30 Traditional Homes Around The World You Need To See

See these traditional homes around the world. See the way we live, from a new perspective. While the countries, cultures, and climates may differ, knowing we all have a place to call home is a first step to understanding everything we have in common.

Visit traditional homes around the globe and discover how the definition of home can both change and remain the same.


Near the popular beach destination of Bali is the island of Lombok. It’s home to the indigenous Sasak people as well as Gunung Rinjani, one of Indonesia’s largest volcanoes, which is topped by a large crater lake. Just outside the national park that protects this area is the village of Sembalun.

Sembalun at Lombok Indonesia-Traditional homes around the world

Here, on a little hill overlooking a valley of patchwork farm fields, is a cluster of traditional Sasak houses. One of these homes belongs to Salmini, whose mother and five siblings also live in the compound. Salmini’s family can trace their ancestors in the region back 700 years.

This traditional Sasak house is made primarily of bamboo from the surrounding forests. Other building materials include soil, rattan, clay, ash and cow dung, which is often used for minor repairs. “October to March has heavy rains and typhoons,” says Salmini. “But the roof is capable of withstanding rain as well as wind and sunlight.”

Sasak House at Sembalun Lombok Indonesia-Traditional homes around the world
It might not look like it, but the roofs of the Sasak house can withstand even heavy typhoon rains.

Most days, Salmini wakes up and washes the clothes and the dishes. Then she either opens her kiosk to sell things or walks to the nearby village to trade. Afterward, she returns home to cook lunch.

Salmini’s house is light and airy inside with a high, peaked ceiling. The main room serves as the kitchen, dining room and bedroom. “The other [room] is interesting,” says Salmini. “It’s specifically for the girls, so the parents can keep their eyes on them, to prevent them from sneaking out to meet friends or boys.” Salmini explains how things have changed over time. “Years ago, we carried pots to the river to collect water.

inside of Sasak House at Sembalun Lombok Indonesia-Traditional homes around the world
inside of Sasak House at Sembalun, Lombok, Indonesia

Now the government has built a water pipe four kilometers away.” Electricity replaced bamboo-oil torches for lighting a few years ago, but no major electrical appliances were added. “We welcome modernization. But on the other hand, we do want to maintain our village’s tradition,” she says. “This home is our heritage and we must protect it.”


The countryside village of Buntu Pune features a striking pair of traditional Torajan dwellings known as tongkonan, which were constructed in 1880 by a coffee farmer and nobleman by the name of Pong Maramba. He died in Maluku after being exiled for plotting a rebellion against the rule of Dutch colonists.

His descendants remain, including 5th-generation Marla, who has lived here her whole life. A government worker, Marla is one of about 10 people who currently occupy the two tongkonan, which stand not far from Pong Maramba’s gravesite on a nearby hillside.

The saddleback roofs are the most distinctive feature of the tongkonan.

The tongkonan’s most distinctive stylistic trait, its soaring saddleback bamboo roofline, is designed to withstand the onslaught of heavy winds and rain during Indonesia’s wet season. Symbolic carvings and intricate painted patterns in red, yellow, white and black adorn the outer walls and gables as an indication of a family’s status.

The front of Marla’s home, for example, prominently features a “kabongo,” a sculpted buffalo head that represents nobility. Tongkonan houses are typically lined up side by side, north to south, and face a tidy row of rice granaries that resemble slightly smaller-scale versions of the tongkonan.

nside of tongkonan house at north toraja – Traditional house in the world

Each tongkonan has two floors, wood-paneled living quarters upstairs, and an open-air pen below, with a chicken shed and space for working or relaxing. They are also wired with electricity. A separate structure in the backyard houses a common kitchen and bathroom with running water.

The term “tongkonan” derives from a Torajan word meaning “to sit,” emphasizing that the house is not simply shelter from the elements, but a place where family can gather, both face-to-face as well as in spirit across the generations. Although Marla works in the city, she’s proud to return each day to her quiet home so rich in heritage.


Ciptagelar is the main village of the Kasepuhan people, who belong to the Sundanese community in Sukabumi, Banten, Indonesia. The region experiences both rainy and dry seasons. About 400 people currently call the village home, and the population continues to grow steadily.

The Kasepuhan haven’t always lived in Ciptagelar. They decided to call Ciptagelar home based on instructions from their ancestors, which usually appear as signs in their dreams. Another move may be required by their ancestors in the future, as it has been many times in the past. Ciptagelar is home to Abah Ugih, who leads the community — a position he inherited from his father.

Rumah Panggung at Ciptagelar, west java, Indonesia

The Kasepuhan people call their houses Rumah Panggung, but Abah’s home has a dedicated name — Imad Gede. Abah’s home was built by his father and other community members. The construction started in 1998 and used natural materials found growing around the village. One particularly important material is ijuk the dark black fibers surrounding the trunk of the local palms trees.

These fibers have been used to build roofs in Indonesia dating back to ancient times. Not every adult in Ciptagelar owns their home. Some may choose to live with their parents, but if they want to build a new house they must obtain the permission of their parents as well as Abah Ugih, who considers whether land and materials are available for a new home.

Inside of Rumah Panggung at Ciptagelar, west java, Indonesia – Traditional homes around the world

Abah Ugih’s home is made up of four rooms. There is a Tiang Kalapa where guests meet and chat with Abah Ugih, a Hawi Pole (bedroom), an Imah Gede where guests are greeted, and the kitchen. In the kitchen, rice is an important staple of the family’s daily diet. Most community members in Ciptagelar farm rice for a living and so rice is consumed regularly, along with local vegetables, meat, sauce and sometimes fish, brought from the ocean about 30 kilometers away.

Rice is so important to the future of this community that it is never sold to outsiders. Each year’s harvest is placed in a communal barn called a Leuit, which can store up to 100 years worth of rice harvests. Currently the rice barn in Ciptagelar has enough to ensure the community is fed for the next five years.


The Osing people live in the highlands of East Java. The region is known for strong winds and earthquakes, so their homes are built with strong foundations and poles that can withstand the elements. The Osing people have a rich heritage as descendants of the ancient Indonesian Kingdom of Blambangan. Mr. Sae Panji is a community member who has lived in his home his entire life.

Like his people, Mr. Panji’s house has a rich heritage. This 450-year-old home was built by his ancestors in a traditional style called Omah Tikel Balung. Stepping inside the gates, visitors will pass through terraces full of lush plants that Mr. Panji cares for and sells.

Inside of Omah Tikel Balung at Kemiren Village, East Java, Indonesia – Traditional homes around the world

The wooden poles and foundation of the house are held together with flat pegs instead of nails and its walls are woven from bamboo. All of these materials are harvested from the surrounding areas. The Osing people select their materials for their staying power — the bamboo for example must be cut down during a full moon, due to the Osing belief that it will then last for 25 years.

Inside this Osing home, there are three main rooms bustling with daily family life. The bale is the living room and family room and is used for receiving guests. The jrumah is the bedroom and the pawon is the kitchen, where the mother of the family cooks. For special occasions, she might prepare tape buntil, a dish made from fermented glutinous rice and wrapped in pecan leaves, or pecel pitik, roasted chicken mixed with grated coconut and mashed peanuts. To Mr. Panji, his home represents his family heritage from generation to generation and an opportunity to share Osing culture with the rest of the world.


