Google Engineer Turns Home Into Gamer's Fantasy-LAN

The best things in life always start off with a crazy idea. At least, that's how it all began for 29-year-old Google software engineer Kenton Varda.

In 1996, on his 14th birthday, Varda hosted his first LAN party at his parents' house in Minneapolis. Although they weren't yet called "LAN parties." It was just a group of kids coming together to play Doom 2 using two computers connected by a serial cable, with a network set up to allow four players to play at once. Simple stuff.

Fast forward over a decade later and Varda is an engineer at Google with a full-fledged passion for gaming. Throw into the mix a small lot of land bought during the recession, some significant savings, and an architect father -- and a gamer's dream was born.

"Maybe [my dad] could design a house for me?" Varda had mused. "I could do anything I wanted with it. I could customize it for any purpose, not limited by what 'normal' people want in a house."

And so that's exactly what he did.

If you haven't already laid eyes upon Varda's now-famous LAN party-optimized home in Palo Alto, Calif., then kids, you're in for a treat. His 1,426-square-foot home boasts two gaming areas featuring 12 fold-out computer stations housed in custom-built cabinetry (there are six computer stations per room, making the setup ideal for team vs. team gaming). A back room houses the actual computers themselves, which are networked together (hence the local area network, or LAN) and connected to a server that shares a master hard drive. Also in the gaming area, you'll find two HDTVs, one 59-inch and one 55-inch, both boasting a selection of game consoles connected to each HDTV.

All geek gadgetry aside, though, what's so fascinating about Varda's entire gaming space is how sleek and aesthetically clean it appears. All wires, computers and cables are seamlessly hidden. Ample sunlight floods the museum-like space, from generous windows, reflecting off the glossy, pale wood cabinetry. Varda himself comments that the game stations fold up when not in use, with the monitors rising to eye level, where they can be used to display artwork. It simply doesn't look like, well, the consummate nerd paradise that it is. In fact, it almost looks -- dare we say it -- sexy?

The house, stylishly designed by Varda's architect father, Rich Varda, into a genuinely livable live-and-play space, seems to be an (unintentional) physical testament to gaming's rapid cultural ascendancy and legitimacy as an art form. And it's perfect timing. Just this year, the National Endowment for the Arts officially announced games as eligible for art funding grants, while in April, New York's Tribeca Film Festival honored video games "Rockstar" and 'L.A. Noire' with screenings and discussions on the games, the technology behind them, and the narrative and action involved in the medium. Similarly, the Smithsonian Institution is hosting an exhibit entitled "The Art of Video Games" with a whopping 3.7 million people voting on which games should be included in the exhibit.

"Trying to describe people who play video games is like trying to describe people who watch movies or people who read books," Varda tells AOL Real Estate. "A gamer is no different from any other person who happens to have a hobby. We're all just people ... with different tastes."

For those gamers waiting to read about how they can drop in on a LAN party at Varda's party pad, some unfortunate news. Since Varda actually lives in the space, he doesn't allow private bookings for parties, nor does he open the gaming areas to the public. We do have pictures, though:

A Peek Inside One of Varda's Gaming Parties
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Google Engineer Turns Home Into Gamer's Fantasy-LAN

Varda does, however, offer instructions, tips and advice on his blog for the thousands of interested gamers who want to replicate the house's design. He even posts useful diagrams and measurements of all the custom cabinetry in the space, and is refreshingly transparent about all the costs involved in gaming-associated home modifications (around $40,000) -- even suggesting more cost-efficient alternatives.

His most important piece of advice, however?

"The only real requirement for anything to end up awesome is for it to start out crazy," Varda promises. "If it doesn't start out crazy, that means everyone else is already doing it."

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Surreal Estate: Weird, Wonderful Homes
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Google Engineer Turns Home Into Gamer's Fantasy-LAN

"Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was made," Kant said. Truer words were never spoken of the properties compiled in our list of weird and wonderful homes. Not everyone's dream home has a picket fence and manicured lawn. That's why the houses on this list -- like this guitar-shaped mega-mansion -- possess a timbre all their own. Click through to see some of the most original homes in America and abroad.

Location: Taos, N.M.

Price: $495,000

Beds/Bath: 1/1.5

Granola-aficionados and hemp-lovers rejoice! Your ticket to green living awaits, 20 minutes outside Taos, N.M., and a quarter mile from paved road. Advertised as "off-the-grid," the 3,140-square-foot home has a spacious living room, fireplace and half-bath, kitchen dining area, patio and deck, and is powered by solar panels and a wind turbine.

