Review of Rolling Homes in Point Reyes Light

by Sam Mondros – October 10, 2022

Original article at

Gregory Watson's traveling carpentry rig carries his tools and blueprints, acting as both shelter and office.

Gregory Watson’s traveling carpentry rig carries his tools and blueprints, acting as both shelter and office.

One rainy day last fall, two men traveling on electric unicycles from New York’s Hudson Valley found themselves on the streets of Bolinas being photographed by Lloyd Kahn, author of over a dozen books on tiny homes. The unicycles were outfitted with dirt bike tires, tiger-print protective pads and various bags holding the belongings of their riders, Dylan Weidman and Tristan Schipa.

The unicycles became the most minimalist examples of 75 wheeled homes featured in Mr. Kahn’s new book, Rolling Homes: Shelter on Wheels. Mr. Kahn’s latest release is a follow-up to Tiny Homes on the Move, his first book on mobile homes. Some of its subjects are solar-powered, some double as saunas, some have gardens or pizza ovens and bars. One hauls 12 baby bison and others barely work well enough to get a person and their surfboard to the beach, but all are homes of one sort and the book explores them through photographs and stories about their many adventures.

“I think it’s my best book in a long time,” Mr. Kahn said. “It’s timely and speaks to people who are a part of a movement that isn’t specific to any age group.”

Mr. Kahn has spent over five decades publishing a wide spectrum of books on do-it-yourself design and carpentry that have influenced builders across the world. He took to building at age 12, helping with projects at his family’s weekend home in the Central Valley. After graduating from Stanford in 1957, he joined the Air Force and spent two years as the editor for a military newspaper. When he returned to California, he built his first home, in Mill Valley, developing his practical philosophy of building while working as an insurance broker. He soon exchanged his suit and tie for a hammer and measuring tape.

In Big Sur in the ’60s, Mr. Kahn explored a variety of housing design concepts and quickly became an authority on geodesic domes. Ultimately, he would rescind his two books on domes out of a belief that the structures, once representative of a brand of Northern California counterculture, were intrinsically flawed. “I have many reasons for why they don’t work,” Mr. Kahn said. “The whole building is exposed to weather, it’s hard to subdivide inside and they leak. I learned there’s beauty in rectangles, as far as housing goes,” he said.

In 1973, Mr. Kahn released his most popular book to date, Shelter, co-authored by architect Bob Easton. The colossal photo book celebrates varying forms of shelter built by humankind and showcases Mr. Kahn’s D.I.Y. ethic, offering blueprints and instructions “Shelter” sold over 300,000 copies and was re-released in 2013.

The idea for his latest book took shape before the pandemic as Mr. Kahn noticed more cars, trucks and, most of all, Sprinter vans doubling as homes in what he calls a “nomadic revolution.”

For some, homes on wheels are a luxury; for others, they are a necessity. Mr. Kahn says the 2020 movie “Nomadland,” starring Bolinas resident Frances McDormand, helped popularize the movement. The film follows an itinerant group of Americans as they seek work in their mobile homes. Although it reflects the poverty and displacement that define the lives of many people who live in their vehicles, the appeal of a transient lifestyle permeated wealthy pockets of the country.

Bolinas carpenter Greg Watson says living in his van has allowed him to appreciate a simpler life. Restricted to the bare necessities, Mr. Watson finds solace from a good view and a short, walkable commute. He’s become a learned source for Sprinter van living, having built a van for himself and his partner, Valerie Velardi.

“My friends call me a creative-solutions engineer, which is both true and makes me sound like a member of the mob,” Mr. Watson said laughing. “Van-living affords me the ability to wake up by the bay, ocean or walking distance to my job.”

Last year, Mr. Kahn put the word out about his concept for a rolling homes book, asking his network of tiny home aficionados for leads on the most interesting mobile homes. He received over 100 replies complete with photos, blueprints, oddities and tales related to a plethora of unique homes. Some are expensive rigs, like the EarthRoamer LTi, a modded Ford F-550 costing nearly $1 million, but most are modest, like the ubiquitous homemade camper shell.

Like the traveling unicyclists, some of the subjects in the book were photographed in Bolinas. Fairfax resident Ben Bloom was returning to his redwood-topped Tacoma after a morning of surfing to find Mr. Kahn studying his truck on Wharf Road. Mr. Bloom’s “Redwood Road Boat” features a truck topper built from California redwood, inspired by Mr. Kahn’s earlier books.

Mr. Kahn is encouraging others with rolling homes to send him material for a tentative second volume. He is also developing three other books — on growing up in the Haight-Ashbury District, on traveling through Baja, California, and on barns.

“There’s a lot to learn about building framing from farm buildings,” he said. “Most frequently in barns, practicality and experience create form with function. Architecture without architects.”

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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:

One Response to Review of Rolling Homes in Point Reyes Light

  1. Hey Lloyd! Found your site after reading the article in the Light. I’ve got a rolling home story for ya if you’re interested!
    Econoline originally built by a Tasmanian photographer living in Canada. It served as his home for a year while traveling the Americas making photos along the way. He raffled it off on Instagram where it was won by yours truly (?!!?!). Became my surf / baja mobile. Then it was passed on to a friend who made it home, jumpstarting his own photography career. He’s now a Nat Geo photographer! It’s a wild story, that all hinges on an unlikely old econoline built out mostly with salvaged palette wood.

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