The Kanekes people, known more commonly as the Baduy people, are a traditional Sundanese community living in the Banten region of western Java, surrounded by lush green hills. Although located only 120 kilometers from Jakarta, the Baduy maintain a secluded, traditional lifestyle.

In fact, foreigners are not allowed to make contact with some Baduy communities, while others — like the community living in Kanekes Village where Mr. Saija is the headman — have some limited interaction with the outside world. As a whole, the Baduy people strive to live in harmony with nature.

ome at Kanekes village, west java, Indonesia – Traditional homes around the world

According to tradition, homes in Kanekes Village are lined up facing north and south. The houses are built using natural materials such as wood, bamboo, leaves and fibers.

Mr. Saija’s home was built piece-by-piece with the help of other villagers in 2012. It includes a living room, three bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. A solar lamp is used to brighten up the entrance and the common area in the evening.

According to Mr. Saija, there are no differences between the homes of the rich or the poor in Kanekes society. Every family uses their home as a place to gather their family and to practice their religion, Sunda Wiwitan.

Inside of home at Kanekes village, west java, Indonesia
Inside of home at Kanekes village, west java, Indonesia

For Mr. Saija and the Baduy people, home represents a tradition passed down from generation to generation and a place to keep the memories and ways inherited from ancestors alive.


The Semai tribe lives in the tropical rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia. Sagong village, a small cluster of bamboo houses, is located in a remote area with no electricity. It’s home to Chief Baem and his family. On a typical day, they wake up early to the sound of a rooster.

In the morning, they work in the paddy fields and set traps for wild animals. Meat is smoked in order to preserve it. Water is collected from the river. Bamboo houses are built on stilts and have thatched roofs. Gaps in bamboo walls and floors keep houses cool and ventilated.

Semai tribal house at sagong village malaysia - Traditional homes around the world
Semai tribal house at sagong village malaysia – Traditional homes around the world

Traditional Semai tribal houses are constructed entirely from natural materials, collected from surrounding rainforests. Hard wood, which lasts many years, is used to build the main frame and the stilts. Floors and walls are created out of bamboo which is split, dried and then loosely woven together with rattan.

The thatched roof, protection against torrential monsoon rains, usually needs to be replaced every three to five years. Houses are simply decorated and villagers spend most of their time outside working, socializing and playing games like takraw (foot volleyball). When a new village is created, traditional Semai rituals involving animal sacrifice take place.

The Semai believe in communal living which is why there’s little separation between the two rooms of the house.

“Home is very important to me,” says Chief Baem. As is normal in Semai society, he built the family house himself, shortly after marriage. In traditional Semai culture, there’s little distinction between public and private life, so houses are laid out in a communal style. Chief Baem’s home has two rooms, separated by a thin bamboo wall. The kitchen has an open fireplace, which is lit atop a layer of mud, to stop the bamboo floor from burning. The large front room is a living space, and family members sleep on mats. It’s also used to receive guests and discuss village matters.


The Moken (or Morgan) people are a semi-nomadic tribe inhabiting the Mergui Archipelago of the Andaman Sea. Morgan Village on Ko Surin Tai Island, Thailand, is home to Nott Khlatalay. Between going to school and playing soccer on the beach, as a boy he learned how to fish, dive and understand the sea.

Morgan Village, Ko Surin Tai Island, Thailand - Traditional homes around the world
Morgan Village, Ko Surin Tai Island, Thailand – Traditional homes around the world

Today, he works on a tourist boat on the mainland, and returns home once a month. His family’s house, made of wood, bamboo and palm thatch, is set among a cluster of other village houses on the beach. A waterfall, in the forest behind, supplies freshwater to the village.

Moken tribal houses are built with natural materials found on the tropical islands of the Andaman Sea. Wood from the forests is used to build a main frame. Over this, a roof and outer walls made of palm leaves provide protection against torrential afternoon thunderstorms.

Moken Tribal House at Ko Surin Tai Island, Thailand - Traditional homes around the world
Moken Tribal House at Ko Surin Tai Island, Thailand – Traditional homes around the world

Wooden planks and bamboo form the flooring of these stilt houses. Palm thatch has to be replaced regularly, and neighbors help out when an entire house needs rebuilding, approximately every three years. In the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, all the houses were destroyed. Luckily, all the villagers escaped to safety.

There’s a sense of communal living in Morgan Village. Nott’s house is built very close to his neighbors. The front porch is popular as a place to gather with family and friends. Inside, the main living area is also where everyone sleeps. At the back of the house is the kitchen. Typical food includes fried fish, fresh vegetables and rice from the mainland. Sometimes Nott strings up a hammock between trees to sleep outside. The Moken worship their ancestors and follow special rituals during a funeral. Often referred to as sea gypsies, the Moken are highly-skilled as fishermen and navigators.


The semi-nomadic Vezo people along Madagascar’s southwest coast depend on the Tulear coral reef system, the third largest in the world, for their survival.

Vezo people, Home of Madame Kokoly, Lamboara, Madagascar - Traditional Homes Around The World
Vezo people, Home of Madame Kokoly, Lamboara, Madagascar – Traditional Homes Around The World

Men in hand-carved sailing vessels called pirogues fish for sharks and turtles, while women glean octopus and sea cucumbers from the reef flats. But overexploitation and climate change have depleted the once-abundant marine life.

The reef flats surrounding Lamboara provide much of the community’s food. Here Madame Kokoly spears crabs

Near the village of Lamboara, in thatch huts on a sandy shore surrounded by mangroves, Madame Kokoly and her extended family struggle to maintain the age-old traditions of the Vezo, whose name can be translated as “to live with the sea.”

The younger men in the extended family of about 50 built the group of simple huts out of wood from local mangroves.

Madame Kokoly calls the thatch “magic” since it has lasted so long, but during the wet season when rain and wind keep everyone huddled indoors, there can be leaks.

Concrete floors, a relatively new addition to the Vezo-style home, use lime created from burning seashells in a kiln. Daily meals of mostly rice and fish are prepared in an outdoor kitchen.

They’re eaten on the ground just outside the hut, or under the canopy of a nearby neem tree, a favorite gathering spot for the entire family.

Madame Kokoly and her husband share the tiny two-room hut with her nephew and his wife. She much preferred the comfort of her previous home, but following her son’s recent death, it would have been “fady,” or taboo, to remain living there.


“I’ll build a much bigger one next year if I’m still alive,” she says. Some villagers can afford luxuries such as TVs with DVD players and large speakers, or hardwood furniture, but her most prized possession is her cooking pot.


The Maasai are a pastoral tribe from the savannas of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. Maasai bomas, like Ngaramat Loongito, are traditional livestock enclosures and rural settlements.

Ngaramat Loongito, Maasai bomas in Kenya - Traditional homes around the world
This is one of the 11 bomas at Ngaramat Loongito that are built close together for protection against wildlife.

A thorny fence around the boma’s 11 houses keeps out lions, elephants and other wildlife. Ngaramat Loongito is home to Melelo Lantaun Masarie. Everyday she wakes up before sunrise to prepare the children for school and make chai tea.

She also collects water from a couple of kilometers away, before her neighbors take their cattle to drink. Like the others in the boma, her house is made of sticks, grass and cow dung.

Maasai bomas in Kenya - Traditional homes around the world
Ngaramat Loongito is unusual in that the community is made up solely of women and children.

Ngaramat Loongito is somewhat unusual, as it is a community comprised solely of women and children. Most of the women in the boma are widows who are raising their grandchildren.

