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    Prairie School house style

    By Bud Dietrich, AIA

    As the 19th century waned and the 20th century was dawning, a group of architects and designers in the Upper Midwest banded together to form the Prairie School. An entirely new approach to domestic design, the Prairie School featured a new language. Rooms made of four walls and small holes for windows were replaced with cantilevered roofs, floating planes, bands of windows and open corners to create spaces that would be all open and light and bright.

    The most famous of the Prairie School architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, designer of such iconic houses as Robie, Willits, Coonley, Martin and more, Wright's designs served as the basis for the International Style and today's modernism. A line can be easily drawn from Wright to Mies to the best of today's modern aesthetic.

    Let's take a look at this enduring style and see how it continues to influence domestic design in our time.

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    See more on Houzz:
    Browse thousands of modern home design ideas
    Find an architect in your area
    Remodeling




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    Living inside of a car doesn't sound so fun -- unless you've pulled it off the way one man has.

    Nineteen-year-old Otto Kusec, who lives in Croatia, created one of the most amazing living spaces we've ever seen: He painted his room to look like the interior of a VW Beetle.

    Kusec told AOL Real Estate that it took him three to four days to paint his masterpiece. Car blog Jalopnik.com noted that the walls of Kusec's room appear to portray a pre-1962 Beetle with a sunroof, an aftermarket fuel gauge and a wicker under-dash tray. (We don't know what that is -- we deal in homes, not cars).

    "I've loved cars since I can remember, and since I can't afford to have one of my own, this is as close as I can get," Kusec wrote on Jalopnik about his room in his mother's two-story home. "The idea came to me when I banged my head on the slanted roof. Some time later, I realized that the angle of the wall kinda looks like a windshield of a car. Then I thought it would be cool to do the whole room as the interior of a car."

    Want to see the whole awesome thing? Click through the gallery below. And, hey, have you done a home project that you think is even cooler than this? Tweet it to us at @AOLRealEstate or post it to our Facebook page.

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    See also:
    Eye-Fooling Street Art Will Astound You

    The Narrowest 'House' in the World Is Unveiled
    Artist Makes Luxury Home in a Dumpster

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
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    rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy

    By Jessica Kraft

    Hurricane Sandy's horrific destruction will cost an estimated $60 billion in property damages and lost business. But one silver lining may be the opportunity to rebuild New York and New Jersey to not only withstand the next hurricane, but to also create jobs, spur the economy and save the government a lot of money in the next storm.

    Organizations like Architecture for Humanity and Global Green are proposing to rebuild devastated areas with smarter designs, and The New York Times covered three innovative ideas by design and engineering firms for rebuilding after Sandy. As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week after the storm hit: "I'm hopeful that not only will we rebuild this city and metropolitan area, but we use this as an opportunity to build it back smarter."

    But what does building a smarter city mean, exactly? And how much would such designs cost? Would investing in them be less than the cost of potential damages? We look at some potential proposals and weigh their costs and benefits.

    A Smart Grid

    Nearly 8 million people lost electrical power to their homes and businesses as a result of the storm's damage. In its current state, our electrical grid relies on fossil-fuel-burning power plants that serve very large areas. This setup is both extremely wasteful (8 percent of electricity is lost on average during long-distance transmission) and highly vulnerable. For example, sending out power through overhead distribution lines is just a disaster waiting to happen -- those high-voltage wires should be buried wherever possible.

    And the grid is also what New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman calls "dumb," meaning it doesn't have sensors at local sites that would sound the alert when there are outages. Power companies generally identify problems by getting a phone call from a customer who is sitting in the dark. Friedman also says the grid is dumb because it doesn't know how much power is needed at any given spot, so it sends out the maximum amount of electricity everywhere all the time -- another source of massive energy waste.

    Related: See Some of the Most Sustainable Communities in the World

    By contrast, a smart grid, which is in development in American cities such as Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colo., and already exists all over Europe, is a communications system. Smart meters installed at every home and business are able to relay their power demand, or lack of power, instantly to the power company, and the company can provide varying electrical flow to different sites based on demand.

    A smart grid can thus automatically detect problems in a distribution system and isolate them before they spread or cause fires. Since smart grid software handles most of these interactions, human error and outages are decreased, response times are increased and prices accurately reflect different rates of power consumption. Smart grids would have restored power much faster during Sandy, especially to areas affected only by storm-ravaged transmission lines.

    Is It Worth It?

    No doubt about it, the smart grid is enormously expensive. Establishing a national system over the next 20 years would cost at least $100 billion according to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. But if it eliminated power outages and responded intelligently to customer demand, the Electric Power Research Institute estimates that a smart grid could actually save $100 billion each year. And the cost of a smart meter for an individual property is only $250. Just starting with smart meters in storm-prone areas could prevent or shorten the type of blackouts we've seen due to Sandy.