Resting beneath bright, blue skies and wandering clouds, solar panels suck in hot New Mexico rays to power the home. The solar design is both active and passive -- which sounds cool -- and is implemented in an 1,250-square-foot guesthouse where you can host rolling-stone couchsurfers willing to journey into the desert for a free room. A wind turbine juts up from the home in greenhouse-gas defiance.

The bedroom, encased by concrete and wood, like much of the home, has a walk-in closet, kiva fireplace and patio with "mature" trees -- you know, like the kind you can have deep conversations with. Also on the patio awaits an appliance which may come as a surprise: a barbecue. Who's up for some grilled arugula!? 

Light spills through giant windows into the kitchen area, falling on plants and flooring of wood, flagstone and ceramic tile. Nearby, a dining area and sunken family room await, replete with built-in sitting. Walk to the center of the home to soak in its green nuts and bolts: There, a giant cistern stores the home's H20 next to an interior waterfall and the solar battery apparatus. 

Location: Shoal Creek, Ala.

Price: $17,900,000

Beds/Bath: 15/22 Sq. Ft: 50,000+

While you might be tempted to assume this meticulously-landscaped home was the brainchild of a not-so-creative rockstar, you'd be wrong to do so. Zillow reports the home was built for $26 million by the CEO of a physician management company. Staggeringly, the home sold at auction for only $4 million in 2003, according to The New York Times.

The chateau-style residence sits on 27 acres. Its limestone, marble and maple floors sprawl over 50,000 square feet which encompass 15 bedrooms. When nature calls, opportunities abound: 22 bathrooms are at your disposal. Pictured here, muscular staircases reach up to a second floor covered by a paneled ceiling.

Maybe you can play baseball in the cavernous foyer or go for a bike ride down the never-ending hallways. If good old-fashioned athletics aren't your cup of tea, feel free to enjoy some cinema in the 38-seat movie theater. Maybe take an elevator to get there, the "commercial one." You know, for transporting the daily half-ton loads of fresh flowers or something.

Gilded, paneled ceilings, gold chandeliers, gold-colored curtains, gold-colored bed designs -- it's all very understated here, in the master bedroom of the chateau with a guitar-shaped driveway. When you're not bed-bound and reveling in your success, step outside and grab a stallion from the six-stall barn to ride in the outdoor arena. 

Play pool in the chandelier-lit billiards room while what look like straight-up royals watch you from the wall. Mahogany doors and windows span the premises, complementing the furniture and upholstery pictured here. Very chichi. 

Location: Wingham, Australia

The Everingham rotating house, located outside Wingham, Australia, gives you something every homeowner covets: the ability to rotate. Okay, so maybe that's not true, but, regardless, you have to admit that living in a spinning octagon would liven things up now and then. But does the feature have a practical purpose? Arguably, yes. The "rotating aspect" is designed to allow "occupants to maximize exploitation of weather conditions, seasonal conditions and outstanding 360-degree views," according to the builder's website. 

Operated by a computer, the home rotates around a central core of plumbing and electrical systems. At high speed, the home can do a full rotation in 30 minutes. A TV episode on the home's construction drew 1 million viewers in 2006.

While the premise of it all is pretty bizarre, the home's interior provides few clues of its odd purpose. The kitchen (pictured here) boasts modern-looking appliances, marble countertops and cherry-stained floors. 

Sliding doors open out to the encircling patio, always ready for lazing, no matter the degree of rotation. A mass made mostly of glass and steel, the rotating house is one giant sightseeing machine. Luke Everingham says on his website that he's keen on building more of the suckers. Visit his website to learn more. 

Location: Valley Springs, Calif.

Price: $750,000

Whether you see a volcanic dome or a UFO, there's certainly something other-worldly about this remote desert property. As we previously reported, this Olympian home is perched on a 60-acre lot in the vast desert between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. For the homeowner seeking supreme solitude, look no farther than this alien abode.

The main house consists of two bedrooms, a living space and not much else -- but when you own the 60 acres surrounding the pod-shaped property, you probably won't spend a huge amount of time indoors. Good luck, though, walking past your "front yard." That first step is a doozy.

Here's a look inside the dome-shaped domecile. According to some sources, the home was built in 1968 to resemble an information center in a California nuclear power plant. Home, sweet home. 

Location: Laguna Beach, Calif.

Price: $9.995 M

Beds/Bath: 4/5

It's fine to let your freak flag fly, but for those eccentric homeowners who value modesty, consider this elaborate beachside mansion. To the naked eye, it might appear to be a lavish waterfront property -- but look below and you'll find a Batman-inspired subterranean passageway.

If Bruce Wayne was into tanning, he might have holed up in this underground secret passageway. The home itself is hidden from street view by the rocky hill, but the owner has access to a secret passageway, complete with hydraulic elevator, that rises to the main floor. Pictured left is the showcase garage housed behind the stealthy facade. Maserati or Batmobile, the choice is yours.