Every six or seven years, the women rebuild their houses together. Over a period of three days, they collect branches, long grasses and cow dung. Then they make a frame of branches tied together with grass. Each home’s walls are patted into place using a mixture of cow dung and water. Roofs are covered in grass as a form of waterproofing for the rainy seasons.

Temperatures are high year-round, and the homes have little ventilation. They are designed mainly to keep out wild animals.

traditional house of Maasai People
Ngaramat Loongito, Kenya

Home is “a place to protect livestock and family,” says Masarie. Indoors, shelves are made of sticks tied together with grass. Beds are made in a similar manner and covered in cow hides. Locally sourced food includes maize meal, vegetables, beef and goat. Everything’s cooked over an open fire started with paraffin.

Everyday, the women of the boma do beadwork together to create goods to sell. They also conduct traditional ceremonies when a child is born and when girls reach adulthood. When not at school, the boys in the community herd the livestock and the girls collect water and firewood.


The Uros Islands float in Lake Titicaca — the world’s highest lake towering 3,818 meters above sea level. There are about 87 islands in this region, but this one, named “Uros Titimarka” belongs to multi-generational local, José P. Suaña Ticona, and six other families. “The lake is like an eye here in Peru. We invest in the lake since we are part of it…it’s like our sanctuary,” he says.

Uros Titimarka, Uros Islands in Lake Titicaca, Peru - Traditional homes around the world
Uros Titimarka, Uros Islands in Lake Titicaca, Peru – Traditional homes around the world

Five hundred years ago, the lake we know today wasn’t a lake at all, it was simply dry, elevated land. Now the waters which translate to mean “Lake Puma Stone” are the primary resource for food, fauna, wildlife and commerce for the Uru people.

They’ve been living on the lake for hundreds of years, originally forced to take up residence on the floating islands as a defensive mechanism — the mobility offered them the freedom to move if a threat arose. Today they live here to keep the culture of their ancestors alive. “Who wouldn’t like to live here? We have everything, the nature is clean, the air is clean, everything is clean,” José adds.

Uros Titimarka, Uros Islands in Lake Titicaca, Peru
José P. Suaña Ticona weaves totora reeds into a handicraft boat.

Reeds are aquatic plants that grow in the shallows of Lake Titicaca, but they’re also the backbone of the Uru way of life. Reeds act as the infrastructure and interiors of the homes and boats, provide nutritional nourishment and protection from the elements, and they even make up the very ground the artificial islets float upon.

These tall grass-like plants are dried then woven together in stacks, anchored with ropes and attached to sticks that are driven into the base of the lake. The reeds at the bottom of the stack are underwater and disintegrate fairly quickly, so new ones must be added in a criss-cross formation to the top on a consistent basis. This task can be rather daunting, as every human step on the island sinks the reeds beneath their feet anywhere from 2 to 4 inches.

Many who have visited agree that walking on these floating islands feels a lot like walking on a giant sponge. This particular island receives the most foot traffic from tourists, creating a continuous cycle of work and economic stimulus for the families here.

Because of the humidity on the lake, homes must be built about 50 centimeters higher than the surrounding grounds to prevent them from sinking too far into the reeds over time. These homes, called “chuclla” in the native tongue, used to be more like large rafts that were tied together and set out about 9 miles into the lake. But a storm in 1986 devastated the area and forced locals to set up shop closer to shore near Puno, the largest port town in the area. This proximity brings all the challenges and opportunities involved in navigating the waters of tradition versus modernity.

The Uru people are said to have “black blood” because they do not feel the cold. José confirms further that the word “uru” means “strong men of the lake and sons of the sun.” Although his grandparents spoke Uru, this language has since been replaced by Aimara. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s that the islands came into contact with the modern world, but today, they’ve integrated with tourists from all over, rely on solar power for electricity and even have a local radio station that plays tunes throughout the day.


About 25 miles from Peru’s famous Machu Picchu ruins is the small Urubamba Valley town of Maras. The town is well-known for the thousands of terraced salt pans to the north that date to the Incan Empire. Here in this tiny rural community, Angel Arias, member of the Quechua people, an indigenous community in South America, lives with only one close neighbor.

His humble adobe structure, which has been home to at least three generations of his family, sits next to a small chapel and below a cliff.

Traditional home of Quechua people at Maras, Peru - Traditional homes around the world
Angel Arias is a member of the Quechua people, an indigenous community that resides near Machu Picchu.

Angel’s house is mainly constructed from red adobe bricks made from local earth. The bricks form thick walls that provide natural insulation from extreme temperatures. The roof is a wooden lattice partly supported by a large log in the center of one room. The floor is hard-packed mud.

The closest market is in the town of Urubamba, which Arias visits twice a week. Given the remoteness of the area, most materials are reused or repurposed as much as possible. Plastic shopping bags are kept until they wear out. A rusted metal sheet serves as a gate for the fenced-in area where Arias keeps his cattle, ducks and chickens.

Adobe House at Maras, Peru - Traditional homes around the world
Adobe House at Maras, Peru – Traditional homes around the world

Large double doors separate the outer farmyard from Angel’s enclosed patio. From there, a wooden door leads into the house. The front room is a kitchen and living area, with smoke-blackened pots and pans hanging from the walls, a brick oven and a pink propane-fired stove.

Maras, Peru - Traditional homes around the world
The front room serves as a cooking and living area, while the back room is used for sleeping quarters and storage space.

Old leaves hang from the ceiling, remnants from drying corn, the main ingredient in most meals and the key to making their artisanal beer, “chicha,” which is a traditional drink that dates from before the Incan Empire. He stores this valuable food in several built-in brick corn cribs in his bedroom, the house’s only other room. His home is as simple as his lifestyle. “Life is calm,” he says. “I like everything about it.”


It might come as a surprise that this seemingly harsh and inhospitable environment houses nearly 900 Inuit people who have lived on and loved these lands for thousands of years. Although the locals no longer inhabit igloos, this one was built to show new generations how the people of the Belcher Islands used to live.

Traditional home of inuit people,Sanikiluaq, Canada - Traditional homes around the world
When built correctly, an igloo can support the weight of a person standing on the roof.

In years past igloos were constructed in the fall months. However, the changing climate has required waiting until winter before the right conditions to emerge to build to start constructing the the igloo.

Lifetime Sanikiluaq local Lisi Kavik spent the first year of her life in 1961 with her family in an igloo and is passionate about teaching elementary-aged children the real stories and cultural traditions held by the Inuit people.

Step inside as Lisi shares wisdom from her own experiences and those passed down from the community’s elders.

lisi kavik, an inuit educator
Inuit educator, Lisi Kavik, shares stories and traditions from her ancestors.

Igloos are literally built from the ground up. Although the shape may seem simple, constructing one is not for the faint of heart. It calls for an impressive mashup of applied mathematics, physical strength, mental stamina and an intimate understanding of the land on which it stands.