    Ecological Drainage

    Much of the flooding damage that resulted from the maelstrom was a result of impermeable infrastructure. When water hits solid asphalt, cement or metal surfaces in our cities today, it travels quickly to the lowest elevation along linear designated pathways: streets, storm drains, subway channels, culverts, drain pipes. But these conduits soon become inundated and overpowered with excessive volume. The opposite is true in nature: flowing or falling water gets absorbed into the ground where it falls, or it is sent in meandering channels so that it covers more surface area and disperses its energy. Flooding is delayed until after all other absorptive surfaces have been saturated. So installing permeable pavement is a way to help cities mimic nature, by allowing water to soak into the ground locally.

    Constructed wetlands and bioswales, which are simple ditches filled with stones and plants, would also mitigate flood damage in low-elevation areas near bodies of water. Wetlands and swales offer a natural barrier that forces oncoming water to run over different textures of absorptive surfaces. This slows down floods, filters out pollutants and protects bordering areas from the blunt impact of a wall of water.

    If the Jersey Shore and the shorelines of Long Island and even Manhattan had had these features bordering residential areas, much serious flood damage could have been avoided.

    Is It Worth It?

    Permeable paving is at least two times as expensive to install than conventional asphalt, but the cost is immediately offset by a reduction in stormwater hardware that includes drains, reinforced concrete pipes, catch basins, outfalls and stormwater connects. When these total costs of managing stormwater are included, an asphalt or concrete paving system costs between $9.50 and $11.50 per square foot, whereas permeable systems cost $4.50 to $6.50 per square foot.

    These savings also apply to bioswales, which a 2004 Army Corps of Engineers study found to be much less expensive to install than underground stormwater systems. So replacing concrete water barriers with more natural solutions not only mitigates storm impacts, but it saves lots of money. And since looking at a vegetated landscape is much more pleasant than touring a storm drain, it's likely that ecological drainage areas could become profitable tourist destinations if combined with other amenities.

    By the way, scientists are now proposing that movable seawalls be built around Manhattan, but even with these walls, runoff, storm water and rainfall would still encroach on the city, making absorption and diversion measures necessary.

    Green Building

    As winter approaches, those still without power in their homes are getting colder and colder. But is this because their houses are not properly weatherized? Writing in the aftermath of the storm, Alex Wilson, executive editor of Environmental Building News and an advocate for the emerging field of "resilient design," proposed: "By building or retrofitting to achieve resilient design, we can create homes that will never drop below 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit even if the house is totally cut off from power and heating fuel -- they can do that with high levels of insulation, top-performing windows, passive solar gain, and other features."

    In general, the current guidelines for green buildings specified by the USGBC's LEED rating system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) double as disaster prevention measures that we should incorporate in rebuilding efforts. Green buildings that generate their own clean energy with solar panels or wind turbines, process their own waste and water, and even produce food on-site would have provided great shelter during Hurricane Sandy with minimal disruption to normal life. Instead of having millions of people dependent on the same central energy, food and water delivery systems that fail outright during a crisis, each building, block or locality could provide these necessities, which would keep more people and businesses functioning.

    Is It Worth It?

    In a report by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for the State of California Sustainable Building Task Force, green buildings were found to cost 2 percent more upfront on average. However, the energy and materials savings over the lifetime of the building were found to be 20 percent of conventional costs. So implementing green building on a large scale with creative upfront financing would yield more than 10 times the initial investment over the lifecycle of the building.

    Future Storm Protection, at Cheaper Cost

    With Sandy, we've learned the hard way that our centralized power grid, concrete jungles and fossil-fuel dependent buildings just make terrible storms even worse. Learning to work with nature and our changing climate by focusing our rebuilding efforts on distributed, locally based, green solutions could help reduce the damage of such storms and also save us a lot of money. Now that would be smart.

    See more from LearnVest.com:
    Should You Accept Short-Term Loans and Credit Increases After Sandy?
    True Stories: What Hurricane Sandy Taught Me About Money
    4 Steps to Budgeting for the Holidays Now

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    Holiday decorations gone wrong

    As #houseporn fiends and real estate junkies, there's nothing we love more than poring through fabulous home listings -- except maybe sorting through the tragically un-fabulous ones. They'll definitely make you laugh, and some of them could make you cry. Every week, AOL Real Estate brings you the sorriest listings we could find on the Internet to show you what you should never do when posting your home online. We very appropriately call it #listingfail.

    This Week's Theme: Holiday Decorations Gone Wrong

    For the most part, decorating for the holidays adds a festive element to your home. It allows you to really get into the spirit of the season, and gives you an excuse to feature seasonal foods (pumpkins) or have a pretty tree in your living room. But in the following cases, these homeowners might have been better off just forgetting the holidays altogether. Scroll through the gallery to see some of our favorite listings featuring bad holiday decorations (plus a bonus!).

