The feeling of shelter…

In the ’70s, Lesley and I went to England, where she was born. I had friends, 3 brothers from Southern California, who had rented an old brick house in Mapledurham, a small village along the Thames, near Redding. One night my friend Michael took us over to a visit a small family in a nearby house. It was a cold night.

It turned out to be a thatched cottage, not your picture-perfect variety (like this one here), but still something authentic. The doorway was low — a 6-footer would have to duck to get in. Inside, there was a fire burning in the fireplace, which was just part of the floor, casting orange shadows on the walls. The ceiling was really low, with whitewashed horizontal beams holding up the loft above.

I felt a hit, as if I’d stepped back into a past life. The warmth, the coziness, the feeling of protection — the same qualities that I believe our ancestors created and treasured — it felt familiar. (My mom’s family is from Wales.)

I’ll have feelings once in a while in different homes.when everything feels right, everything is working in unison: what you see, what you smell, what you touch, what you feel…

And if you’ll pardon the whoo-whoo factor here, I think that we have memories in our genes, and that once in a while — via meditation, or enhanced consciousness, or just the right mood — we tap into these cellular memories. We get a feeling that doesn’t come from conscious memories. Hey, I’ve been here before…

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:

14 Responses to The feeling of shelter…

  1. Lloyd,
    I know exactly the feeling you are talking about and its hard to explain its either something your brain taps into or not. When your brain taps into that feeling and your not at your own home you better pay attention. I feel that way every time I visit an inn called Deetjens in Big Sur and also the poet Robinson Jeffers home in Carmel by the Sea. Both those places have changed me not only the way I build and design but also the way I live and wish to live. The first time I visited Jeffers home and "Hawk Tower" it awakened an emotional response that trumped the feeling I got from his incredible poetry. Powerful stuff.

  2. onetree,
    I lived in Big Sur for 3 years (built a house at Burns Creek), and visited Deetjen's often. I got the same feeling you describe. A couple of years ago I went back to Big Sur to do a talk for the Big Sur Historical Society on building a house there in the '60s and we had breakfast at Deetjen's. There was a fire going and a Vivaldi concerto playing, and it felt just the same. Low ceiling, simple redwood board and batt construction, small paned windows, vines on outdoor trellis. Simple, humble…

  3. Lloyd I also know exactly what you mean, and your books are often my metric. I will say to my wife "I saw a very Sheletry house on highway 34" and she will want to see it. Your eye for collecting these situations is unrivaled, and while we all have the built-in hardware to appreciate them (as you note above), you have a singular ability to curate and share them.

    When we moved to rural coastal Oregon, I had high hopes of finding these types of buildings around every corner… alas, even out here most of the idealistic structures from the 60s-70s have collapsed and been replaced with more "modern" (read: boring) structures, but even still we are occasionally treated to a view of a place with a crows nest, a giant hemispherical window, or a catwalk. I've started to look harder… often skipping the main dwelling and trying to find goat sheds or other outbuildings where a lot more freedom is expressed. Still slim pickins, but its out there.

    You and Roy Underhill are my heros. Get Jay Baldwin in there and my dream supperclub could come to pass.

  4. I can't say much more to what Upriver and onetree have said. You may THINK you are a "lone voice crying in the wilderness" on the subject of Creative Shelter, but you have a larger following then you may think. We notice and have all been inspired by your …..a "Curate" on line & in your books……….. and being so kind to keep their privacy by not telling those of us where "exactly" they live. We "ooooh and ahhhh" on their creativity and all of us are grateful. yep, we're all wanting your Tiny House book to come out. The pages of the other books are getting worn….(happy face here)

  5. Irene, You are such a kindred spirit! Thank you for the feedback. I wish I had time to respond to all the people that comment, but there just isn't time.

    But to all you people who post comments, I read and enjoy (and am often inspired) by every comment. Thanks!

  6. Lloyd – just adding to the chorus here. I have been dropping almost since you first started this blog and you're a steady source of inspiration. Thought this post, in particular, hit the nail.

    Thanks as always.

    As an aside, I saw one of your skateboarding pics on Tumblr which supports Irene's "bigger following than you think" statement.

  7. Just the title of this post was a siren song…would be a great book title! That experience happened to me once on St. Thomas where I was asked to housesit. The place immediately felt like home and weirdly enough, even the BOOKS in the cases were as if they were my own, many I owned myself, the others I would have. Even the children's books were ones I'd had as a child or given to my own children. I knew where everything was in every kitchen cupboard. It was almost a little too much but oh so very wonderful. Ah, the magic sharedness of whoo whoo! As said above, your blog is a nice hit daily of…a feeling of shelter.

  8. bonjour à tous !

    I agree with you Lloyd, about this feeling of shelter… although I've been experiencing everyday for 15 years the lack of comfort of a very old, damp and dark cottage !
    This tiny cottage belongs to an aristocratic Breton family (medieval nobility !) and when I saw it at the first time, by a dark icy winter night, it was an abandoned farm. That means : two rooms, a stable, a barn, a henhouse and a sheep pen, all that built in old mossy stones, surrounded by trees and hedges.