It all starts with finding the ideal location: a gentle slope on solid ground where wind-blown “pack snow” has collected in spades. The domed shape is created one block at a time in a spiral formation, and insulated with two layers of snow to keep its inhabitants sheltered from unruly winds. When crafted correctly, the temperature inside the igloo can be anywhere from 40 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it is outside just from body heat alone. But while igloos would keep you warm(er), no amount of well-packed snow could prevent the occasional bear from intruding through the walls, Lisi points out.

the inside of an igloo - Traditional homes around the world
the inside of an igloo – Traditional homes around the world

If you’ve ever heard the saying “heat rises” you’ll understand why the Inuit people built elevated snow platforms covered in animal skins and furs for sleeping. These blocks were usually positioned towards the door because of a belief that the head should face the entrance of the home. A small flame from a seal oil lamp was kept lit on the “qulliq” or stone platform in the center of the home to sustain a reasonable amount of warmth throughout frigid nights. A hole in the top of the igloo served as a vent for any smoke. This allowed the walls to melt just enough to re-freeze the outer layer and create an even sturdier reinforcement. And so went the cycle of everyday human activity as a means of regenerating the very foundation of that which sheltered them.

While this community has always relied heavily on Eider duck feathers as nature’s answer to surviving Arctic winters, their diets mainly consist of seal meat, and depending on the area (and hunter’s luck) elk, caribou and polar bears might make an appearance on the menu.

13. Cieneguilla Village, Oaxaca, Mexico

The southern part of the Mexican state of Oaxaca is largely farm country. It’s home to many indigenous Chatino people, like 51-year-old Santiago Cruz Salvador, a farmer who lives in the rural village of Cieneguilla.

Traditional home in Cieneguilla Village, Oaxaca, Mexico - Traditional homes around the world
The courtyards and village center serve as places for the community to gather after a day spent working.

While many Chatinos have migrated to the United States, Santiago is well known in the community. He has made his home with adobe because he thinks is more durable and more and aesthetically pleasing than the cement homes, but many people didn’t believe him.

In the 1980’s there was an earthquake. Many houses from Cieneguilla were damaged, and many of them collapsed, but Santiago’s home remained intact. He places a high value on the tools of his trade, which he stores in the home he built in the late 1970s. “I made the house,” he says proudly. “I made the adobe. I did everything with my own hands.”

Cieneguilla Village, Oaxaca, Mexico - Traditional homes around the world
Santiago Cruz Salvador takes great pride in his home which he built himself.

Most of the buildings in Cieneguilla are made from materials from the surrounding region. The brick walls are stone, lime and earth. The floor is made of compacted earth and cement. The roof is wood and tile. Santiago says the structure is partly supported by old castle armaments.

But he and workers like him usually don’t spend much time at home. “If you go to the field, you’ll have your coffee at five or six in the morning, and you’ll be gone,” he says. Men return from the cornfields around 4 p.m. to have lunch with their families. After that they congregate in the center of the village to socialize and watch basketball. The children of the village usually join in and play until everyone returns home to have coffee and go to bed. Family time happens mainly on Sunday, when everyone goes to a temple in the village, and at certain communal meals.

Traditional home in Cieneguilla Village, Oaxaca, Mexico
The hearth takes center stage in the home’s interior.

Most meals are eaten in the kitchen, where they’re prepared by the women of the household. Food like corn and beans are typically stored in sacks outside, because they attract insects. For holidays and other big events, food is prepared outside and visitors sleep in a separate two-story wooden house on the grounds.

Santiago’s chores around the house include stocking firewood, making trenches when there’s rain, baking and helping with the children. For their part, the kids sweep the yard, gather wood for cooking, take care of their younger siblings, help their parents in the cornfield, take care of their chickens and attend school. It’s an investment in their future. One day, this home will be theirs.


It goes without saying that this corner of Greenland really lives up to its name. With a population of about 57,000, the largest island in the world is also the least densely populated. The small town of Igaliku houses 30 people and is certainly no exception.

Exotic house at town of Igaliku, Greenland - Exotic homes around the world
Within the community there is still plenty of open pasture for the animals to roam.

One resident, Malene Egede, has called this place home since 1984, baring witness to how the climate has evolved over time. “We used to drive cars on the ice to reach nearby cities and it used to be so cold in the winter that the ice was thick and thus, less dangerous,” she recalls, “But this year it didn’t get cold enough to freeze, so we sailed in our boats instead. We can all feel the weather is changing.”

Malene invites us into her home, or “angerlasimaffik” in Greenlandic, for more.

Malene Egede home at town of Igaliku, Greenland - Exotic homes around the world
Malene Egede home at town of Igaliku, Greenland – Exotic homes around the world

This house was built in 1955 by Malene’s in-laws, who raised her husband from birth within its sturdy wooden walls. Because his sheep were already settled here, Malene and her husband decided this was where they’d start a family of their own. The pup that slipped into view, Qooqa, is a sweet new addition who earns his room and board by helping herd the sheep every morning.

What this small town lacks in number of people, it more than makes up for in sheep — it is estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 animals roam the land amongst five different farms. (Malene’s family can account for 620 of them.) They live in the barns from November until May, and after the sheep birth their lambs, the farmers send them to the mountains for summer.

The completion of the sheep gathering is cause for a big celebration around here. The annual Igaliku Party draws the descendents and ancestors of the man who first moved to Igaliku in 1783 and about 500 others from neighboring towns. The community comes together in large tents to eat, sing, play music and dance.

The small, Serene town of Igaliku, Greenland - Exotic places around the world
The small, serene town of Igaliku.

Three small bedrooms, a living room, dining room, entry room, kitchen and bathroom make up the interiors of this house or “illoq” in Greenlandic. It’s filled with homey treasures, but Malene’s most prized possessions are her books — she has so many that she has to store them in the farm’s nearby cottages.

During the summer months, the beauty of Greenland attracts all sorts of guests that she and her husband host. But one special visit stands out as the the most exciting things that’s ever happened in their home. In 2000, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and her husband came to visit Igaliku, and because Malene’s house had the most modern conveniences, they were asked to host the royal pair along with the Minister of Iceland and the head of the Greenland government.


The word “ger” in Mongolian means “home” or “dwelling place.”

“The Mongolian ger is a totally inseparable part of nomadic people’s culture and life,” Adiyasuren Jambalsuren, owner of this shape-shifting home reveals. The region has a certifiably extreme continental climate reaching up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer and dropping all the way down to minus 40 degrees Celsius in the winter — which means there’s a need for some seriously versatile digs.

Mongolian Ger at Emchiin Uveljee, Mongolia - Traditional homes around the world
Mongolian Ger at Emchiin Uveljee, Mongolia – Traditional homes around the world

Home is where the heart is, but for nomadic Mongolian countryside dwellers, it’s also where the grass grows and the fresh water flows. These families uproot their abodes each season in search of greener pastures that are best suited to feed and herd their cattle. In this way, the land surrounding the Mongolian ger is as much a part of the home as the home itself.

A ger is a traditional Central Asian structure with a circular design that remains practically unchanged from its conception three thousand years ago. They are portable, practical and durable, consisting of two main elements: wood and felt. They have a distinctive dome-shaped roof with a chimney that carries smoke from the wood and dried dung burning stove. Every ger is constructed with deconstruction in mind, as it is reassembled in different locations multiple times a year.

Interior of Ger house at Emchiin Uveljee, Mongolia - Traditional homes around the world
Interior of Ger house at Emchiin Uveljee, Mongolia – Traditional homes around the world

A symbiotic relationship between humans and animals has powered this nomadic way of life for centuries. The animals provide food for the family as well as building materials for the ger’s structure (yak and horse hair connect beams like rope) and insulation (sheep’s wool) and even the burning material: families burn dried dung from their cattle in the stove, while herders ensure the animals are fed and on the most abundant grounds each season. Here, the connection between humans, animals and nature is alive and well.

traditional lifestyle of the mongolian people

The round interior of every ger houses a life all its own, ornately decorated and rife with symbolic meaning. For example, one should never walk between the two structural pillars, which are said to represent the connection between earth and sky. The space is divided into different sections that are usually arranged in the same way: the fireplace and opening is in the center, the kitchen is to the right of the front door, and the altar in the back is framed by two beds. The rear is known for being the best spot in the house — it’s where guests come to sit, family photos are displayed and religious rituals are carried out.