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    Pablo Lehmann's 'Scribe's House'

    Even if you aren't an avid reader, you'll be awestruck to see the epic art installation by Argentine artist Pablo Lehmann called "Scribe's House." It's a life-size apartment made entirely of pages ripped from books. Talk about bringing print to life.

    It took Lehmann two years to put the "Scribe's House" together. The "apartment" has all the elements you'd expect -- bathtub, bed, dining table, boudoir and even a fireplace -- though we wouldn't recommend using them.

    The "Scribe's House" installation was on display in Miami over the weekend, but if you missed it, Anthropologie is selling a book of photos of Lehmann's one-of-a-kind piece. That'll cost you $2,300 -- which, we'd like to point out, is a typical monthly rent of a real apartment in New York City.

    Speaking of which, if you're looking for an apartment that's actually habitable, start here.

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    See also:
    Eye-Fooling Street Art Will Astound You

    The Narrowest 'House' in the World Is Unveiled
    Artist Makes Luxury Home in a Dumpster

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
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    John Learner: gingerbread house creator.


    Dentist John Learner will most likely tell you to keep your sweet tooth under control -- but his is running wild. Gingerbread, Pop Tarts, fruit roll-ups, icing, candy canes, hundred of pieces of gum: These are a few of his favorite things. It's not that he's eating them, though. He's using the sweets to build some of the most outlandish gingerbread houses you've ever seen.

    "I like my gingerbread houses to be 3 feet tall and too big to wrap my arms around," Learner, who owns his practice in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, told real estate blog Curbed in a recent interview.

    John Learner gingerbread houseThat's not an exaggeration. Some of his most prized gingerbread creations top out at 85 pounds and take two men to carry, according to Curbed. With roofs made of up to 60 Pop Tarts, walls of dried icing an inch thick, turrets made of rock candy and waffle cones and wraparound porches constructed from candy canes, some of Learner's most detailed projects have taken nine months to complete.

    It's no wonder why it takes so long: Each of his gingerbread houses are models of real buildings from around the world, built with breathtaking detail. His latest project, a candied replica of the 64,500-square-foot Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens estate in Akron, Ohio, has been three years in the making.

    With Learner's unwavering dedication to his hobby, you'd think it was his job. And, truth be told, dentistry is "the bothersome, time-consuming job that keeps me from making gingerbread houses 24 hours a day," he told Curbed.

    Just how impressive are Learner's sweet creations? Click through the gallery below to compare Learner's gingerbread houses to the actual estates they're modeled after.

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    While you have to go to the theater to see "The Hobbit," some people experience J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth every day. The books that inspired the new movie and the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy have also inspired home design for years. Among the most recent dwellings is one built for a diehard Tolkien fan in Chester County, Pa.: a 600-square-foot guesthouse with a cartoonishly curved roof and a 54-inch circular cedar door.

    Inside are wood arches, a "butterfly window," a stucco fireplace -- and walls of shelves where its owner displays a vast collection of Tolkien memorabilia acquired over 30 years. The whimsical home was built with stones from a collapsed 18th-century wall in the owner's yard.

    "This isn't something that you can re-create on a suburban cul-de-sac," Peter Archer, the architect behind the fantastical house, told The Associated Press. "It was made for this specific location, and it wouldn't work anywhere else."

    This hobbit's dream joins several similar homes that we've featured before. See more of it and some other variations on this theme below.

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    See also:
    Ohio Dentist John Learner's Gingerbread Houses Will Give You a Toothache
    The Narrowest 'House' in the World Is Unveiled
    Artist Makes Luxury Home in a Dumpster

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.
    Find homes for rent in your area.

    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

    Far From the Shire, a Hobbit House in Pa.

     

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    Reclaim NYC turns Hurricane Sandy refuse into home furnishings.

    A group of New York City designers have come together to turn wreckage from Hurricane Sandy into beautiful housewares that will be auctioned off to benefit storm victims. Reclaim NYC, a group started by design/architecture writer Jennifer Krichels and some of her colleagues and friends, called on local designers and artists to create furniture from materials gleaned from Sandy cleanup sites. The group now has the work of 24 contributors to auction off.

    "We hope our fallen trees and storm-damaged building materials can be reborn as objects that represent the city's recovery," the group's founders said. Reclaim NYC is having its first auction on Thursday. The proceeds from the lamps, tables, chairs and other craft objects will go to the American Red Cross in Greater New York.

    See the Reclaim NYC Charity Auction's Facebook event, and learn more about Reclaim NYC's mission.

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    See also:
    Hurricane Sandy Victims' Electric Bills Show Charges for Power Despite Blackout

    Hurricane Sandy Batters Home Sales in Storm-Affected Areas
    Home Insurance for Hurricanes and Floods

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    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.
    Find homes for rent in your area.

