Paintings, totem poles, murals, installations — US home owners are busy experimenting

It’s hard to miss the enormous 20 ft wide American flag on the side of Richard Ormbrek’s home. Made of around 180 tiles painted with scenes of Americana against a background of red and white stripes, the flag pops from the orange cedar shingles with traffic-stopping audacity.

This is actually the second major art project that Ormbrek has put on the house he shares with brother-in-law Bruce Edenso. The first, a traditional Haida Indian totem house design that covered the entire side of the home, was painted in 1975 and made the house something of a local landmark.

Many neighbourhoods usually have at least one house that’s quirky or dramatic or a bona fide art project. But few have the inclination or the guts to turn their own home into “that house”, to view their property as a giant canvas waiting to be explored.

Ormbrek’s late wife Judy, a Tlingit-Haida, picked the totem design, which the Ormbreks projected from atop a car across the street while their friend Steve Priestly painted in the lines. Neighbours gaped as the house was transformed, but only said that it would bring property values down. So far, it seems, the Totem House has neither driven down property values in one of Seattle’s hottest neighbourhoods, nor affected the resale value of the home itself.

Agents recently took clients to see an unusual home in the Highland Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles, where a home has an eclectic design that includes a rainbow of exterior colours and a giant statue of an insect in the front yard. For those considering a creative makeover to their home, remember it’s a fine line between special and tacky, experts advise. And consider how long you’ll be staying there.

Jay Pennington of New Orleans put a twist to this when he offered his yard for a year-long musical art installation. The double lot he purchased in 2007 came with a dilapidated, roughly 250-year-old Creole cottage on the property, which Pennington wanted to use in a creative way befitting the spirit of New Orleans.

After obtaining city permits, artists and builders worked to create a lot-size shantytown with nine shacks that wheezed, thrummed and plinked as fully functioning instruments. “New Orleans people love music here,” says Pennington. “The area has a rhythm and spirit to it, and that was something we had to try and preserve,” he says. The project drew 15,000 visitors and a host of performers who played the instrumental buildings. It ended in May 2011 after four months of staggered performances.

— AP