Would you like to read the good news or bad news first? The bad news is that millennia of warfare, death, and obsolescence have left behind a world full of abandoned and dilapidated buildings and other structures. The good news is that the enterprising among us get to make some wild new homes if we want to.
Thanks to time and the ever-present march of progress, many old buildings currently sit vacant, just waiting to be cleaned out, cozied up, and converted into that far-out house that everyone talks about. Guaranteed to surprise you, this list brings together ten of those abandoned buildings that a creative and resourceful person turned into awesome new homes.
Related: Top 10 Repurposed Nazi-Era Buildings
10 A Public Bathroom
Looking at the photos of architect Laura Clark’s sleek, modern one-bedroom apartment in London, anyone would assume it is a lovely, ordinary home. Until, that is, they find out that it spent most of its days as a public bathroom off of a main street in a crowded city.
Clark has said, “For me, that’s about saving sites with an interesting history, but which have been abandoned and forgotten,” and her dedication is apparent. It took six years for Clark to convince housing authorities to let her redesign the space. And redesign it she did, converting the old stalls and sinks into a bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bathroom (probably the easiest part of the process). It even has its own terrace/patio.
They say don’t s–t where you eat. I guess the loophole here is that you need to convert the john into a home first.
9 A British Castle
The Astley Castle in Warwickshire, England, has stood since the 1100s. Over the past millennium, the property went from manor house to castle, crumbled and was rebuilt, acted as a troop garrison in the English Civil War, and crumbled again. Luckily, in 2012, the remains of the castle’s walls were incorporated into a new, modern home.
Nowadays, the house is rentable, and anyone staying the night is treated to a gorgeous blend of ancient stone and modern brick. Instead of leveling the eroded stone or repairing it outright, the renovators kept it where it lay, filling in empty sections with new brick. The result is entirely unique and a whole new level of cozy. I’m sure it’s structurally sound, too, right? Even though the walls are made in part with crumbling stones…
8 A Water Tower
There are dozens of water tower homes across the globe, each with its own personal take on home renovation. But perhaps the coolest of them all, if only for its location and view, is the Sunset Beach water tower in Sunset Beach, California.
The 87-foot-tall tower was built in the 1890s, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that the tower became a home. All four stories of the house take advantage of its circular frame with wraparound windows and even a wraparound porch. Located just a block from the Pacific Ocean and the titular Sunset Beach, its view is stunning.
7 A World War II Railcar
In Fort Collins, Colorado, one couple built their own tiny home from the most unexpected shell: a salvaged railcar from World War II. They decided to keep the railcar’s exterior the same, and it still boasts every scratch, ding, and dent it accrued throughout its long life. That only serves to highlight by contrast the exquisite new interior.
The space inside looks like Bob Ross would call it home. The furniture is vintage, the hardwood is exposed in many spots, and the remaining walls are hand-painted and muraled. Flowers and blankets abound throughout the space and, combined with the surplus of light brought in by the vaulted roof, make it hard to imagine a home more deserving of the word “charming.”
6 A Bridge
The river that used to run beneath the covered bridge just outside Nevada City, California, has long since run dry, rendering the bridge useless. Useless, that is, until the building was converted into a chic loft-style home and hotel.
The interior is decorated with contemporary European taste and comes together nicely. Perhaps the best part of the interior is that the entire 100-foot-plus length is visible from any spot inside. The whole house is long and narrow (it was a covered bridge, after all), and it creates the unique and surreal impression of an average house’s room all separated and arranged in a row, all walls between them removed. Though the building operated as a hotel for years, they have removed their website, and it seems likely only one family now enjoys the Historic Covered Bridge House.
5 An Elementary School
A Canton, Ohio, resident named Kynsey Wilson purchased a 45,000-square-foot home for only $35,000. Her secret? She bought an abandoned elementary school.
Wilson is currently working to make the old building into a home, but only a piece of the second floor. The rest, she is converting into “a public space, co-work environment, some conference rooms, my home office…(and) as many as 15 guest rooms for visiting family and friends.” Wilson has so much space beyond what she needs. I mean, it is a full-sized elementary school. In fact, she is open to suggestions from anyone on how to use it. In her own words, “If somebody has a really great idea and is motivated and wants to come partner up with me, I’m open to it. I’ve got a lot of square footage.”
4 A Half-Abandoned Mall
Built way back in 1828, the Arcade in Providence, Rhode Island, is the oldest indoor mall in the United States. Like so many malls across the globe, the Arcade was powerless to prevent the loss of much of its business in the latter half of the 20th century. It closed during the ’70s and was reopened, only to close again in 2008. When it reopened again in 2013, it made a seemingly wise decision: while its first floor is still a mall, developers converted its second and third floors into apartments.
There are 48 apartments within the mall’s bounds, all of which are small studios. Though small, the units are well-lit and open into a massive interior courtyard. A little sunshine and some green can go a long way. These features open up the apartment and don’t feel as cramped as they otherwise might seem. And given that the Arcade is located right in the heart of downtown Providence, the units are popular enough to require a waiting list to rent one.
3 A Jail
In 2020, a house was put up for sale in Fayette, Missouri, that could easily be mistaken for a completely average home. The outside is as ordinary as can be: one door, two stories, old red brick, a lawn, and a fence. The inside is ordinary, too, until you reach the end of a hallway that leads to your own personal jail.
That is because the building, built in 1875, spent decades as the Howard County Sheriff’s Office. When they renovated the house, nearly all of it was updated and made modern. Only the jailhouse was left as it was, and all nine cells still sit as they used to, complete with locks and bars on the doors and windows. It’s probably worth asking why someone would want that particular house. And yes, we are implying that they use the jail cell as a Fifty Shades of Grey playroom.
2 A Lunatic Asylum
Though several mental health facilities have been abandoned and converted into housing, perhaps none have transformed more than the notoriously cruel New York City Lunatic Asylum. It is now the luxury apartment complex known as The Octagon.
The former lunatic asylum was one of the most infamous in existence for its mistreatment of patients, mainly due to journalist Nellie Bly’s landmark 1887 exposé, “Ten Days in a Mad-House.” Bly had faked mental illness enough to be admitted to the facility, and during her ten days there, she witnessed beatings, torture, and an appalling lack of hygiene. When the facility finally closed in 1955, it sat vacant until 2006. Then it was renovated and made into the swanky living spaces it now is, complete with a private gym, rec room, and pool.
1 A Private Island Fortress
Spitbank Fort was built in 1878 on a private island just south of Portsmouth, England. It served as an active naval base for England until 1956, a whopping 78 years. Since then, it has been closed, renovated, re-closed, and re-renovated, and currently, Spitbank acts as one of the coolest hotels imaginable.
The island retains its strategic location and fortified construction and now boasts a casino, spa, pool, gym, and wine cellar. In addition, it takes advantage of its panoramic views of the English Channel with multiple observation decks and even a lighthouse-like crow’s nest. It’s been said repeatedly, but only because it’s so true: the combination of security and luxury brings to mind the lair of a James Bond villain. Luckily, the hotel is open for booking and also open for outright purchase, with a listing price of $5.2 million.