    The following day, I met the owner (the marquis himself, a charming grandfather and sheep breeder) and rend the cottage. It's not far from the seashore. The rent is derisory and the nature all around, full of birds, foxes, badgers, roe deers, weasels, dragonflyes, salamanders, snakes and toads. We enjoy their kindly company and spend hours watching them.

    We've been living here since that day, grousing against muddy garden, and rain leaks, and dusty low exposed beams, and lack of light, and cold winter nights, and wind blowing through the large chimney, and logs' drudgery (big old stove), and invasions of ants and mouses (no chemical shit products at home)… Many times, we decided to move, but we can't bring ourselves to do it. The house don't want us to leave. It's a love affair ! Now we have a workshop in the barn (handmade ceramics, Raku dragons and others strange creatures) and we've discovered that a potter was working here in the past…

    My daily pleasure is leaving my PC and going for a walk in the forest, day or night, sun or storm. Every season is enchanting. I love walking on this lonely little road by night, hearing the oaks' song, smelling country perfumes and looking at sparking stars while bats are dancing around… no street lamps, no cars, it'a a deep feeling of peace and security. I feel like Alice, gone through the mirror, in the dark, enchanted, sacred Forest of fairy tales…

    Thatched cottages are fairies'shelters, too.
    We live in Brittany (France), a little country at the prow of european continent, where first natives landed in the ancient times, sailing from Wales… both countries, Wales and Brittany, have the same Celtic origins and I guess you're a Celt too, Lloyd !
    In Brittany, and specially in marshes called Grande Brière (nature reserve), thousands of these cottages have been saved and restored. Some roofers perpetuate the very particular know-how of ''chaume'' (thatch). A friend of us is in this hard high-qualified trade. There are different ways of putting and hitching bundles of thatch on the framework : Norman way, Dutch way, Briéron way… each one, of course, is THE better way !

    these roofs are very robust, lasting and 100% ecological. Very beautiful too because flowers are growing on them. The top is a traditional blend of clay and particular plants like joubarbes, you can add cow dung if you find some !
    But now, unfortunately, good free-lance thatch-roofers have difficulties to find work because some employers hire Polish roofers (low-cost wages, faster work, etc). Social dumping is shit ! That's no fairy tale…

    Have a good day and sorry for my gossipy, bad english


  9. with pleasure
    the drawing of your post is a beautiful evocation with the four lovely hives and the annex which shelters the baking oven (in our region this oven is a tiny independant stone dome into which all the inhabitants of the hamlet baked their bread… or are baking again on feast days, but you've to put many bundles of sticks into it and keep the fire alive for 2 days!)
    warm fresh bread and honey, hhhmmmm !!

    thanks for your blog, I love wandering on your posts (and trying to read improving my english)


  10. belle Bretagne! Many wonderful days in Brittany and Normandy for me… I completely understand the feelings of a humble place, especially by the sea of NW France. Nothing quite like it here in the States that I have ever known.

  11. Whoa thats pretty spooky dude.
    Errr – I live at Mapledurham! Well 10 feet outside as it goes on the Organic side of the fence. Can't help but wonder which house your refering to? There are a few thatch cottages around here.
    Its weird this tangled web, and how threads cross thousands of miles apart.
    The interconnectedness of all things.

    Now I grew up in an ancient stone cottage a hundred miles from here. The old folk of the village told me it was one of the very oldest. Possibly the very first farm stead that the village grew up around. Its walls are about threefeet thick. It was never too hot nor too cold. It always felt homely?
    I grew up knowing that many folk had lived and almost certainly died there for centuries past. I got the feeling that there souls ? lifeforce ? impregnated the place. Like the it had soaked into the walls over the years and resinated a gentle glow.It was cosy. A feeling of well being,protection,safety.SHELTER. It was a house that held you in its embrace as if all those who had passed through were looking out for you.
    I don't get that same feeling with modern buildings. There is always something missing ? I have come across a glimmer of it in more modern buildings. Only very occasionaly. When they are built with attention. Beauty,craftmanship,detail ? Its difficult to pin down exactly what ? It must just be the human touch -lifeforce manifesting itself as avery subtle energy.
    Nuff waffling
    Great to hear you once walked my neck of the woods Lloyd.

  12. Richard,

    I love what you wrote about souls, lifeforce soaked into the walls. Exactly what I've thought. And not scientifically verifiable!

    The Geraghty brothers rented the miller's house (not the mill house), across from the post office in Mapledurham. (I was there in probably '71 and for a few years thereafter when I'd come to England.) They did a lot of work (repointing bricks, rebuilding, garden…). It was before the village was "discovered. I believe the Almshouses were vacant. I sat in the second story bedroom, looking out the window at a 300-yeasr old flint and brick house across the road and read the Wind in the Willows. Growing up in Calif., had never heard of it. You know the next estate (on the way to Pangbourne on the path, is the Wind & Willows locale, right? The squire was the model for Mr. Toad.

    Grest experience hanging out there, I got a bit of a feel for living in a medieval village.

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