Earl Young’s Storybook Houses in Charlevoix, Michigan

I always build the roof first, and then shove the house under it.

Earl Young, October, 1971, as quoted in The Ludington Daily News

Earl Young houses of Charlevoix

Storybook houses in Charlevoix designed by Earl Young

By Michelle Railey


Earl Young (1889-1975) was a mostly self-trained and self-guided architect who built whimsical stone structures in Charlevoix, Michigan between 1918 and his death in the 1970s. Most of his buildings were residential structures, although Charlevoix’s own Weathervane Terrace Inn and Suites is commercial.

The houses are known as “the mushroom houses,” the “hobbit houses,” and “Smurfville,” among other names.

Major influences on Young’s work include Frank Lloyd Wright, the Arts and Crafts movement, and an affinity for the region’s lakes and landscapes and a particular affection for the stones from the Onaway quarry within 50 miles of Charlevoix.

Some of Young’s houses originally had thatched roofs imported from Europe (although these have since been replaced with shingling) and the chief “Mushroom House,” also called “Boulderdash,” have leaded windows which were originally part of a Polish castle.

It is said that Earl Young was difficult to work with: a bit quixotic, perhaps, with little formal training; Young was a man who did not deal in blueprints. He told one client that from the build onward, he wanted the client to see things only as “one-third sky, one-third water, and one-third grass.” But, truly, that’s one way to appreciate many of these storybook-style houses: a third of a rocky house against a backdrop that’s one-third grass lawn and one-third Great Lake.

Charlevoix is picturesque on its own with its lakefront setting, lighthouse, charming downtown, and nearly magical drawbridge. But with the addition of the Young houses, the town’s quaintness, uniqueness, and charm is doubled. It’s very difficult to re-imagine Charlevoix without these strange, quirky little houses. But then, why would you want to?

More information: see Earl Young on Wikipedia, see also this article on Park Avenue Prowl. Especially check out the website for the Charlevoix Historical Society.


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