertson’s project, which started as a place to store her chicken strollers. She added a couch to make it a little more comfortable and now she says she can “play psychologist” with her girlfriends who come over to drink wine and dance.
Sandy Robertson’s friends flock to the house not because it’s interesting, but to bask in her fabulous attitude. She treasures her marriage and finds fulfillment in “being a place that people feel comfortable coming to.” Her definition of home is simply, “Love.”
The tour goes from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and tickets start at $35. Weird-home fanatics can also buy the coffee table book Weird Homes: The People and Places That Keep Austin Strangely Wonderful, which includes a few extra homes not on the tour.