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    Hurricane Insurance: Catalyst Or Catastrophe?

     

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    Doomsday bunkers

    By Geoffrey Ingersoll

    The prevalence of "fallout" shelters in pop culture, indeed in culture itself, has seen a recent spike.

    Maybe it was the 2008 global economic crisis, or the deafening apocalyptic talk of prominent pundits (ahem, Glenn Beck), or even the resurgence of the zombie as the way that life on earth will shuffle to its end.

    Regardless of the reason, the bomb shelter business is booming, and the cult following even has its own show on National Geographic called "Doomsday Preppers."

    The photos here are a product of L.A.-based company Atlas Survival Shelters, which provides decked out living quarters in the event of an errant asteroid, nuclear holocaust or walking dead.

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    See more stories on Business Insider Military & Defense:
    These Abandoned Soviet Radar Sites Show How Quickly the Cold War Ended
    Creepy Pictures From the Hidden 5th Floor of a North Korean Hotel
    China Has More Than 40 of These Underground Air Bases and They're Nearly Impossible to Destroy
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    Aol Real Estate's Inside Look: Missile Silo

     

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    If you take a look back at our year in video, you'll see that life here at AOL Real Estate is anything but ordinary. Thanks to our "Inside Look" series, our crew (pictured above) has had the opportunity to visit some of America's most unique and downright crazy homes. And judging from all your positive feedback, you guys have enjoyed the ride, too! Here's a look back at some of our favorite "Inside Look" episodes this year.

    1. NYC's Steampunk Loft

    When we got a look inside this apartment for sale in New York's trendy Chelsea neighborhood, our jaws literally dropped. There was a Technicolored, floating, 30-foot-long zeppelin hanging from the ceiling! And enough vintage nautical artifacts and retro-futuristic decor to make your head spin. We were sad to hear, five months later, that the zeppelin and steampunk decor had been removed to boost its marketability -- but we're happy we have this video to remind us of the craziness that once was.

    AOL Real Estate's Inside Look: Steampunk Apartment



















    2. The Hamptons' Shipping Container Home

    There are those (extremely) rare days when you just can't wait to wake up and go to work. For us at AOL Real Estate, those are the days where work takes us to the Hamptons. Now, this particular Hamptons home was not your typical beachfront mega-mansion -- quite outside the box, actually. Well, inside the box, technically. ... You'll see what we mean in the video below.

    Inside Look: The Beach Box



















    3. The Home 'Built for Jesus'

    For decades, this New York home was at the center of a juicy rumor that it was built for the second coming of Jesus. So of course we had to check it out for ourselves! Not only did we get to the bottom of that wacky rumor, we also got to spend some time in one of the most extravagant and opulent houses we've ever set foot in! Vatican-inspired floors, anyone?

    Inside Look: Divine Intentions



















    4. President Obama's Former Apartment

    Before President Obama called 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home, we heard his digs were a lot more down-to-earth, to say the least. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to check out his (very average, but still cool nonetheless) college apartment for ourselves, and even got the chance to chat to his college roommate, Phil Boerner!




    5. Connecticut's Crazy Christmas House

    In case you missed our last holiday-themed episode of "Inside Look," here it is: a home that boasts a Christmas lights display like nothing you've ever seen. We're talking 80,000 twinkling lights, 400 Christmas wreaths, 600 holiday dolls. ... It's Christmas on steroids!

    Inside Look: Holiday House




















    On behalf of AOL Real Estate, we'd like to thank everyone for tuning in this year and for all your wonderful feedback! And we can't wait to bring you all another fun year of "Inside Look."

    See also:
    Hobbit Houses: Dwellings Right at Home in Tolkien's Middle Earth
    Dentist's Gingerbread Houses Will Give You a Toothache

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
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    After rounding up the biggest celebrity deals, weirdest buildings and worst listing photos of 2012, we'd like to take a moment to stop and reflect on our personal favorites. The homes below were the ones that our hearts beat for this year. Some of them are strange, cute, star-studded and risque, and they are why we do what we do. Here are our picks for the coolest houses of 2012.


    Naomi Campbell's Spaceship Home


    Naomi Campbell's Spaceship Home

    We're not sure what the Russian boyfriend of supermodel Naomi Campbell was on when he signed off on this "Battlestar Galactica"-esque mansion designed by architect Zaha Hadid, but we'd sure like to try it. The master bedrooms are housed atop a 65-foot tower rising from the back of the oddly shaped home, which requires a glass elevator to get to. We guess it's cool -- if you're looking at it while tripping on acid or something.

