Urban Living - Skylight star bright

The home of Dr. Neil Shulman in Decatur

Wearing a top hat over his untamed curls and a bow tie around his neck, Dr. Neil Shulman invokes Willy Wonka's mad genius (Gene Wilder, not Johnny Depp).

His Decatur home and outbuildings, located in a regular residential neighborhood near Medlock Park, follow suit with inventive features including a trapdoor, retractable roof and green screen. Shulman is a faculty member at Emory's Medical School, and a comedian, actor and writer who wrote and co-produced the 1991 Michael J. Fox movie Doc Hollywood. He has lived in the property's main house for 30 years and later bought a neighboring home. Three years ago, Shulman turned the second home into a studio where he now makes movies and short, health-oriented PSAs. Finally, among the wooded acres he calls his backyard, sits his patented convertible cabin.

What's your favorite part of the house?

I like the screened-in porch below the basement. It's completely hidden under the house, and you have to go through a trapdoor in the basement floor to get to it. I can totally escape from the world down there.

What motivated you to build a screened-in porch below the house?

When I first moved in, it was just a poorly built 20-foot vacant space under the house that the builders decided to fill with logs. Later, my neighbors told me that they were taking bets on when the house would collapse as it was being built. Anyhow, one night that part of the house did collapse, and after I won a settlement from the builder's and grader's insurance companies, I took the money and converted the open space into a screened-in porch.

You seem to be a big fan of porches and balconies. How many are there throughout the house?

Including the one out front, I have five. They're nice places to sit and relax.

How long have you owned the house next door?

I bought it as an investment 20 years ago, but I turned it into a studio three years ago. I figured the best way to avoid traffic was to work next door.

So, between the two houses and the woodsy expanses behind each of them, how much land do you own?

Roughly 1.5 acres between the two houses and the lot in the back.

And you did something very interesting with that lot in the back ...

Yeah, years ago I had an extremely busy schedule so I thought about buying a place that I could escape to in the North Georgia mountains, but the drive was just too far. Then I realized the woods behind my house were isolated and peaceful enough so I built a log cabin right there.

There's something different about this cabin, though.

Yes. When I originally had the cabin built I put in a skylight so I could see the stars. But when I went out there I could only see a very specific and small part of the sky through the opening. So I worked with my friend – who built the cabin for me – and we wondered, "What if there was a way to make the entire roof of the cabin come off?" So we put the entire roof of the cabin on a set of wheels that could slide back and forth, and then we patented the first convertible log cabin. The entire roof can come off and I can see the whole sky from inside.

So you and your family live in the main part of the house, you've got your relaxation porches throughout, your getaway cabin in the back, a studio next door, and an office in your basement that doubles as a warehouse?

Well, yes. I've got my whole life in this house. Literally.

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