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Starfish? Space station? Live-in marshmallow? Actually, it’s a Hopkinton home 

  • David Hamilton flips a light switch inside his star-shaped home in Hopkinton on Thursday, June 29, 2017. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • David Hamilton talks about aspects of his star-shaped home as he stands in front of the garage addition in Hopkinton on Thursday, June 29, 2017. The quirky pod-style home has drawn plenty of attention in the five decades since it was built, but the Hamilton family living there now says it’s almost perfect for their needs. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • David Hamilton talks about aspects of his star-shaped home in Hopkinton on Thursday, June 29, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • David Hamilton in one of two central areas of his unusual home. Previous leaking has caused the inner fiberglass ceiling to bubble in places. In Hopkinton on Thursday, June 29, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • The aerial view via Google Earth makes the Hopkinton home look like a space colony. The extra pod to the right is the garage, an addition to the house since its initial construction five decades ago. Courtesy of Google Earth



Monitor staff
Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Every house has at least some personality, but there’s a white house tucked into the woods of south Hopkinton that has so much personality, visitors are left groping for a description.

“People call it an eight-legged white spider, or the marshmallow house,” said Kirsten Hamilton, who since 2008 has lived in the Jewett Road home with her father, David, and her two teenage daughters, nicknamed Alex and Bree.

The Monitor once described it as a starfish. “I’ve heard it called the pod house,” offered David Hamilton.

“Inside, it’s like an upside-down boat to a lot of people,” Kirsten added.

David Gintzler, who had the house built in 1973 and raised his sons there before moving out around the turn of the century, called it “two octopuses holding hands.” Laughing, he also produced slightly more pointed offerings: “You mean the Plastic Palace? The Fiberglass Folly?”

Not a folly at all, said Kirsten Hamilton, who decided the home would fit her extended family after seeing it on HGTV and has never regretted the decision.

“It has the best mojo,” she said. “I love the feeling of it, I don’t know how else to say it. I like how comfortable and wonderful it is.”

She also likes that the family was able to get a 3,400-square-foot house with 4 acres of land for $220,000 – a great price even nine years ago. But then, says the original owner, inexpensive housing was the driving force behind this strange-looking building.

“That was the whole point. I loved it!” Gintzler said.

Home born in Mexico

As Gintzler tells it, the story of this multi-pod house starts in Mexico in the 1960s. Looking to develop inexpensive housing, the Mexican government worked with Owens-Corning to create what is basically a 15-foot-long fiberglass tube cut in half. Each tube is actually two tubes on 1/8-inch-thick fiberglass, one over the other, with 2 inches of foam insulation between them.

Put six of these into a snowflake shape by bolting together various flanges, cover the intersection point with a dome that has a central skylight, and voila! – a quick-to-build, cheap-to-buy house.

This idea fits into a long American tradition of trying alternative materials or shapes in an attempt to improve (usually by cutting costs) the traditional rectangular wood or brick home. From A-frames to geodesic domes, straw-bale homes to sunken houses, yurts to Quonset huts, the possibilities are many and all have been tried. In fact, you can find fiberglass half-pipes used to create homes online, usually in vacation spots and often, in this post-“Lord of the Rings” era, covered with dirt and peddled as hobbit homes.

Coming to America

After Mexico rolled out the pod houses in the ’60s, a developer whose name has been lost to time liked the idea of the Mexican project and started making the pods in Florida, selling franchises in the U.S. Apparently, however, he never got permission. Lawsuits started flying and eventually drove the developer into bankruptcy, Gintzler said, but not before one franchise started in New Hampshire and sold a half-dozen houses.

At the time, Gintzler, who owns Bovie Screen Process Printing in Bow, had moved back to the area from New York state and was looking for a home. He spotted a model on display in Meredith and bought two, with the idea of attaching them on a piece of land he had recently purchased.

The idea was sound, he said, even if the construction proved problematic, starting with a concrete slab that didn’t quite fit the pods. That led to tweaks that created tension in all the wrong places. “That first year, everything was popping. You could put your hand through some gaps,” Gintzler recalled.