Gers are praised for being particularly comfortable to sleep in.The days begin before sunrise to tend to the horses and cattle and the work lasts until dusk, at which point families gather to share nightly meals and an occasional game of knucklebones. Although there is a modern movement to the capital city and less than half the population still lives in gers, for Adiyasuren Jambalsuren: “Our ger is essential — it’s where we spend more than half of our lives, being the nomadic people that we are.”


Shirakawa-go is a mountain village in the Japanese Alps. Once remote and isolated, the village has existed since the 11th century, subsisting on the cultivation of mulberry trees and production of silk. Prone to earthquakes, the village also receives extremely heavy winter snowfall.

Shirakawa Go, Japan - Exotic places in the world
Shirakawa Go, Japan – Exotic places in the world

Shirakawa-go is home to Eiji Kanda, sixth head of the Kanda family. He runs half of his historic gassho-style farmhouse as a museum. Built around 1800, the house is large and made almost entirely of wood. It has a very steep roof to shed snow. Inside, its fireplace is kept alight 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Gassho-style farmhouses in Shirakawa-go are built of Japanese cypress, pine, chestnut and cedar felled from surrounding forests. Constructed to withstand earthquakes, the wooden frames are braced together. Steep thatched roofs are made from local kaya grass.

Gassho-style farmhouse in Shirakawa japan - Traditional homes around the world
Gassho-style farmhouse in Shirakawa japan – Traditional homes around the world

In the olden days, smoke from the indoors firepit kept the thatch in good condition for up to 60 years. When the roof needed replacing, the whole community helped out. This happened in the weeks between snowmelt and rice planting. Nowadays, professional builders are called in. Houses are aligned to capture maximum sunlight, but remain cool in the summer. Contemporary touches include glass windows.

Gassho-style farmhouse in Shirakawa japan - Exotic homes around the world
Traditionally each story of the farmhouse had a different function. The upper floors were used for work and storage.

The museum portion of Eiji’s gassho-style farmhouse gives a sense of how life used to be in rural Japan. In earlier days, the ground floor was the family’s living space. Everyone gathered around the central fire pit at mealtimes. The fire, kept alight all hours of the day, was constantly monitored. Great care had to be taken, as houses were built of wood and grass.

Above the family’s living space, the mezzanine was reserved for unmarried men and servants. The second and third floors were work spaces, typically for silk production. The attic was used mainly as a storage area.


The Tao people, who are sometimes called Yami, must contend with Orchid Island’s harsh natural elements: incessant rain, monsoons in winter and brutal heat in summer.

Orchid Island, home of theTao people, Taiwan - Traditional homes around the world
Orchid Island, home of theTao people, Taiwan – Traditional homes around the world

Traditional Tao dwellings, like this home that Siyapen Mifuzou inherited from his grandfather, are sea-facing and subterranean. Their rooflines are nearly level with the terrain to provide protection from extremes in temperature and the regular typhoons.

The main post “represents the soul of a house,” according to Siyapen, and setting it up involves a ceremony with songs, prayers and the sacrificing of hog and sheep. Trees in the surrounding hills provide timber for posts and plank floors. Beach cobblestones are used to construct outer walls within a pit area. Traditionally, homes are thatched, but since the 1960s, with the ill-considered introduction of straw-munching cattle to the island, plastic tarps have also been used. Outside the “vahay,” or home, Siyapen, like his ancestors before him, cultivates taro and sweet potatoes and fishes the sea.

Orchid Island, home of theTao people, Taiwan - exotic homes around the world
Plastic tarps have replaced the traditional straw thatched roofs in recent years.

“This is the most important place in my life,” Siyapen says. “Without my home, my family and I don’t have root in this world.” Each of his house’s four rooms serves a specific purpose: sleeping, socializing, working and cooking. There’s no refrigeration and no food preservation, other than the drying of flying fish, which occupies a hallowed place in Tao culture. The Flying Fish Calling Ritual each February marks the beginning of the catching season which lasts until the end of June. Although the village features running water, most residents collect and store water in plastic containers, a change from the coconut shells used by previous generations.

kitchen of theTao people's home, Taiwan - exotic homes around the world
kitchen of the Tao people’s home, Taiwan –


Slate stone can be found in abundance in the southern end of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range, where an indigenous tribe called the Paiwan incorporates its varieties into the construction of their homes and villages in the foothills.

Tjuku peoples at Tjuvecekadan, Taiwan - Traditional homes around the world
Tjuku lives in a traditional stone slab house thanks to the abundant slate in the area.

The “ogalai” (hard rock) make sturdy pillars, roof tiles, beds and floors, while “vavayan” (soft rock) is a more fragile material suitable for kitchen stoves and less-trafficked paved areas.

In the village of Tjuvecekadan, a woman named Tjuku lives in a traditional Paiwan stone-slab house. As a “pulingau,” or shaman, Tjuku is considered to be a communicator between her tribespeople and a higher power known as “the Spirit.”

Stone-Slab House of Tjuku peoples at Tjuvecekadan, Taiwan
Stone-Slab House of Tjuku peoples at Tjuvecekadan, Taiwan

The longevity of the house, which Tjuku inherited from her grandparents, is a testimony to its resilient design and the strength of local materials. Wood comes from trees in the surrounding mountains, while the slate comes from a quarry that’s two hours away by foot. The roof, a bulwark against summer’s typhoons, is comprised of carefully overlapping flat slate stones which, according to Tjuku, “mimic the texture of snake scales,” an important creature in the Paiwan culture. In the platform in front of the house, the family gathers with relatives and neighbors to relax and drink homemade millet wine.

the inside Stone-Slab House of Tjuku peoples at Tjuvecekadan, Taiwan
the inside Stone-Slab House of Tjuku peoples at Tjuvecekadan, Taiwan

The interior space remains open, without walls to divide the bedroom, kitchen and living areas. An altar honors the family guardian named Kumakan who, in exchange for offerings of wine and food, blesses and protects the home.

As a pulingau, Tjuku commands a vital role in the tribe’s cultural ceremonies. Her most cherished possession is her “kanupitj,” which she calls her “witchcraft box.” Since only a pulingau can possess the kanupitj, Tjuku hopes that one day the Spirit anoints one of her younger family members, so that she may pass her box down and see the noble tradition continue.


Northern Seoul’s Bukchon neighborhood lies between Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changgyeonggung Palace. It was once home to aristocrats and senior government officials. Today, it is a historic district that offers a glimpse of what the area looked like nearly 600 years ago.