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    Hedonist's Fantasy: A Home With Stripper Poles


    stripper pole home

    Yes, that's a stripper pole in the shower. (You know, for safety in case you slip.) And that's not the only one in this ultimate bachelor pad, which had us blushing and giggling when we came across it. There's another stripper pole in the home's disco ... right next to the in-house casino. Yeah, it's party time.

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    Wet 'n' Wild Backyard Water Park


    backyard water park home

    We couldn't help but laugh when we found out that this Boulder City, Nev., home with a lazy river, several water slides and a bridge-- all in the backyard -- was a foreclosure. Who on earth could afford to keep all that up? Maybe the Texas dentist who built an even bigger water park in his backyard.

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    NYC's $100 Million Octagonal Penthouse



    It was the Big Apple's most expensive residential listing, an octagon-shaped penthouse with three floors -- and a wraparound terrace on each one. We thought we lost it to the prime minister of Qatar, but luckily, that was just a rumor. The listing is still open, and we're still counting pennies to buy those 360-degree views of Manhattan.

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    A Penthouse With a Slide




    We call this NYC penthouse a rich man's playground. Isn't it obvious why? There's a slide smack dab in the middle of the home! We loved it so much that we had to go there and slide down it ourselves (we took video!). It's fun, we promise! ! We heard, though, that since being snapped up, the new owner has removed the slide. Ruin our fun, why don't ya?

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    Swim Laps in the Living Room



    We thought we'd seen it all, then came this gem in Saddle River, N.J. -- with a swimming pool in the middle of the living room. The living room! You'll sit poolside on lush couches -- the kind that would be the centerpiece in anyone else's living room. But no, in this living room, there's a pool. We just have to keep reminding ourselves.

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    Jeffrey Dahmer's Childhood Home is Nice, Not Scary




    So it might seem a little strange to have an infamous serial killer's former home on our list, and, well, you got us there! But we were just so taken with how cute Jeffrey Dahmer's childhood home in Ohio is. We imagined raising a nice family there, despite it's terrible background. We also were taken with the home's owner, Chris Butler, who put it simply: "The house didn't kill anybody."

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    A Star-Studded Home



    The celebrity pedigree of this home is why we loved it so much. Who lived here? Harry Cohn, Betty Grable, Diane Keaton and, finally, Madonna. Need we say more? (You know you wish those walls could talk.)

    %Gallery-159506%


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    By Deirdre Sullivan


    Small is the new big. But if you think a tiny home would crimp your way of life, check out these videos. We found three weensy abodes that feel like much larger homes. The trick is that each micro-living place maximizes space to compliment the resident's lifestyle.

    1. A home that doesn't skimp on traditional elements

    This 500-sq.-ft. home was built in Vancouver by SmallWorks Studios. Despite its diminutive size, this mini-mansion was designed with plenty of traditional elements that make it feel like a much larger home. It packs a sleek small kitchen, a bedroom balcony, and a one-car garage.

    Plus, its tiny footprint helps it be energy efficient.

    In Vancouver, a home similar to this starts at around $200,000 and takes 16 weeks to build.




    2. A place built for entertaining

    A woman in Barcelona remodeled her tiny apartment so that she can have parties.

    Although her bedroom eats up a quarter of her 128-square-foot dwelling, she didn't like the idea of installing a loft or Murphy bed to create more floor space.

    So, with the help of a few clever storage built-ins that concealed extra chairs and an expandable kitchen table, the Spanish hostess is able to seat 12 for dinner.

    FYI, when the party moves into the living room, she uses foldout cardboard stools to create more seating.




    3. A man cave that includes more than a few conversation pieces

    J. Michael Moore (who happens to be 6-foot-4) filled his vibrant, 225-square-foot home with furniture and kickknacks that he likes to look at.

    Moore avoided using a monochromatic paint scheme and went with color blocking -- a method that pairs opposites on the color wheel. Although the colors are bold, color blocking helps tie all his stuff together so his space doesn't feel cluttered or overwhelming.

    A loft bed and moveable furniture helps Moore maximize his square footage and lets him rearrange the space to serve many purposes.



    This story was originally published on HouseLogic.

    More on HouseLogic:
    How to Avoid Foundation Problems
    Organize Your Garage for Under $50
    Small Bathroom Design Tips

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    School bus home of Richard and Rachel Lane

    When people envision a dream home, it's generally a two-story, brick-and-mortar classic with a backyard and white picket fence. But Richard and Rachel Lane's doesn't have four walls -- but four wheels. The Lanes live on a bus in the San Francisco Bay area: a former school bus, to be exact, that they report purchasing in Oregon via Craigslist for $3,000.

    The 39-foot bus is just like "a regular home" on the inside, featuring a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, lounge area and even a movie room on the bus' "second story." Its livability is achieved by using custom, hand-made furniture, and IKEA pieces that have been altered to fit the bus' specs. It even sleeps 10!