He wasn’t alone.

“There were seven of these built in New Hampshire, and seven lawsuits,”, he said.

Gintzler’s own lawsuit dragged on for years and while he eventually won, his award after costs totaled exactly $1.39.

Gintzler knows of one other fiberglass pod house still being used – it’s visible from I-89 in the town of Enfield (Editor’s note: Article originally gave the wrong town, which has been corrected), just this side of Lebanon – and David Hamilton has heard there is another one in Manchester. But for all practical purposes, the Hopkinton house is unique.

And uniquely delightful, Gintzler said.

“It was marvelous. There was a huge center area in each pod, it was monstrous – and six rooms, some open, some connected, off each one. We had parties there, we had a great time,” he recalled. And while the design was created for a hot climate, the foam insulation made it easy to heat, he added.

One structural improvement he made was particularly successful. Gintzler hired a carpenter to line the inside of five of the pod rooms with tongue-and-groove boards to strengthen the curve, but this created the nautical feel as a break from the all-white interior.

Part of the pleasure of living there, he admits, came from the attention. The Monitor featured a photo of the components when they were delivered in 1971, even before construction began, and has run at least one profile of the house since then.

“There was notoriety: ‘Oh, you’re the guy who lives in the plastic house!’ … People would drive up the driveway, look in the kitchen window – they couldn’t believe it,” Gintzler recalled.

“I wanted to do something unique. Now I live in a conventional housing development,” he added. “Boring!”

Novelty has its drawbacks

The unusual shape of the house fits the Hamilton’s extended family. David Hamilton, at 77 a former school superintendent who still works as a full-time substitute at John Stark High School, lives in one side as a sort of in-law apartment, leaving the other pod for Kirsten and her daughters. David’s wife, Karin, passed away before they moved back to New Hampshire from the West Coast.

The fact that the house is one floor has also proved valuable because Kirsten has multiple sclerosis and in the last couple of years has had to use a wheelchair.

The home’s kitchen and sunroom were extensions built between the two pods, while another addition is a garage extending from David’s section.

Gintzler had the garage built and said finding somebody who could match the appearance of the pods – which look a bit like Conestoga wagons – wasn’t easy. The result wasn’t entirely successful, he adds.

And that’s the biggest problem with the house: The novelty of its design, with endlessly curving outer walls and roof, and its fiberglass exterior make it hard to repair and maintain.

“I don’t know how to patch a fiberglass roof, nor does anyone I’ve talked to,” Kirsten said.

David Hamilton does all of the upkeep on the house himself. In a recent tour, he noted places that need work – patches that were worn, a wall that needs pressure spray to remove green growth that is attracted to fiberglass, leaks that needed fixing around the skylights (“I’m behind; it has rained so much”) and more. Inside, roof leaks that he has patched have caused the inner wall to bubble in a few places.

It’s common for a home approaching its fifth decade to have leaks and to require plenty of repairs, of course, but do-it-yourself is tough here. David Hamilton often has to figure things out as he goes along; if nothing else, there aren’t many YouTube videos with tips for repairing fiberglass houses.

“I need somebody who works on fiberglass boats,” he mused.

Despite that drawback, David Hamilton said, the house has been great for the family. And although the cachet has faded as the house has become accepted and well-known – the Hamiltons are the third family to raise children there, so plenty of baby sitters and school friends have visited – it still draws attention.

“The kids at John Stark will say, ‘You live there, Mr. H?’ ” Dave Hamilton said.

As for Kirsten Hamilton, she said that whether you call it a spider, starfish, marshmallow or space pod, the house remains almost perfect.

“When I have friends over and we’re in the kitchen or the sunroom, it’s never struck me that I wanted anything else,” she said.

If she changes her mind, though, there’s a buyer waiting.

“I miss it,” Gintzler said. “If they want to sell it cheaply enough, let me know.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)