Lee Sook Hee lives in the neighborhood and owns one of the many traditional houses that line the narrow alleys. She spent several years restoring the structure and converting it into a prestigious hotel named Chiwoonjung.

hanok, traditional homes of South Korea - Traditional homes around the world
hanok, traditional homes of South Korea – Traditional homes around the world

Called ‘hanok,’ traditional homes like this are typically made from local red pine, soil, rocks and other natural materials. Historically, the master spent much of his time in his private rooms (sarangchae) or the sleeping quarters he shared with his wife (anbang). Residents slept on the floor with bedding that was stowed in a closet between uses. The main hall (daecheong maru) was where family members often came together to eat, entertain and practice ancestral rites. Fermented foods were stored in jars placed on the east side of the house, ensuring they would get enough sunlight during the day.

hanok, traditional homes of South Korea
inside of hanok, traditional homes of South Korea

Although this hanok is now a hotel, Lee feels it maintains its connection to the past. “A doorknob has a history of almost 100 years,” she says as an example. “We’re happy we could share this with people.” She calls the house a living thing that needs continuous maintenance to thrive.

Everything needs to be swept and wiped down twice a day, the wallpaper needs to be replaced every fall, the floors and pillars need to be resealed routinely. Pointing out the architecture’s natural simplicity, she says, “I love the beauty of a hanok’s empty space. People fill in the space and complete the hanok.”


Centuries ago the Hakka people migrated south from the Central Plain to this mountainous province where, to protect themselves from bandits, beasts and warlords, they constructed immense earthen buildings called tulou. Circular or square-shaped, the tulou feature fortified outer walls, open-air courtyards and gated entrances.

traditional Tulou at Chengqilou, Fujian Province, China - Traditional homes around the world
The center structure of the tulou is an ancestral hall with meeting rooms and a restaurant.

A few thousand can be found in small clusters across the countryside. In 2008, UNESCO designated 46 of these structures World Heritage Sites, including this one, Chengqilou, sometimes called “King of Tulou.” Jiang Youyu, a 15th-generation descendant of the clan who built it in the 17th century, is happy to show curious tourists his home.

Outer walls are made by compacting soil with branches, bamboo and grass. They rise four stories high, tapering in thickness at the top, over a cobblestone foundation. A striking concentric ring structure makes this tulou distinct. The center is an ancestral hall with space for meetings and rituals, along with the classrooms of a former private school and a restaurant. The largest ring, the residential section, is divided into 72 vertical slices, each with a ground-floor kitchen, topped by a granary, then two floors of bedrooms. There is electricity and two water wells named Yin and Yang.

During its peak, Chengqilou housed up to 800 people. Jiang, 69, enjoyed his childhood here, playing hide and seek among its bustling corridors. But these days there are fewer than 200 residents, mostly older folks like Jiang. Many younger people have abandoned tulou like Chengqilou and headed for cities in pursuit of jobs and modern conveniences like indoor plumbing. Although there are other tulou nearby where additional families reside. A traditional way of life may be fading, but a burgeoning tourism industry helps soften the economic blow for these communities and keep their history alive. Jiang hosts tours and sells trinkets and hopes for more visitors.


Oia is a clifftop village and popular tourist destination on the Greek island of Santorini. Its iconic whitewashed houses ring the deep blue waters of a sunken volcanic crater.

Home at Oia, Santorini Island, Greece - Traditional homes around the world
You might never know it, but this home used to be a bakery.

This home belongs to Oia resident, Voula Didoni, an architect who specialized in Santorini’s architecture. As a university student in 1967, she bought an old bakery that had been demolished in an earthquake. Back then, the island had no electricity, and rainwater was collected in underground cisterns.

Donkeys brought up building materials from the port. Gradually, Didoni renovated her house in the traditional Cycladic style. Inside, there are volcanic rock walls. Outside, a terrace has panoramic sea views.

Cycladic House at Oia, Santorini Island, Greece - Traditional homes around the world
The pure white exterior comes from a lime whitewash, which helps reflect the summer sun.

Cycladic houses take their name from the Cyclades, a group of islands in Greece’s Aegean Sea. The pure white exterior — traditionally achieved with a lime whitewash — creates the distinctive look and helps reflect the hot summer sun. Plus, the lime acts as a natural disinfectant.

In contrast, doors and windows are usually painted blue, green or red. To save space for the vineyards on the island and for protection, the homes are traditionally built clustered on the clifftops. The fact that they are partially dug into the rock face makes Oia’s excavated homes naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The homes in Oia have been classified as traditional settlements and thus are protected by special laws.

Home at Oia, Santorini Island, Greece
Both the bedroom and the dining room of this home used to be room-sized ovens.

In renovating her house, Didoni maintained many of the original features of the former bakery. A room-sized bread oven with a domed ceiling made of volcanic rocks became the dining area. A secondary oven was transformed into the children’s bedroom. As the house was dug further into the cliff, red and black lava rocks were kept to build walls and floors. Volcanic ash (pozzolana) mixed with asbestos was used to create a very strong yet flexible natural cement to hold everything together. The house is simply decorated with traditional wooden furnishings. Following the classic style, seating areas were built into the structure of the house.


Nicknamed the Valley of the Moon for its otherworldly appeal, Wadi Rum’s sandstone and granite rock valleys have long been used as a backdrop for science fiction films set on Mars. But back on earth, this area is known for making history as one of the first protected regions in Jordan to allow its original inhabitants to remain on their lands.

Wadi Rum, jordan - Traditional homes around the world
Wadi Rum, jordan – Traditional homes around the world

From her conversations with the elders of Wadi Rum, Dr. Laura M. Strachan a socio-cultural anthropologist from Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd University in Saudi Arabia, has learned of the drought that has left the area with four natural springs where there used to be more than 40. This has led to a steep decline of traditional farming and herding lifestyles in the semi-arid desert. It’s the combined weight of these inconvenient truths which have forced this area to embrace a new reality.

This style of home is becoming increasingly more rare, as younger generations flock to more modern homes near water wells that were built to address the voids left by the changing environment.

House of Hair at Wadi Rum, jordan - Traditional homes around the world
Jordan’s signature black Bedouin tents are made from the hair of the animals who roam this land.

The Bedouin people call it a “beit al-shar,” which literally means “house of hair.” The local wisdom finds that the animals native to this land are the best technology for withstanding these temperatures. The tents are usually stitched together with hair from camels, sheep and goats, as their properties are especially adaptable to the extreme conditions of the seasons.

House of Hair at Wadi Rum, jordan

When the hair gets wet in the winter, it shrinks and tightens the closely woven fabric to keep the moisture from entering the interiors. When the hair dries in the summer, the fabric sags, leaving small holes for cool breeze to whisk through. Sheer homegrown ingenuity and a harmony between home and animal is sown into the fabric of everyday life for the Bedouin people.

Kick your shoes off and step inside. There’s a house rule that you cannot bring the outdoors in on your heels.

The layout and size of these tents depends on the financial status and size of the family. In many (like this one) there are two sections: the male area on the left where guests are received and the female area on the right where children sleep and the housewares are kept. A divider separates the two, and the bathroom is right outside.

black tea at House of Hair, Wadi Rum, jordan
Black tea is the drink of choice around here. To add a bit of sweetness, sugar is added to the water as it is boiling.

This home packs a lot into a small space, as it also doubles as a place of worship: “We identify as Muslims and thus we pray together five times a day, either in the tent or wherever it is that we are.” Nasser Awwad starts his day with a morning prayer (fajr), has breakfast with his family, then tends to the sheep, feeding and walking them all around Wadi Rum. The Bedouin people might be nomadic, but that doesn’t matter because for Nasser Awwad, “…home is where my family is.”


A Māori communal home called a marae is not a residence, but a sacred place that preserves and celebrates the history and rich culture of the Māori people. Local tribes use their marae for weddings, reunions, visitor welcoming ceremonies and elaborate three-day funeral rites called tangihanga.

