I started building almost 50 years ago, and have lived in a self-built home ever since. If I’d been able to buy a wonderful old good-feeling house, I might have never started building. But it was always cheaper to build than to buy, and by building myself, I could design what I wanted and use materials I wanted to live with.
I set off to learn the art of building in 1960. I liked the whole process immensely. Hammering nails, framing—delineating space. The smell in lumber yards. Nailing down the sub-floor, the roof decking. It’s a thrill when you first step on the floor you’ve just created.
Ideally I’d have worked with a master carpenter long enough to learn the basics, but there was never time. I learned from friends and books and by blundering my way into a process that required a certain amount of competence. My perspective was that of a novice, a homeowner — rather than a pro. As I learned, I felt that I could tell others how to build, or at least get them started on the path to creating their own homes.
Through the years I’ve personally gone from post and beam to geodesic domes to stud frame construction. It’s been a constant learning process, and this has led me into investigating many methods of construction — I’m interested in them all. For five years, the late ’60s to early ’70s, I built geodesic domes. I got into being a publisher by producing Domebook One in 1970 and Domebook 2 in 1971.
I then gave up on domes (as homes) and published our namesake Shelter in 1973. We’ve published books on a variety of subjects over the years, and returned to our roots with Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter in 2004, The Barefoot Architect in 2008, Builders of the Pacific Coast in 2008, Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter in 2012 and now Tiny Homes On the Move: Wheels & Water.
I often ask architects if they know the definition of architecture: the art and science of building.
Building is my favorite subject. Even in this day and age, building a house with your own hands can save you a ton of money (I’ve never had a mortgage) and — if you follow it through — you can get what you want in a home.
Pic is when I was building a big timber house at Rancho Rico in Big Sur in 1966.