My Home in Big Sur, Built in the ’60s

I built this house in 1967–68 at Burns Creek in Big Sur, California (about two miles north of Esalen). The 14 posts were 12-foot-long 6″ by 12″ double-track railroad ties on 8′ centers. The girders, as well as the rafters were 30-foot-long, 2-by-14’s that had been salvaged by Cleveland Wreckers from an old horse stable in San Francisco. Sheathing was lumber from a farm labor camp I tore down in Salinas, and the shakes were split from deadfall trees I found in Palo Colorado Canyon. I used studs in between the posts. For shear panels (diagonal bracing) on one 8-foot-wide section each of the 4 walls, I used ⅝″ plywood nailed 2″ on centers around the edges and 6″ o.c. on the interior studs. I used annular grooved nails, which are way stronger than smooth nails.

Foundation was a grade beam with concrete delivered (40 miles down the coast) from Pacific Grove, on top of which I mixed and poured 14 round piers shaped by cardboard Sonotubes. Steel brackets embedded in the piers held the posts.

It took me about a year. I did all the carpentry, plumbing, and wiring. It’s a very simple house, a big shed really, and the carpentry is less than exquisite, but it got a roof over our heads. Oh yes, total materials costs were $8,000.

I developed a water supply by building a little dam in a spring 600′ above the house, and running plastic pipe down the hillside. I started some small-scale farming and we had a big garden and I would pick up fish guts in a 50-gallon drum on the Monterey wharf (in our 1960 VW van) on our weekly shopping trips into town.

There were a few things about it that didn’t exactly fit the building codes, so once when the building inspector came, I put on a Jimi Hendrix record loud when I saw him pull up, and he was so rattled that he didn’t notice the non-compliances.

The owners love the house, and I visit once in a while, and camp out next to a studio above the house.

When I decided to leave Big Sur (and embarked on a 5-year period of building geodesic domes), I sold the house to the owners of the land for $11,000.

Item of interest: Barbara Spring, an artist who bought the house from the land owners in the early ’70s, was a friend of the architect Phillip Johnson (post-modern architect known for his Glass House, co-designer (with Mies van der Rohe) of the Seagram Building in NYC, etc.). Johnson was looking for a house to buy in Big Sur and when he came to visit Barbara on a rainy day (with the Ashley Automatic wood stove warming the house), he told her this was the kind of place he would love to find.

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:

7 Responses to My Home in Big Sur, Built in the ’60s

  1. Beautiful. Glad to know it’s still there. When you say the foundation is grade beam, I assume it’s not a whole pad and that it follows the outline of the walls and that the Sonotube piers are all sitting on top of it? Is there then a crawl space under it?
    And fish guts for the garden!

  2. We had an ashley wood stove up on the oregon coast, loved it. You could open the top and drop in a huge chunk of wood that would burn all night.

  3. Love thee house!!! Just to put things in perspective. In 1974 my first house was built with conventional materials.1000sq ft cape with unfinished upstairs. Materials cost me 10K and the lumber yd delivered everything. Wish this body had another house in it. My head does but everything below that says NO!

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