House and apartment hunting is wearying, so it’s good to have a clear picture in your mind of what you think is important in a place of residence. I am inclined to choose appealing window nooks, mysterious dumbwaiters, and vine-trailing balconies over rent control, a safe neighborhood, and how easy the bathroom will be to clean. For this folly, I blame my taste in books. Fantasy novels have a longstanding love of magical houses, and they have completely spoiled me for serviceable, low-rise shoeboxes.
Here are a few listings that I wish would turn up in the classifieds and some musings on their appeal…
The House on Magnolia Street—Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Large five bedroom house with semi-finished attic and charming front garden perfect for barbeques and growing ingredients for potions. This house is the inheritance of witches and features many magical perks, including self-dusting woodwork and beetles that provide advance warning of sudden death. Very private as the neighbors refuse to walk past it after dark and the green-tinted windows prevent anyone from seeing in anyway. Included décor: very dusty chandeliers, heavy damask curtains, and portraits of long dead witches. Black cats welcome. Family curses not included in the rent.
This house is central to the story of Practical Magic—the ancestral seat of the Owens women, who are all witches whether they like it or not. Even if they leave the house, its lessons follow them. I read the book of Practical Magic years before I saw the movie, and what I find striking is how the book house and the movie house are so dramatically different and yet appealing in their own ways. The book version of the house is all heavy curtains and eerie green light, alluring for its atmosphere of doom and the sense that anyone who resides within is somehow protected. The movie house is airy and bright, a fancy housekeeping magazine’s version of witchy that promises just the slimmest touch of danger to cut the smell of cooking pancakes and floral arrangements. I think I’d want to live in a version of the house that exists someplace between the two.
Bilskinir House—Flora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce
Haven’t you always wanted to live in a house with a name? Then Bilskinir House is the place for you! From the Bedchamber of Downward Dreaming to the Hallway of Indefinable Munificence and the Cloakroom of the Abyss, this is a house of a thousand rooms and every one of them has its own name and purpose. Once you’ve had a family crypt in the basement, you’ll never be able to go back to using it for storage. You really won’t, because this property includes bossy ancestral ghosts and they won’t let you move their corpses. Magical weather and time controlling butler included. Also comes with a hedge maze, a flock of sheep, and a small flying merman.
The titular character of Flora Segunda first approaches Bilskinir house with trepidation, intent on petty theft. She’s already had her fill of houses with names by the time she gets there and her plan is to get in and get out. But even she can’t resist the intriguing mysteries that quite literally jump out at her. I love this house for its time shifts, which allow you to bump into younger incarnations of all the people you’ve never met but wish you had, and always at just the right moment to learn something important about yourself. Bilskinir is also big on slight creepy whimsy, which is usually the best kind.
Goldengrove—Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand
This striking sea-front home is a bit of a fixer-upper. Enjoy the charms of coastal Maine from your very own historic wooden platform that dangles off the cliff below the house. Fans of Escher will be sure to enjoy the creative staircases, and art enthusiasts can look forward to enjoying the painting collection, which includes such classic works as Within the Wheel An Eye, A Persistent Suitor’s Ruin, and Eselt Displays her Hair to the Fleeing Children. Stays nice and cool thanks to the shade from the demonic yew trees in the front garden. Never go upstairs alone.
There’s something about Maine that makes it the perfect place for a mysterious house. Goldengrove is the house of an artist, passed down and left to rot around the edges. This is a place with one foot planted over the border in Faerie, and the other in a rambling ruin that is most definitely not up to code. I have to admit that if I lived here, I would probably worry about the whole thing tumbling off the cliff and into the sea. But it would be worth it for all of the uncanny art, not to mention the trunks of dress-up clothes left behind by the models of long-forgotten painters.
Edgewood—Little, Big by John Crowley
Perfect for those seeking a house that is also a portal to Faerie, this early 20th century home boasts a preponderance of architectural styles. Why pick one when you can have them all? The older plumbing is lost and so can’t be modernized, but there is a full-size tub in the Gothic bathroom. Most of the rooms are of indiscernible shape and location and will only become easier to navigate once you are part of the family. This is a roommate situation, as the property most definitely comes with family. Includes a fantastic wrap-around porch, perfect for afternoon lemonade and divination.
Little, Big is a dreamy sort of book, and fittingly, Edgewood is exactly the kind of house that appears in dreams. You can wander from one room to the next, not entirely certain of how they are connected or even if they are truly in the same place. I like the idea of a house that keeps me guessing, but I have to imagine that it gets a little frustrating to actually live there. I would constantly be looking for my phone or my glasses. But then, if I lived at Edgewood, I might not see the point of talking on the phone or seeing things without a romantic haze around the edges. I always imagine Edgewood like a slightly overexposed photograph in an old family album: all nostalgia and golden light.
The Professor’s House—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
This is a house that you never seem to come to the end of. It has many more spare bedrooms than you could know what to do with, a portrait gallery, a music room, a library, and one room that is quite empty, except for a large wardrobe…
This house. This house is probably the very core of the problem. I spent a lot of time sitting in my closet as a small child, hoping the back would open up and let me into Narnia. I think that on some level, I knew it took a very special sort of closet, and it wasn’t the kind that I had access to. No, if I was really going to get to Narnia, I would need to find the right sort of house: a house that was filled with books and relics of centuries past, a house with many places to hide, a house that could contain worlds.
That’s the kind of house I’m always looking for.
Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and storyteller. She is an editor at Goblin Fruit, and can sometimes be found discussing folklore and pop culture on the Fakelore Podcast or performing with the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours.