Back to the Beach

Sunday evening I took off on foot with a backpack and sleeping bag for a beach of my acquaintance north of here. The next day was my birthday — don’t ask! — and I wanted to watch the sunrise on the ocean. That day I had just finished the rough layout of the last two pages of my book Builders of the Pacific Coast, so it was a double special occasion. I like the idea of heading out into the world in quest of adventure on foot, with no wheels or fossil fuels. It’s about a 3-mile hike and when I got to the spot, where a creek comes down to the ocean, lo and behold, here was this little driftwood shack.

Perfect. I’d just finished 3 years working on a book about builders on the coast, who often built houses out of logs from the beach, and here was a little driftwood shack by an anonymous builder. I unloaded my pack and sleeping bag inside and took a walk on the sandy beach. When I got back I checked out the construction: the roof had been made by leaning boards against a 10-foot-or-so-long branch of a log that was firmly anchored in the sand. There were nice little touches here and there, like a starfish over the doorway and it was roomy inside. I sat on the sand and watched the sunset.

Doorway focused on point where sun sets

It was cold and windy so I lit a driftwood fire outside and huddled around it watching the stars. I crawled in my bag. The waves were pounding, since this is open ocean, and you could feel its power, this ceaseless never-resting engine of water and foam and sand and energy and life. The next morning I packed up and headed home. The wind had stopped, and the tide pools were green and clear, birds were diving, and I picked up shells (below) in the warming sun. It was so fine. I was almost ecstatic. I didn’t have to get on an airplane, or even drive, to get to this paradise. I came back full of ocean energy.

Builders of the Pacific Coast

I’m coming to the end of a 3-year odyssey working on a book about a unique bunch of carpenters along the Pacific coast, from San Francisco up to British Columbia. It’s been a long haul. Over a 2-year period I made 4 photo-shooting trips up the coast. Then organizing, writing text, and sorting through 8000 photos off and on for a year, and in the last 5 months, doing rough layouts (I use an old Hewlett Packard $250 color copy machine to size photos, then tape them down to layout pages, along with text. Retro, I know, but I like to do it manually before digitally.)

At that point the pages go to art director David, who rearranges where needed, and does artistic upgrades; then to Rick, meister of InDesign and Photoshop, for building the pages. Lew helps with editing and design. We’ve evolved into a great team for making these highly-illustrated books, but we’re s-l-o-w.

We’ve just completed our 3rd round of changes, and our 3rd printout of color spreads, on plain paper. Now I have a pile of about 240 pages, and just yesterday put them in order. I had to get the entire book done before I knew how to arrange it. I rewrite and rearrange stuff continually. It’s a long and costly process, but it’s the only way I know to make a book. This way you’re creating and changing things continuously while in the production process, as opposed to the normal stagnant method of sending off a manuscript with pics to be put together all at once. I’m about 6 months behind schedule. It will be in the stores by November.

In fact this morning I got up early and put together the last page, with photos of the driftwood shack.

Late news flash: Our Canadian distributors are using this photo from our book as their catalog cover:


Guess where we’re going to print this 4-color book? The USA. We got quotes from 5 Asian printers, as well as Courier in the US. We’d save a lot of money printing in China on non-recycled paper as opposed to the U.S. on recycled stock. After much agonizing we opted for the latter. There are real issues associated with printing books in China. The pollution at the plant where HOME WORK was printed was hard to believe (I saw it first-hand), and there’s the issue of the cargo ships from the orient burning rot-gut polluting oil because there’s no smog control on the high seas. So this time instead of flying to China for a press check, I’ll be going to Indiana. Chelsea Green and their green approach to printing has been an inspiration. Publishers interested in responsible paper usage, here’s a good place to start:

PGW Partay!

Publishers Group West (our distributors) and Avalon Travel Books threw a party a few weeks ago at PGW headquarters in Berkeley where the energy was insanely high. The if-it-doesn’t-kill-you-it’s-good-for-you principle is obviously at work with PGW because having survived the bankruptcy of their parent corporation and a year of intrigue and uncertainty, PGW has roared back to life. Hats off to their new owners, the Perseus Books Group, for not fixing something that wasn’t broke. I know I sound like a PGW Polyanna, but gosh darn it, this was something phenomenal. Hundreds of people, great food and drink, everyone was sparkling. Once again afloat and stylin’.

Oldest log cabin in Arizona, built in 1864, now at a building museum in Prescott, Ariz. From my trip there last month


Monk needs help opening book; if you’re a book person, you’ll love this:

The laughing baby:

A stunning website, 3000 photos of hunting whales the old way:


Counterculture Green by Andrew G. Kirk (2008, University Press of Kansas) is an accurate and insightful analysis of the role Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog played in laying a pragmatic foundation for environmentalism as we know it today.

City of the Mind, a book about London by Penelope Lively; a powerful writer.

Music du Jour

Patsy Cline, The Definitive Collection. The song Crazy — talk about romantic! — was written by Willie Nelson. A gorgeous version. Then listening to her sing Lovesick Blues led me to get out the original, by Hank, which is on a CD, Hank Williams — Low Down Blues — all blues songs by Hank, amazing stuff…

I went down to the river,

To watch the fish swim by,

But I got to the river so lonesome I wanted to die, oh lord,

And I jumped in the river but the doggone river was dry.

Pig Vehicle of the Year

2008 Porsche Cayenne Turbo “luxury sports sedan.” 500 hp; weight 5100 lbs; mileage 12 mpg city; cost: $93,700. Just who drives something like this?

Skating On

Just before the PGW party I was skating down a hill in Berkeley and a car pulled out at the bottom. I baled, that is, jumped off the board, and speed and gravity overcame leg strength and I hit the pavement, sliding prone. Thank god for my padded gloves; otherwise I wouldn’t have flesh on my palms. No skin contacted pavement, but I got a couple of skin burns from pants skidding on pavement. I’m going to the BEA book convention in LA at the end of the month and plan on skating in Beverly Hills with friends late at night. Wide streets, smooth pavement, well-lit.

…Pondering shadows, colors, clouds,

Grass-buds and caterpillar shrouds,

Boughs on which the wild bees settle,

Tints that spot the violet’s petal,

Why Nature loves the number five

And why the star form she repeats:

Lover of all things alive,

Wonderer at all he meets…

–Woodnotes, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

5 Responses to Back to the Beach

  1. Hi Lloyd!

    I love the idea of your book, "Builders of the Pacific Coast!"

    I posted a link in my blog to your slideshow of photos from the book. A friend commented about how to get the book. Do I point her to or will it also be available in bookstores?

    Thanks for doing this work – we're all so excited!

  2. Hello Lloyd,
    Like many people, my husband and I treasure your website and the Shelter books and are really looking forward to your next one on Pacific Coast builders.
    I sort of regret that I didn't contact you sooner to tell you about my husband Luc’s building. Maybe it would have belonged in your book. He's an artist who was inspired to build "driftwood" saunas on the shores of BC definitely have to write you.
    Things have progressed over the past 10 years and we have just launched a little website showing this sauna building. It's called "The Belly of the Whale," as that is what it seems like inside. The site includes a picture of one of the original structures on Henderson lake in B.C.
    The web address is
    He's building them from local cedar harvested in Quebec, where we live now. They're a lot more substantial. I've surfed the web and have not seen anything like it… but if any one would know of something similar, I’m sure you would.

    I also wanted to say that I am sooooo happy that you will be printing the Pacific Builders book in Indiana on recycled paper. Right on!

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