SEATTLE - It's hard to miss the enormous 20-foot-wide American flag on one side of Richard Ormbrek's home. Composed of about 180 tiles painted with scenes of Americana against a background of red and white stripes, the flag pops from the orange cedar shingles with traffic-stopping audacity.
This is actually the second major art project that Ormbrek has put on the house he shares with brother-in-law Bruce Edenso. The first - a traditional Haida Indian totem house design that covered one side of the home - was painted in 1975 and made the house something of a local landmark.
Many people know of that neighborhood house that's quirky or dramatic or a bona fide art project.
But few have the inclination - or the guts - to turn their own home into "that house," to view their property as a giant canvas waiting to be explored.
"We needed to paint our house anyway," Ormbrek says. "And while we were mulling over the color, we decided to make our home look like a longhouse."
Ormbrek's wife, Judy, a Tlingit-Haida, picked the totem design, which the Ormbreks projected from atop a car across the street while their friend, Steve Priestly, painted in the lines.
Neighbors gaped as the house was transformed, but only one seemed to mind, fearing it would bring down property values. But the Totem House neither drove down property values in one of Seattle's hottest neighborhoods nor affected the resale value of the home.
"I get offers every week to buy my home," Ormbrek says. "Of course I'm not planning on selling the house - it's a very special place."
Keith Wong, an agent in San Gabriel, Calif., for the national real estate brokerage Redfin, says a home's price and location are more important than aesthetics in tight markets.
Wong recently took clients to see an unusual home in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles and says the couple were turned off more by the noise from a nearby freeway than by the home's eclectic design, which included a rainbow of exterior colors and a giant statue of an insect in the front yard.
For those considering a creative makeover to their home, remember there's a fine line between special and tacky, Wong advises.
Jay Pennington of New Orleans put a twist on that suggestion when he offered his yard to host a yearlong musical art installation. The double lot he bought in 2007 came with a dilapidated, roughly 250-year-old Creole cottage on the property, which Pennington wanted to use in a creative way befitting the spirit of New Orleans.
A DJ, performer, and artist manager who also goes by the name Rusty Lazer, Pennington is steeped in the art world through his work as codirector of New Orleans Airlift, a not-for-profit organization that provides opportunities for artists. Pennington, with Brooklyn-based street artist Swoon and New Orleans Airlift codirector Delaney Martin, came up with the idea of a musical village made from the salvaged remains of the cottage.
After obtaining city permits, Martin and artist Taylor Lee Shepherd paired artists with builders to create a lot-size shantytown with nine shacks that wheezed, thrummed and plinked as fully functioning instruments.
The neighbors were almost universally supportive and took part in the project.
Performances of "The Music Box," as the project was called, drew 15,000 visitors and a host of performers who played the instrumental buildings. It ended in May 2011, after four months of staggered performances.
Pennington still shares his property with the project's art director, Eliza Zeitlin, who lives in the permanent structure she built for the project - along with her menagerie of 30 animals.
"My house will never be just my house again," Pennington says. "But I love that."