Pahou Marae at Manutuke, New Zealand - Traditional homes around the world
Pahou Marae at Manutuke, New Zealand – Traditional homes around the world

There are also educational and language immersion programs (wananga) aimed at the younger generations. Here in the village of Manutuke, the century-old Pahou Marae means “the beginning and the end” to Albert Stewart of the Ngati Maru subtribe. “We are born there through our ancestry and we return there when we die.”

Pahou Marae consists of a fenced-in clearing anchored by a carved entry (waharoa), a large meeting house (wharenui) with a dining hall (wharekai) and a front patio (paepae). Adorning the roofline and gate are intricate carvings honoring a tribal ancestor, a quick-witted chief named Taharakau. Roofing and outer walls made of local timber and corrugated iron keep out the elements, but offer no insulation; it’s cold in winter, but remains cool in summer. This marae originally stood on a nearby block, but now occupies an area near the drained lagoon called Poukokonga, which was once the tribe’s main food source.

inside of Pahou Marae at Manutuke, New Zealand
The meeting house also serves as communal sleeping quarters when necessary.

The interior of the meeting house also functions as group sleeping quarters. It’s decorated with tukutuku (patterned panels made of woven flax fibers) and photographs tracing the tribe’s genealogy. Modern equipment has largely replaced traditional food storage and cooking, although a pit oven called a hangi is still used.

Even as expenses rise and fewer tribal members are drawn to its communal home, Albert Stewart still cherishes the optimism of his marae’s proverb:

A multitude of stars in the sky, as are Ngati Maru below.
A multitude of trout in the ocean, as are Ngati Maru ashore.


In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa became the first people in history to summit neighboring Mount Everest. The owner of the home below, Kancha Sherpa, is the last living survivor of that expedition. “That was the first time I saw foreigners who looked like the Americans,” he said, “I had heard about them before but hadn’t seen them. I had heard their eyes were white, their hair was red. We were surprised.”

Today, the town of Namche Bazaar at the foot of Mount Everest is the hub of the region. The Sherpa people have lived there for generations and continue to welcome visiting trekkers from all over the world.

the town of Namche Bazaar, Nepal - Traditional homes around the world
Namche Bazaar is one of the largest trading hubs for the Sherpa people. The “tengkhang” homes are built on the sides of the hills.

In previous years, we would’ve been looking down on traditional roofs made from bamboo mats, but today, corrugated iron sheets keep the Sherpa homes of Nepal dry. In April of 2015, an earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, devastating the area and claiming many lives. Like many others near the snowy giant, the home you see here is no longer livable. Nevertheless, Kancha Sherpa guides us through the family home that he someday hopes to rebuild.

A Sherpa home, or “tengkhang” as the Sherpa people call it, became popular in the late 19th century. It’s characterized by having two floors: the upper floor for people and the lower floor (“chakhang”) for the animals. Three cows and five zopkyoks (a cross between a yak and a cow) once called Kancha Sherpa’s downstairs area home. They earned their keep by assisting on treks; providing milk and producing fertilizer for the potato fields.

Trees and lumber are scarce in these parts, so rock makes up the majority of the home. In this corner of the world, the animals are literally part of the walls: Stone facades are filled in with a layer of mud plaster made from sandy soil and cattle dung to help prevent drafts. Finally, the exteriors are whitewashed with clay.

khangpa ma room at Namche Bazaar, Nepal - Traditional homes around the world
Kancha Sherpa and his wife, the late Tashi Tshering Sherpa

Welcome to the “khangpa ma” or colorful main room — the heartbeat of the home. Eating, entertaining, warming up by the fire and sleeping all take place within these four walls. Between the TV set and lineup of family portraits, a door opens to the Buddhist chapel room, also known as “the house of the Gods.” Wall hangings, sacred statues, scriptures and ritual objects used for conducting household religious ceremonies fill the room.

Having a place of worship inside the home allows for a habitual religious practice, which has become a staple of everyday life for this family. On the altar of Kancha’s chapel room, you’ll find their ceremonial bowls. Water offerings are made at sunrise and are emptied before sunset. Member and expert on the Sherpa community, Dr. Lhakpa Norbu Sherpa shares the purpose of this ritual: “to train one’s mind to become a selfless giver by practicing first with the essential…water.”


The Garasia tribe lives in the dry forests of northwestern India. Siyava, a Garasia village below the rugged Aravalli Range of southern Rajasthan, is home to Teji Bai and her family. She gets up early every morning to cook bread and separate curd from the milk of the family’s cows. Then, she prays at the local temple before farming and doing household chores. Teji Bai’s husband built the house in a traditional Garasia style with local materials. A focal point of the house is the courtyard where everyone gathers for meals. During the dry season, it’s also used as sleeping quarters.

Garasia Tribal House at Siyava, Rajasthan, India - Traditional homes around the world
The courtyard is frequently used as a gathering place for the family and neighbors.

Houses in rural Siyava are made from clay, wood and stones, all of which are collected locally. The insulating properties of these natural materials keep houses cool on extremely hot summer days and warm on cold winter nights.

Often built by the owners themselves, they can last up to 70 years, withstanding fierce dust storms and monsoon rains. Surrounding the houses, children from the village play together in bare earthen yards. Low outbuildings are used to store farming tools, grains and more. Thorny trees offer some shade, and fences made of sticks keep wildlife at bay.

Garasia Tribal House at Siyava, Rajasthan, India
Communal sleeping quarters are found in the open-air portion of the house.

“My home is where I have my family, and I love it” says Teji. The layout of the house is communal. In the breezy kitchen, with walls made of intertwined branches, there is a clay stove and an open fireplace on the ground. In the covered courtyard, clothes hang from wires strung between wooden rafters, above homemade beds. Water, collected from a handpump in the village, is stored in earthen pots to keep it safe from animals. Bare adobe walls, marked with white chalk drawings, reflect the ochre tones of Rajasthan’s soils.


Kolkata’s Bhowanipore area has a distinguished past. In its heyday, many famous residents lived along its tree-lined streets and on the banks of the holy Adi Ganga River. Today, the river is contaminated, there are few trees and air pollution is a problem.

Yet Arup Mallick remains. He lives in the same traditional Bengali home that his family began building in the 1860s. “I am a part of the home,” he says. “The home is a part of me.” Although only about 50 of Arup’s family members live there now, the sprawling structure has room for up to 250 people.

home at Bhowanipore, kolkata, india - Traditional homes around the world
Arup Mallick still lives in the home his family started building in the 1860s.

Back when the river was navigable, it was used to transport Burmese teak wood and other materials used to construct the house. The ground floor was created first, and over the years, the second floor and other structures were added as the family grew. “Generations have adapted the house to the needs of their times,” Arup explains.

According to him, climate change has necessitated adding air-conditioners. Arup is proud of his home’s history, saying that famous Indian nationalist leaders used to visit and discuss Indian independence from British colonial rule.

Traditional Bengali House - Traditional homes around the world
Built from teak, the second story of the home was added well after the ground floor was contstructed.

Ancient Hindu architectural principles called ‘vastu’ dictate the location and shape of doorways, halls and rooms, including the incense-filled ‘thakur ghar’ or Hindu worship room.

Pictures of revered ancestors hang in most spaces. Each family has a separate dining area, but during major festivities everyone eats in the courtyard, which is also where children play.

Traditional Bengali House India
Mallick honors his family with pictures of his ancestors in most rooms of the house.