Back upstairs, it's more Hollywood than Gotham, but every masked crusader needs a yin to her yang. The listing describes the style as "soft contemporary architecture," but by the moon's light, there's something enticingly sinister about the home.

Location: Aguilar, Colo.

Price: $350,000

Beds/Bath: 6/2

The fantasy realm of Shangri-La is an eternally blissful city, hidden away from the world in the mists of the bucolic Himalayan mountain range. And this is Aguilar, Colo. Sure, the flight path is slightly different, but this dome-shaped oasis shares many of the same values as its mythical inspiration. Consisting of eight two-tiered and interconnected domes on 40 acres of land, the Dome Home of Aguilar is as close to a perfect spiritual retreat as you’ll find this side of the Himalayas.

Breathe deep before you walk into this colorful retreat. If the eye-popping color scheme doesn't leave you breathless, the altitude will -- the home is perched at 6,700 feet above sea level, and the view is magnificent from every room. The dwelling's open design and wide windows ensure that every room is flush with natural light. And to all the urbanites dreaming of the open plain, expect to see the night sky canvassed in more stars than you’ve ever dreamed possible. That twinkle is the North Star, not a jumbo jet.

Helping you on your path to nirvana are the numerous green design features that make this home as eco-conscious as it is wallet-friendly. The dome design proves to be naturally energy efficient, with the seller claiming the entire home can be heated from the main fireplace with just four or five cords of wood per year. Additionally, a solar-powered well on the premises allows the owner to manage all the water needs.

There is at least one other natural benefit to living in an interconnected, two-tiered dome home -- awesome acoustics. The current owners made full use of this knowledge by setting up their very own personal theater. And with acres of lush greenery between you and your nearest neighbor, you can blast even your most embarrassing DVDs without fear of judgment.

Walk outside and become one with nature. In the distance, enjoy views of the Spanish Peaks (known locally as the Breasts of the Earth) and live off the land by enjoying the pine trees that surround the home. If you’re the outdoorsy type (which wouldn’t surprise many if you flew out to Aguilar, Colo.), there is also ample space on your 40-acre estate for raising horses.

Location: Los Angeles

Price: $6,300,000

Beds/Bath: 10/13 Sq. ft: 53,000 square feet

Want your home to be special? So special you'll never be able to escape discussing it with guests -- ever? Try taking a former atom-bomb-research facility and converting it into a luxury residence. That'll do the trick.  According to the home's Realtor, the home once was the main West Coast air-defense and radar-communications headquarters during World War II. It ultimately served as a top-secret research facility a few years after its construction in 1941. Click here for the full story

The Air Force later established a film studio in the home to process movies and still photos for the U.S. Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission until about 1969. Top military brass paid visits to watch the blasts and billowing mushroom clouds of nuclear tests. The two-story soundstage used for the films is still around and accessible only through an electric door.

Once a worksite for 250 people, the property has a large free-form pool and a parking garage capable of housing 15 cars. The home's 53,000 square feet includes 10 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms. It's a residence brimming with "multi-purpose" rooms, capable of accommodating the living needs of multiple generations. 

Halls walked by grim-faced generals digesting the scope of our nuclear capabilities have been converted into facilities less sober in function: art galleries. The vast, open interior affords an enfilade museum-like layout where arched doorways connect the viewing halls. 

Location: Herriman, Utah

Price: $400,000

Beds/Bath: 4/3.5 sq. ft: 2,800

Balloons aren't liable to carry away a house recently completed in Herriman, Utah, but a quick look could fool you into believing otherwise. Bangerter Homes of South Jordan, Utah, recently constructed a replica of the balloon-propelled home in Pixar's animated film "Up" which resembles the dwelling right down to the last detail.

The home flaunts a rainbow-colored exterior and steep-pitched roof. Throw in the scalloped shingles and sweeping bays pictured here and all you need are the balloons. 

Pass the pre-liftoff hose reel sitting on the lawn and step onto its charming porch. The pink and purple backdrop promises to brighten sessions of lazing in a rocking chair. Then enter through its custom-paneled door and explore the home's contents. The 2,800-square-foot home boasts four bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, a living room, family room, basement (perhaps the only feature of the home which does not exist in the film) and a walk-in pantry.

Soon a replica of the hand-carved red bird visible in the movie will rest on the fireplace mantel pictured here. A mural from the movie is already painted on the wall. Much of the home's interior is still being finished, so all of its movie-inspired nuances -- like the custom-designed furniture and elements of decor -- are not on display yet. 


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