    "We wanted to make a home together, and this was a way we could own our own property and really create our own lifestyle," Rachel (pictured at left with husband Richard), told AOL Real Estate. "With modular dwellings, everything's kind of decided for you, so you're not truly creating the structure you want to live in. So, for us, we found it was really advantageous to develop our own unique living space."

    And it seems to be working: Rachel, a therapist, and Richard, an IT professional, have been living on the bus full-time for four years. The Lanes are part of the trend of re-imagining the American Dream -- in response to a struggling economy and a growing desire for greater flexibility and sustainability. (Prior to living on the bus, Richard lived in a home in Northern California's suburbs, while Rachel lived in a studio apartment in San Francisco).


    The Lanes currently don't pay rent or a mortgage -- they only pay $100 a month in maintenance. And they can live completely off-the-grid. Six solar panels, which they bought on eBay for $200 each, are mounted on the roof of the bus, generating all the electricity needed (770 watts for all daily necessities, including to power their refrigerator). Propane feeds the couple's catalytic heater and, soon, their stove and oven. The home also features a composting toilet. (The home has no running water, though: The Lanes buy it by the gallon on an as-needed basis).

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    "Living [on a bus has] given me so much perspective. Before endeavoring this, I wasn't appreciative of the basic needs of humans," Rachel told AOL Real Estate. "People don't see where the resources come from and what it takes to provide these resources, because the government provides it for everyone. Unfortunately, this means a lot of people take what they have for granted. Living this way has helped me figure out what's really important."

    They also, of course, have the flexibility of being able to travel -- which they must do almost constantly. By law, the couple can't stay in one location for more than three days.

    "We stay in the general vicinity, though, and just move from street to street because we really enjoy where we live," Rachel explained.

    But, free from the confines of a brick-and-mortar structure, they possess the flexibility to live "wherever they want." In fact, that was the plan, according to Rachel, who said that they were originally inspired by a family of four who moved from New York City to California in their own bus home.

    In not having to be dependent on the grid -- like the residents of Canada's Lasqueti Island and the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri -- they are able to spend less time working off debts and more time with family and friends, doing activities that they enjoy, such as crafting.

    "I think we live in times that have forced individuals to be creative in how they live, and really evaluate what it means to have a home. We just feel you don't need to buy into a life of debt," said Rachel. "We recognize that living in a bus is not for everyone. But we think that people shouldn't be restricted and everyone should follow what would make the most sense for you and the lifestyle you want to live. Create what will work for you."




    See also:
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    Tiny Homes That Feel Bigger Than They Really Are

    5 Tiny Home Models Hint at Future of Urban Housing

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    Saving Big by Buying a Tiny Home

     

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    tricycle house, china

    China has taken the concept of the mobile home to a whole new level.

    Beijing's People's Architecture Office and People's Industrial Design Office have designed and built a mobile home so small that it can be folded up, accordion-style, and carted around on the back of a tricycle.

    The fact that housing has become unbelievably expensive in China is not new news by any stretch of the imagination, and residents of Beijing have been living in much smaller spaces for years now. But due to severe overcrowding and the need for sustainable residences, it seems the tricycle house could be an innovative -- though not necessarily comfortable -- solution.

    Somehow, they still manage to make everything fit.

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    Mobile Home Opens Up to Reveal Living Space

     

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    easy home makeovers

    By Lisa Kaplan Gordon

    It's a new year, and an ambitious resolution that always falls on our list (of resolutions that inevitably get broken) is a home makeover. What a daunting task, it seems!

    But there are easy home fixes that won't take you more than 15 minutes to do, and they'll have your place looking fresh and new. They might not constitute complete overhauls of your home, but they're guaranteed to accomplish the affect of a home makeover in a jiffy.


    Here are seven house pick-me-ups that take about as much time as brewing a pot of coffee and fit your schedule whenever you have a few extra minutes.

    1. Switch the plates.

    Upgrade your drab, plastic switch plates with snazzy covers that match or accent your decor. Even the most expensive brass switch plates cost less than $20 each.

    Or, spend a buck for a plastic plate and decorate it yourself. Use craft paint, or cover the plate with decorative paper.

    You also can switch outlet covers, but don't get too fancy. Outlet covers should blend with the wall.

    2. Touch-up boo-boos.

    A bit of new paint gives any room a fresh face, which is why you should keep extra color-matched paint after you remodel. (Also, make sure to choose colors that will help sell your home when the time comes.) Touch up banged-up baseboards, door and window trim, and wall marks that won't wash away. Even spot painting requires care; use a drop cloth to protect other surfaces.

    3. Change out drawer and door hardware.

    Upgrade your kitchen or bathroom by installing new pulls and knobs. Be sure to measure drawer pulls so you won't have to drill new holes. Check out these cute and economical ($4.95 for 8) zoo dresser-drawer knobs on Esty. Home improvement centers have a large selection of inexpensive pulls and knobs.