The courtyard also hosts theater, dance and music performances, especially at Durga Puja. During this festival, family members who settled outside Kolkata return to the home, which keeps everyone close and connected. “Staying together with my family, I have learned all the important values of life and relationships,” Arup says. “I have learned how to love and give love to everyone.”

27. Ganj, Orchha, Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh

Once the center of the Bundela kingdom, the riverfront town of Orchha is known for its architecturally significant collection of magnificent stone temples and palaces from the 16th and 17th centuries.

But the increasing frequency of droughts and rising levels make water a precious commodity, challenging the daily lives of the farmers and simple artisans in the surrounding countryside village of Ganj. Here, a potter named Pramod Prajapati lives and works in a traditional clay brick and tile house, handcrafted by his family over generations.

traditional home at Ganj, Orchha, Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh
Handmade bricks baked in the on-site kiln form the basis for the homes.

Bricks baked in an on-site kiln and scavenged rocks are bound together with wet clay to create the walls. The neem tree, a fast-growing plant related to mahogany, provides wood for doors and rafters. Outside in a dirt courtyard there’s livestock and a hand pump for water.

Pramod’s grandfather built the first rooms. Sons are expected to stay at home and support their parents, so Pramod’s father and, later, Pramod added onto the house when they started their own families, as will Pramod’s son one day.

The sound of a potter’s wheel spinning and the smell of wet clay permeates the spare interior, with its unadorned whitewashed walls, wooden cots and a corner display with various representations of Hindu deities.

traditional home at Ganj, Orchha, Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh India
In addition to the pottery buildings, the cooking areas and living quarters, Pramod also offers a homestay for guests.

Pramod’s wife, with help from his mother, prepares meals from locally gathered ingredients and tends to the buffalos, while the couple’s son and daughter attend school. The family also offers homestay for international guests. “My home may be small,” Pramod says, “but there is lots of love for anyone who comes here.”


In the Kutch Desert, an arid salt flat that stretches across the border of India and Pakistan, extreme heat is a fact of life. So are earth tremors, with more than a thousand each year. Occasionally, they’re catastrophic. In 2001, a massive earthquake destroyed nearly a half million homes in the region, many of them modern structures.

Bhunga Hut, Dhordo, India - Traditional homes around the world
Bhunga Hut, Dhordo, India – Traditional homes around the world

Here, Ramesh Haja lives in a traditional bhunga hut that’s engineered to be both cool and stable. Built by his father and grandfather 30 years ago, the hut is more than a home. “It’s a memory of my forefathers and my childhood,” he says.

Ramesh says the conical shape of the hut’s roof is what keeps it safe. Natural materials — dried grass laid atop a sturdy wooden frame and bound with strong tree fibers — means it’s easily maintained should damage occur. “Repairs are cheap and easy,” he says. The walls are stones plastered over with clay, which keeps the interior comfortable during intense summer heat waves, when temperatures can hit 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit). Cow dung applied to the floor of the huts and courtyard also helps keep things cool.

inside of Bhunga Hut, Dhordo, India
The main room of the home serves as both a dining area during the day and bedroom when it’s not possible to sleep outside.

Days begin at 5 a.m., when Ramesh milks the cattle. He then goes to work at a handicraft company, and the children go to school. Later in the day, they’ll help with the cattle. Meanwhile, the women of the family gather water from the village well and make traditional embroidery to sell. Meals are cooked on a mud stove and eaten in the main room during the day and the courtyard in the evening. The family spends time together in the large outdoor area, which has separate buildings for the kitchen, storeroom and more. Everyone sleeps outside on cool summer nights and inside during the winter and rainy season.


Chikmagalur is located in the Western Ghats range of southern India. This mountainous region still has expanses of tropical forest, along with streams and wildlife like peacocks and sambar deer. The weather is often cool, with torrential rains in the monsoon season.

The area has many coffee and spice plantations, including the one owned by Nirvane Gowda Girish. He’s concerned about climate change, and wishes that more was done to preserve the environment. Nirvane’s home was built 350 years ago by his ancestors. Now run as guesthouse, it offers a peaceful Chikmagalur experience to visitors.

Traditional Thoti Home at Chikmagalur, Karnataka, India - Traditional homes around the world
The thick walls are made from clay reinforced with iron bars. Similar homes today are made with concrete instead.

Nirvane’s plantation house is surrounded by dense forest. When it was built, many generations ago, all the construction materials were sourced from the local area. The walls are five feet thick and made of clay. To stop burglars breaking in through the walls, they have been reinforced with iron bars.

The roof is formed of wooden beams and rafters, topped with clay tiles. Outside walls are painted in earthy tones. The house has a front porch overlooking a lawn and farm outbuildings. Nowadays, houses in the region are built with concrete, which is cheaper to buy and maintain.

inside of Traditional Thoti Home at Chikmagalur, Karnataka, India
Most of the rooms are connected by a central courtyard area with wooden pillars carved from local trees

“This place can be very soothing to the soul,” says Nirvane. Following a traditional style, Nirvane’s house is built around a central courtyard, hemmed in by a veranda. Its tiled roof is held up by wooden pillars, carved out of local tree species. The wooden structure of the house is considered a work of art. Walls are painted white and furnishings are kept to a minimum to allow for enough space for extended family.

While Nirvane manages the business and his son takes care of the estate, Nirvane’s wife is in charge of cooking. Typical foods include dosa pancakes, freshly-baked chapattis and curry sauces made with coconut milk and tamarind.


Kumarakom is a settlement in the Kerala backwaters of southwest India. In this watery world, houses are built on low-lying land between lakes, rivers and canals. The lands that the homes sit on are actually man made, as are the canals, which were dug to help keep the the low-lying lands dry. It’s lush and tropical, with torrential monsoon rains.

Known as the rice basket of Kerala, Kumarakom also has coconut plantations, mangrove forests and abundant fish. It’s home to Crispin Kodianthara. His Christian ancestors, originally from Israel, came to Kerala in the middle ages. Crispin’s home, built in 1850 from local materials like wood and clay, now serves as a guesthouse for tourists. His favorite part of the house is the porch, called the sitout.

Traditional Nalukettu Home at Kumarakom, Kerala, India - Traditional homes around the world
The courtyard of the traditional home is filled with tropical plants.

Crispin’s house is set in a tranquil semi-rural location, with direct access to the backwaters. In the garden, there are shady trees and tropical plants. There’s also a fishing pond, with the sound of croaking frogs. The house itself, listed as a heritage building, follows the principles of vastu, the traditional Hindu architectural system.

Nālukettu houses are designed in harmony with natural forces, including the sun, wind and water. Local hardwood, such as anjili, is used for structural components. Around the outside are cool shaded verandas. Nowadays, most houses in the region are built out of concrete, as there’s a lack of quality wood and few skilled carpenters.

inside of Traditional Nalukettu Home at Kumarakom, Kerala, India
inside of Traditional Nalukettu Home at Kumarakom, Kerala, India

“The home is like a temple of peace,” says Crispin. Inside, there are wooden walls and ceilings, along with antique furnishings, artifacts and religious paintings. There’s a separate prayer room and the family is part of a Christian community. Crispin enjoys collecting stamps and singing. The house is also a social place, with regular house guests and lively gatherings with friends and family. His daughter’s wedding was “the most exciting thing that happened here.” In the area, relatives traditionally lived together in large Nālukettu houses. Nowadays, families often split up, with young adults going to live and work in the cities.

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