natural materials (281)

House Built of Bridge Timbers in Big Sur

In 1968, I moved from Mill Valley to Big Sur and worked as foreman on a job building this house out of bridge timbers. The architect was George Brook-Kothlow. George had purchased all the bridge timbers from the town of Duncan’s Mills on the Russian River; they tore down the redwood bridge to build one of concrete, and George had hand-hewn 12 × 12 posts, 16-foot-long 6-by-16s and 16-foot-long 8-by-22s.

Carpenters Paul and Seth Wingate went down with me and we lived on the site, Rancho Rico, a 400-acre ranch with two private beaches. We remodeled some chicken coops for living quarters.

I spent about a year on the project. It was a struggle. We had to splice together two 8-by-22s for the 32-foot-long rafters, and lift them into place with a boom on the back of the ranch backhoe. There were 11 concrete pours for the foundation, each one coming 40 miles down the winding coast from Monterey. I quit after we got the building framed.

About 10 years ago, I went down for a visit. The family had moved into the chicken coops and they were renting the house for $13,000 a month.

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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.

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First Nations Builders

The natives of the northwest coast of North America are referred to as First Nations people. In Builders of the Pacific Coast, we have a 12-page section, with 30 vintage photographs of their buildings and totem poles, as well as drawings showing how they raised the huge poles and beams of their remarkable longhouses. (A Salish building discovered by Capt. George Vancouver in 1792 was over 1000 feet long.)

Haida man standing in front of a six-beam Haida house at Haina, Haida Gwaii (formerly called Queen Charlotte Islands), 1888. Note the immaculate carpentry.

Kwakiutl (Kwagiulth) House frame of relatively recent times (note milled wallboards)

From the wonderful book, Cedar: Tree of Life to the Northwest Coast Indians, Copyright 1984 By Hilary Stewart, Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto

Rear totem of the Raven House at Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, Shows (from top) Raven flanked by two frogs, a human figure and the Thunderbird.

Interior post from the caps on big house of Yestaquana at Skidegate, Haida Gwaii. The post, originally painted black, red, white, and blue, stood at the rear of the house, aligned with the front door.

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Stefan’s Home, Built by Lloyd House

This is my favorite house in the world. When I first saw it, I sat down. I was stunned. Every feature about it was beautiful, inside and out. It was built by master carpenter Lloyd House, and is shown in detail on pages 36-41 of Builders of the Pacific Coast. Unfortunately, it burned down.

I just started looking through the photos from this book (which in many ways is the best building book I’ve done) and decided to post some of them large-size here.

I’m also going back into blogging — bigger and more often.

Photos on a smart phone (Instagram) are pretty skimpy.

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Interior of Little 10′ by 10′ Cabin

For tiny homes, I like the curved roof (as in vardos or Gypsy cabins). It gives you a feeling of spaciousness, as opposed to, say, the typical steep gable roof used in tiny homes. Another factor, which I learned from master builder Lloyd House, was to have windows at eye level; this focuses your attention on the outside, and the room feels much larger than it actually is.

The paneling is from a recycled hot tub. I had the staves band-sawed. Insulation is with recycled denim. Most of the work on this was done by Billy Cummings.

More details on this building are in The Half-Acre Homestead.

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The Sculptured House

Hi Lloyd,

We like to inform you about a documentary from Sweden that follows the construction of our little natural house. We decided to put it for free on YouTube for everyone to share, in the hope it will inspire people to build their own natural house. Your books have always been a great inspiration and we often leave them lying around when we have guests to see who gets it 🙂 Thank you for sharing your work and vision.

Regards,
Dennis Rodie & Ayet Alers

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Teo Briseño’s Latest Sculptured Bathroom

Teo Briseño did the beautiful bathroom in SunRay Kelley’s temple dome at Harbin Hot Springs, near Middletown, California (which unfortunately burned down a few years ago). It’s shown in Builders of the Pacific Coast.

Here’s his most recent creation, a dome bathroom inside a conventional home in Southern California.


Hello Lloyd…

Here is most recent work of mine towards living in natural sculptured environments.

This dome is made with natural stone and wood; some is locally harvested and wood was cured for 2½ years.

Thin-shell dome construction of one-inch-thick cement over basalt rebar and mesh without metal, so will not rust, corrode or block natural bio-magnetics between the Earth and ourselves.

Planters are sculpted in wall: they include drip irrigation and recycling water drain to flush toilet.

Carbon-sequestering plasters: made of natural lime plaster, an “Old World” technology — warm, inviting, breathable, and is resistant to bacteria.

The shower is of the finest natural lime plaster, giving a smooth, burnished, monolithic finish called Tadelakt, and sheds water as ancient Moroccan bath houses do.

Offering natural bathrooms for healthy self-care environments…

Bringing the outdoors in … naturally, with ancient building ways.

Brisenoarts.org

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