    4. Update your mailbox.

    Bump up curb appeal by spray-painting your old mailbox. You can freshen the same color, or go wild with bright hues. Don't forget to scrub off dirt and rust before painting with rust-proof paint ($6-$12 for a 10-oz. can; lots of decorative textures and colors).

    5. Play the numbers game.

    Decorative house numbers and plates give your home a custom and classy look. Some numbers are quick peel-and-stick affairs; others you'll have to screw in. They're made of wood, plastic, brass, stainless steel and other materials; $6 to $30 each.

    6. Embellish your throne.

    A new toilet seat gives you a regal bearing. Plastic and enameled seats ($12-$25) in a rainbow of colors add a dash of panache; a solid wood mahogany or walnut seat ($45-$60) makes an executive statement; cushioned seats ($15-$20) won't make a lasting impression -- and that's a good thing.

    7. Declutter.

    You'll be amazed how a 15-minute daily declutter can make a room look like new. First, get rid of stuff from your fridge door: that large, blank canvas will immediately brighten your kitchen. Corral mail and papers in decorative boxes with tops that can close and hide the mess. Organize school supplies in caddies. Every day, tame a new spot.

    This article was originally published on HouseLogic.

    See more on HouseLogic:
    7 One-and-Done Resolutions to Start the New Year Right
    Estimate Solar's Payback for Your Home
    6 Gardening Resolution I Swear I'll Keep This Year

    Spring Home Makeover and Cleaning Tips


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    Tetrabrik Pavilion made of milk cartons.

    We're no strangers to oddball architecture -- we see the weirdest buildings all the time. But we haven't seen anything quite like this: a pavilion made of 45,000 recycled milk cartons. Be still our hearts: It's environmentally friendly, too!

    The Tetrabrik Pavilion in Grenada, Spain, was the brainchild of architecture firms CUAC Arquitectura and Sugarplatform. As our friends at Curbed noted, the pavilion snagged a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest structure made of recycled materials. (It was 100 feet long by 50 feet wide.)

    The firms gathered discarded milk cartons from 100 colleges to make their masterpiece. The structure was built in 2011 as a way to create awareness around World Recycling Day. Eventually, the whole project was shipped off to a recycling plant. But, hey, it's legacy clearly lives on. Click through the gallery below to see the dynamic Tetrabrik Pavilion.

    %Gallery-175381%See also:
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    Breaking Down the Savings of Green Building Construction

     

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    Christina Lihan paper sculpture

    Christina Lihan builds houses and buildings -- but not with plywood and heavy machinery. She's done the skyscrapers of the New York City skyline, the domed basilicas of Italy and the beachside McMansions of Florida. Her material of choice? Paper.

    Christina Lihan paper sculptureWith painstaking precision, Lihan, an artist based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., makes architectural reliefs of cities, famous landmarks and private homes by cutting, folding and carving heavy-duty watercolor paper into three-dimensional masterpieces. Her replicas of the Brooklyn Bridge, downtown Charlotte, N.C., and the Taj Mahal, among others, are nearly as detailed and precise as the actual buildings themselves. Lihan "houses" her works -- which range from 2 to 6 inches deep -- in shadow boxes that can be hung on a wall.

    She starts by making charcoal sketches of her subjects, then enlarging them and cutting them into paper art. She's turned her art into quite a business as well. Lihan told AOL Real Estate that she often works with Realtors who sell luxury properties across the country, making replicas of those homes that the Realtors then give to their clients. She said that she sells these smaller, 16-by-20-inch replicas for less than $1,000.

    You can see more of Lihan's work on her website and in the gallery below. (All photos are courtesy of Christina Lihan.)

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    See also: Tetrabrik Pavilion Made of Milk Cartons Takes Our Breath Away
    'Scribe's House' by Artist Pablo Lehmann: Life-Size Apartment Made From Books

    Homes Made Mostly From Recycled Materials


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    Carthage: Biggest city in the world in 300 B.C.

    By Robert Johnson and Gus Lubin

    What New York City was in the 1900s, London was in the 1800s, Constantinople was in the 600s, and so forth, back to Jericho in 7000 BC. They were the largest cities in the world, and arguably the epicenters of human civilization. These cities led mankind to new heights of culture and commerce -- though in the end each of them was surpassed and some of them destroyed.

    Historians Tertius Chandler, Gerald Fox and George Modelski identified the largest cities throughout history through painstaking study of household data, agricultural commerce, church records, fortification sizes, food distribution, loss of life in a disaster, and more. We have parsed their work in the following slides.

