In a well-to-do neighborhood in central Seattle, a strange house stands out from all the rest. Although it looks normal to begin with, the casual observer will soon realize that it is nothing of the sort. But what inspired the building of the bizarre structure known as the Montlake Spite House?
In Montlake, an affluent area of Seattle, Washington, there is a local legend about a husband and wife struggling through a messy divorce. The story goes that when they were dividing their assets, they had to split their property.
Seemingly, the husband somehow secured the house for himself – leaving his ex-wife with the somewhat embarrassing consolation prize of the property’s front yard. Undaunted, though, she chose to build her own tiny home in the available space – or so the story goes, at least.
But that’s not the only tale that attempts to explain the odd appearance of the house. Another version claims that the design arose when a neighbor wished to purchase the land to expand his own yard.
It’s said that the neighbor offered an offensively low sum of money for the plot of land. So, insulted, the owner of the land then apparently decided to build a new house on the site out of spite. But the dimensions of the patch of ground called for some real creativity.
This version even goes so far as to claim that the owner further taunted his neighbor, painting the wall that faced his property black. Eventually, it’s said, the neighbor gave up and moved.
However, fittingly for a house that enjoys such a high level of notoriety throughout the neighborhood, there is even a third story suggesting how it gained its unique appearance. According to this version, the land once belonged to a German man who let an acquaintance use it to construct a house.
Unfortunately, the acquaintance took advantage of the kind offer and built a house far bigger than what had been agreed. And so, in a bid for revenge, the German man designed a new property to take up the entire yard.
In 2004 University of Washington professor and Montlake historian Eugene Smith dedicated part of his book on local history to the neighborhood’s houses. He featured the Montlake Spite House, too, but he was unable to track down any corroborating evidence to support any of the three stories.
Instead, Smith developed his own theory. “What I concluded,” he told KOMO News, “since I wasn’t able to track down any particular feuds or hate, was that someone came up with a design to fit the lot and built it so it didn’t interfere with anyone’s view.”
Yet although its true origins may remain unknown, it cannot be denied that the house stands out from the crowd. Designed to fit into an almost impossibly small space, it boasts a south wall that stands at a mere 55 inches wide, for instance.
Built in 1925, the house is in fact an example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style that was popular in the United States throughout the early part of the 20th century. Over the years it has undergone many renovations as well, although it has retained its striking style.
Today, the house crams two bedrooms and two bathrooms into 860 square feet of space. Its narrowest end contains a foyer and a tiny galley kitchen, while the north side of the property expands to a comparatively roomy 15 feet. Furthermore, the clever designers have even managed to fit two living rooms into the available space.
Inside, the master bedroom is a respectable nine by ten feet, while the second bedroom is just a foot shorter. In the kitchen, however, the space reaches just five feet across – meaning that anyone cooking must stand to one side in order to open the oven door.
In any case, the Montlake Spite House’s notoriety has certainly had a positive impact on the value of the home. In 1996 it was sold for $140,550 – a price that shot up almost $100,000 in just four years. And in 2000 an open house drew 150 people keen to satisfy their curiosity and take a look around the property.
While the house is certainly intriguing, though, living in such a small space comes with its problems. For instance, previous owner Peter O’Neil moved out after seven years when he and his wife decided to have children. “There’s no way a family would live there,” realtor Steven Isaacson told The Seattle Times.
At any rate, in 2016 the house went on the market for the latest time. But by then, its popularity had received yet another boost. How? In the form of the tiny-house movement – a loose collective of people seeking to promote living in compact, simple buildings.
With small living spaces very much in fashion, the house sold on July 18, 2016, for an impressive $500,000. Moreover, the listing attracted almost 70,000 views on the online realtor website Zillow.
And for Lisa Horton, who owned the house back in 2013, the reason behind its bizarre shape is clear. “I can’t imagine why else someone would build a house like that if it wasn’t out of spite,” she said.
Today, the house is a private residence, joining an elite group of “spite houses” that exist all over the world. From the Skinny House in Boston, Massachusetts – built by one brother to spoil another’s views – to houses erected almost overnight to foil city planners, these malicious constructions seem to be a powerful way of making a point that’s sure to be heard and talked about for many years.