natural materials (281)

Old Barns For Sale in Vermont

Last month, we received this letter:

Hi Lloyd

I wanted to follow up on the email I wrote earlier this week about Luke Larson, a talented historic timber framer.

Luke is currently restoring a corn crib (and several other barns built in the 1700s.) I am sure that your readers would be fascinated by Luke’s outstanding craftsmanship. He would be able to share incredible insight about his techniques, the buildings he saves and the beautiful new timber frame structures he builds.

Let me know if you would be interested in an article.

Thanks!
Rachel (Kaplan)

Here is the article:

Green Mountain Timber Frames, a small company based in Middletown Springs, Vermont, specializes in transforming vintage, hand hewn timber frames into custom homes, studios, additions, and barns. Luke Larson now owns the company and operates it with a dedicated staff of craftspeople and history buffs. Luke is passionate about preserving the history that resides in old timber frame structures, and digs into the generations of folks who have built, cared for, and used these buildings. The structures undergo a complete restoration and are put back up on new foundations, ready to stand tall and true with integrity for many generations to come. Luke and his team are dedicated to preserving the craftsmanship from the past, as well as being students and teachers of the crafts of yesteryear. Take a look to see his current barns for sale.

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Straw Bale and Clay in Slovakia

This year marks 10 years since our first teaching trip to Slovakia when we made good friends here, Bjørn Kierulf and his wife Zuzana Kierulfova, who are a major force here in the world of straw and clay building. We’re here doing two workshops: a short 2-day straw bale workshop and currently in the middle of a 3-day plastering class.

Interestingly enough, this is the first time we have taught workshops consisting of mostly full-time builders.

In the photo, Boris Hochel and Zuzana Kierulfova, two of our oldest acquaintances here in Slovakia, Zuzana Kierulfova and Peter Coch Shaman, who is also very active in the world of natural building.

–Bill and Athena Steen

www.caneloproject.com

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Two-story Mud House in Togo, Africa

Photo by Yoshio Komatsu from his children’s book Wonderful Houses Around the World. This is next to a large baobab tree in the Tamberma region of Togo. The outside of the house is painted red with paint from the nut of the Karite tree. Bedrooms are on the second story, animals on first story. Note goose and goslings heading for their ramp on right side. Bones hanging on walls are to scare away evil spirits. Nine family members live here.

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Stone Barn

I’m going through my photo archives these days. I realize I have a wealth of building photos accumulated over a 50+ year period. I can’t recall where I shot this; it was somewhere on the several trips I took through Ireland and England in the ’70s. I was on a journey to study real building, after giving up on geodesic domes. Going from mathematically derived buildings, often built with highly processed materials, to studying construction methods based on local materials, site-specific experience, and fine craftsmanship was a revelation.

This stone barn, for example, is almost unreal in its simplicity and master masonry — both in the walls and stone (slate?) roof.

Note: See the wonderful thread of comments below.

BTW, I’m in a new mode these days of trying to put up blog and Instagram posts at least 5 days a week. I’ve sure got a lot of “content.”

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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.

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Cordwood Cabin on British Columbia Island

Cordwood cabin built by Gary and Marlene Cooper on a small island in British Columbia. All the cordwood came off the beach. It’s a double-wall technique; there is an inner and an outer wall, each 4″ thick, with the cavity in between insulated with cedar sawdust created when cutting the blocks. More photos in Builders of the Pacific Coast.

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Homesteading in Remote Parts of Alaska and Massachusetts

Hi Lloyd,

I’ve been digging through your books hard lately. We bought a house with 3 acres about an hour north of Boston and I’ve been homesteading it up. Building terraces for the garden, stonework, improvements for the sawmill barn, and extensive landscaping. I’ve yet to dig into the inside house work.

Anyway, I first heard about your work while up on an 80-acre parcel with a homestead in the deep interior of Alaska. My buddies dad quit architecture school just before graduation and got a big chunk of land under the homestead act in the late ’70s. Out of Anchorage, I took two small planes to get picked up by a boat for another 1.5-hour boat ride upriver.

Anyway, my buddy who summers there, said you gotta look at this book.  It was: Shelter. I was intoxicated. That was 15 years ago. You know in life we seem to find things at the right time in life?  Now sorting through your recent publications (early 2000s on) it’s the perfect tonic as i dig into new crazy projects. I’ve got a sauna and a treehouse on my mind right now.  I run a fancy-pants tree pruning company and run a backyard sawmill operation while also a full-time high school arboriculture teacher. Well anyway, thanks for all your work on these magnificent publications.  The Builders of the Pacific Coast book was possibly my favorite for my needs right now. I liked seeing you really dig into some talented individuals.

What is next for you? One book that I think would be interesting is some exploration of East Coast modern homesteaders. I’ve got a bunch of friends in the Maine/NH area that are doing some pretty special things. A book I started, but shelved was interviewing Massachusetts Sawmills and photographing sawmills today and discuss the changing paradigm that sawmills are faced in a world lumber market. It’s a weird world.

Anyway, I’m just rambling, but just wanted to say thanks.

I document some of my homestead efforts on instagram @sherwood_homestead.

Chris Wood
Ravenswood Tree and Landscape LLC
Newton, NH 03858

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Lloyd and Louie Visit 02 Artisans Aggregate in Oakland

Tucker Gorman is an artist/woodworker that I recently met through Foster Huntington. Tucker is one of a group of builders, artists, welders, sculptors, and gardeners that operate out of a number of large buildings in the industrial part of Oakland, Calif. I’d been there last week and took my friend Louie with me to see it all this week. (BTW, Louie is 92 years old and still rides a 500-foot zip line across the Garcia River in Mendocino county to get to his house.)

It’s an amazing setup, with a group of ultra-competent people engaged in all kinds of activities. There are a number of dimensional sawmills — the largest can handle a 5-foot log — and the yards are piled high with stacks of sliced‑into‑slabs logs and stickered lumber of all sorts. In one building, there’s Joinery Structures, a custom sawmill with mills, planers, joiners, sanders, and other milling tools I’ve never seen before.

There’s a greenhouse in which seaweed is dried. There are chickens, guys working on making chicken feed out of food byproducts, a nursery, tanks containing sturgeons, and Soba Ichi: a very cool-looking, fresh noodle restaurant. More photos of it here.

Central to all this is Paul Discoe, a Zen Buddhist priest who studied under Suzuki Roshi at the San Francisco Zen Center and then spent five years studying with a master carpenter in Japan. He’s published a beautiful book, Zen Architecture: The Building Process as Practice.

I don’t have a lot of time (one could spend days writing this place up), but here are a few photos:

Brilliant use of shipping containers

This mill will handle a 5-foot log. With these mills, the blade housing moves on tracks; the log is stationary.

Paul Discoe’s collection of Japanese carpentry tools

More pics to follow when I get time.

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