    %Gallery-177123%
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    Google Tel Aviv office

    We thought the AOL-Huffington Post Media Group offices were snazzy, but then we laid eyes on Google's new offices in Tel Aviv and found ourselves humbled. Dramatically. Our offices at 770 Broadway might have nap rooms, a gym and even an art gallery, but that pales in comparison to the floor-to-floor tunnel slides, aquariums, indoor fruit trees and picnic tables found at Google Tel Aviv.

    The Google offices boast every kind of design aesthetic you can imagine. Beach? No problem. Edgy and futuristic instead? Done and done. There are even three restaurants (non-kosher, kosher dairy and kosher meat)! The offices at Electra Tower, which Google moved into last year, were designed by Camenzind Evolution in collaboration with Setter Architects and Studio Yaron Tal. The offices span across eight glorious floors and 850,000 square feet. Check it out for yourself in the gallery below.

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    By John Riha


    If you're looking to remodel your kitchen, we've got good news and bad news. First, the good stuff. According to trend experts Lita Dirks and Dominick Tringali, you don't have to shell out major cash to add space. Instead, look to expand what you already have. Vault your ceiling, add windows, squeeze in clever storage ideas. Make the space work harder, not bigger. Plus, relax. Casual kitchens are trending, with doo-dads and gee-gaws (think elaborate trim and vent hoods that look like medieval castles) going away, and simpler, sleeker designs coming on strong.

    Speaking on kitchen trends at the 2013 International Builder's Show in Las Vegas, interior designer Dirks and architect Tringali teamed up to describe the new American kitchen as one piece of a larger, open floor plan. It's all part of a new kitchen gestalt that Dirks describes as the "prep-eat-play" triangle, with flexibility and casual living as key ingredients. The notion tosses the kitchen into a design blender along with living, dining, and family rooms, and frappes everything into communal happiness. Example: You can eat at a comfy banquette, or in front of the TV (don't tell your child-development counselor), or in the breakfast nook, or you can belly up to the island. No rules!

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    The bad news (OK, it's not that bad) is that we've heard some of this before. Open floor plans have been around since the moon landing, and, yes, we like them. A lot. What we really have here is affirmation -- and freedom to create kitchens that are less ornate and yet have more personality. Just like you. Of course, Dirks and Trengali definitely have the pulse of today's home owner and offer some great takeaways. We've combined their goodies with our own kitchen trendspotting for 2013. If you're planning a kitchen redo, here's what you need to know:

    Contemporary kitchens are in. Specifically, they're getting simpler and more modern, with less elaborate detail and trim. In fact, the National Kitchen and Bath Association reports that in its annual survey of kitchen designers, "transitional" design -- meaning a simple, more modern aesthetic -- has surpassed "traditional" as the preferred design for the first time in the association's history.

    Kitchen cabinets are dark, or white. Darker, furniture-like finishes are popular, but so is pure white. The middle ground -- think natural oak -- is going away. Dark finishes help the kitchen integrate into the overall scheme; pure white is the ultimate accent color that readily complements the rest of the living area.

    Islands rule. Kitchen islands are becoming more multi-dimensional, serving as food-prep areas, snack stations, wine storage, and display cabinets for objets d'art. Also, they're essential for directing traffic flow within an open floor plan, channeling guests toward comfy seating areas, for example. Small kitchen? Go with a rolling cart that's there when you need it.

    Countertop revolution. Say hi to porcelain and ceramic slabs that look like stone, wood, and fabric, says Jamie Gold, a California designer. The product is made from clay, quartz, and feldspar that's subjected to high heat -- just like regular tile. Unlike other engineered countertops, this product doesn't use cements or resin binders. It's not readily available in the U.S. yet.

    Appliances are disappearing. In the past, we loved our commercial-style kitchen appliances that made us look like we really knew how to cook. Now, appliances are hiding behind wood panels and faux veneers so they integrate better with the overall living space. New finishes, such as GE's slate and Whirlpool's Ice White, are bucking the stainless steel trend, but don't bet on stainless going away anytime soon -- it's still hot.

    Espresso yourself. An eye-catching extra gives a kitchen a blast of personality. Cool sinks and high-tech faucets are au courant. Other possibilities include:
    o. Stylish vent hood.
    o. Ventless fireplace.
    o. Espresso machine.
    o. One-of-a-kind tiles as accents on kitchen backsplashes and countertops.

    Glass finishes. Glistening glass is popping up everywhere in the kitchen, especially glass tiles installed as backsplashes. Applying clear glass panels over walls painted soft colors gives a deep sheen that harmonizes with today's contemporary looks. Bonus: It's easy to clean.

    Grab some fresh air. Outdoor kitchens and entertaining areas are hot. Your indoor kitchen should have an outdoor doppelganger close by, available through wide glass doors.

    This article was originally published on HouseLogic.

    See more on HouseLogic:
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    Organize Your Garage for Under $50
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    How to Remodel Your Kitchen Without Spending a Fortune

     

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