My First Building Project (1961)

Designed by my surfing friend John Stonum, who was in his final year of architecture at UC Berkeley. (I was his first client.) It had what we called a “sod roof” in those days (now called a “living roof”). I got a big load of merch-grade redwood 2×4’s at the closing out of the nearby Olema Lumber Yard for — get this — $35 per 1,000 board feet, and nailed them together on edge for the roof deck. I let them run wild on the right-hand side, so had to cut off about 14 feet of them. I started out with a hand saw, then went and rented a Skilsaw to finish the job.

I was working as an insurance broker in San Francisco and would rush home from work every night and as well, work on weekends. As the years went by, I started on a very ambitious remodeling of the old summer house on the property (in Mill Valley, Calif.), and what with the cultural revolution brewing (I was listening to Beatles records while working), my dislike of wearing a suit and increasing boredom with the business world AND a growing love of building and working with my hands, I quit my job in 1965 and went to work as a carpenter.

The roof had two layers of tar and gravel, then 2″ of coarse gravel and 4″ of earth. It was planted with chamomile and in the spring, it was covered with white blossoms.

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:

6 Responses to My First Building Project (1961)

  1. Looks amazing for a first project. Very nice.

    to you happen to have a current photo to post side by each?

    would love to see what changes have been made.

  2. Could that sound any more like heaven? Although seeing your follow-up comment, I can’t help but think “paradise lost”. 🙁

  3. The original 1940 Sears building in Honolulu was a huge flat building, it got a second story in 1947. It was built before air conditioning was common. The roof was a pool of water, maybe 4-6 inches deep. The water pool insulated the building, also, as the water evaporated in the sun, it cooled the building. I know about the roof because I was a participant in a children’s theatre group that put on Christmas plays on the second story awning overlooking the parking lot. Sears moved out in 1959, and the building became HQ for Honolulu Police Dept, and they “drained
    Subsequently it was torn down and is now the site of a bunch of high rises.

  4. edit
    Sears moved out in 1959, and the building became HQ for Honolulu Police Dept, and they “drained” the roof and installed a/c.

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