Do cookie-cutter suburban homes make you feel dead inside? Do you need to feel inspired by your living space? Are you looking for a dwelling that's more than just a place to live, but a reflection of your values? These three unusual living options allow their residents to do just that.

Converted Schoolhouse
Over the last decade, there has been a flurry of school conversion activity. Closed schools have been adapted to regular condos and luxury condos; ordinary apartments, senior apartments, low-income apartments, disabled apartments, bed-and-breakfasts and artist residences. These buildings' solid construction, desirable materials (like brick and hardwood floors) and oversized windows make old schools attractive as potential residences.

In Ashland, Wisc., sisters Luci and Lydia Daum and their parents purchased the Wilmarth School from the Ashland school district in 1991, when the district permanently closed the school. They planned to use the school as a space to create art, but when they learned about the vandalism occurring at the other two recently vacated school buildings in town, they decided that living in Wilmarth school, in addition to using it as their studio, was a better idea. The sisters also run a business out of the school.

In Washington, D.C., developer Jim Abdo turned a 1909-built, 40,000-square-foot, red-brick building formerly known as the Bryan School into 20 lofts in 2004 after the building had been vacant for several years. Bryan School Loft units have 19-foot ceilings, Brazilian cherry hardwood floors and new soundproof windows. Kitchens contain luxury Viking appliances and granite countertops, and bathrooms boast antique bathtubs and separate glass showers. The school building, located on Capitol Hill, has views of the Capitol building and the Washington Monument.

Box Bungalows and Houses To Go
Looking to downsize? Jay Shafer, owner of Tumbleweed, the Tiny House Company, sells box bungalows and houses to go. These compact residences range from 65 to 172 square feet. Imagine owning a home that weighs less than your car, or that will actually attach to your car. Many of the homes can be built on top of a flatbed trailer and hauled by your vehicle.

One house nests inside a truck bed (though it doesn't have a kitchen or bathroom).

The 14 models, like Ikea furniture, each have a name like Epu, Weebee or Tarleton. You can buy the plans for as little as $49 and build the home yourself for an estimated materials cost of $12,000 to $20,000 and an estimated time investment of 550 to 850 hours. You can also buy a prebuilt home for $13,999 to $50,000. That's right; an entire home for the cost of a down payment.

Shafer doesn't just sell the homes, either. He lives in an 89-square-foot model out of a desire to minimize his environmental impact and live a simple lifestyle. He says he doesn't want to own too much stuff or maintain too much space.

For many people, the option to have privacy, and be left alone, is a major draw of home ownership. For people who prefer frequent interaction with their neighbors and a strong sense of community, cohousing is an option. The idea comes from Denmark, but there are cohousing communities in a number of western European countries and in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In such a community, it's extremely likely that you'll know your neighbors well, borrow their tools, carpool with them and babysit their kids.

Cohousing is a type of community where residents actively participate in the community's design and development, and make decisions by consensus. While each residence is self-contained and has most or all of the features of a typical home, dwellings are typically close together and connected by sidewalks, with streets and cars hidden from view. To compensate for small lot sizes and encourage interaction, cohousing communities have common spaces for playing, exercising, hosting events and more. There might be a communal swimming pool, library, laundry room or craft room. There is typically a kitchen and dining area, and a community room. In a cohousing community, you might walk over to the community building several times a week to cook and eat dinner with your neighbors. Cohousing residents share in the work of maintaining these community facilities.

A cohousing community has many of the amenities you might find in your municipality, but just 20 to 40 households living in a small overall area, cohousing tries to foster a greater sense of community. Cohousing residences can be rented or purchased.

The Bottom Line
Converted schoolhouses, box bungalows and cohousing are just three places you can reside other than a typical house, condo or apartment. If you're looking for a unique living experience, there are plenty of options out there. If none of them appeals to you, you can follow Shafer's example and dream up your own.

Related Articles
  1. Savings

    10 Ways To Budget When You’re Broke

    Budgets are some of the best financial tools around – when planned properly and followed faithfully.
  2. Savings

    7 Ways to Trim Fat from Your Spending

    Check out these seven ways to cut the fat from your spending.
  3. Savings

    7 Millionaire Myths

    Here are seven millionaire myths and realities that reveal they don’t quite have it all.
  4. Home & Auto

    6 Neighborhood Red Flags

    There are some qualities you can’t discover about a neighborhood until after you’ve moved in. But there are ways to scout out red flags ahead of time.
  5. Budgeting

    How To Save Money When Moving

    Moving doesn't have to be as expensive as you think. Here are some great ways to save money on moving costs.
  6. Budgeting

    The Hard Way We Pay For Convenience

    Convenience is a luxury. However, any cost-conscious individual should be aware of these ridiculous ways we pay for convenience and how to avoid them.
  7. Retirement

    5 Ways to Use Your Home to Retire

    Retirement is going to cost a lot, and for homeowners who face a shortfall, their home can be a source of income. From downsizing to renting, here's how.
  8. Home & Auto

    5 Luxurious Ways to Boost Your Home's Resale Value

    Not all renovations are created equal. Here are five that are most likely to make a property appreciate (and be appreciated by househunters).
  9. Personal Finance

    Choosing An In-Home Safe: Features To Look For

    What to look for in a box to protect your irreplaceable belongings.
  10. Budgeting

    How to Cost Effectively Spend on Baby Clothes

    Don't let your baby's wardrobe derail your budget. These top tips help you to save money and spend wisely on baby clothes.
  1. Can I borrow from my annuity to put a down payment on a house?

    You can borrow from your annuity to put a down payment on a house, but be prepared to pay an assortment of fees and penalties. ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Can I take my 401(k) to buy a house?

    Once you reach 59.5, you can use the funds in your 401(k) retirement savings account to buy a house or any other expense ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Can I take my 401(k) to buy a house for my children?

    Under the standard regulations for 401(k) retirement savings plans, you may elect to withdraw funds from your 401(k) for ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How is market value determined in the real estate market?

    Anyone who has ever tried to purchase or sell a home has probably heard a lot about the property's fair market value, or ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How does a bank determine what my discretionary income is when making a loan decision?

    Discretionary income is the money left over from your gross income each month after taking out taxes and paying for necessities. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the range of deductibles offered with various health insurance plans?

    A wide range of possible deductibles are available with health insurance plans, starting as low as a few hundred dollars ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!