May 07, 2013

40 Years Since Shelter
"It was 40 years ago today,
Sgt Pepper taught..." oops! -- wrong decade, wrong band.

40 years ago, in the summer of 1973, my friend Bob Easton, along with his wife Jeanine and baby daughter, moved to Bolinas, and we spent three months putting together the book Shelter. I did the writing on an Adler portable typewriter in the tower loft (up a ladder) and Bob did the layout in the attached shake-covered geodesic dome. Our typist was Joe Bacon, from New Orleans, "fastest typist in the west."

Lloyd Kahn, left front

Type was set on an IBM Composer, an $8,000 electronic typewriter, the same machine used in the '60s-'70s for newspapers (and for the early Whole Earth Catalogs). I used scissors and scotch tape to do real "cut and paste." Some of the stories ended up being 4 to 5 feet long, taped together, which then went to Joe for typesetting. Bob did hand-drawn layouts for each page on tracing paper, which were then used by our pasteup crew. (This was just before the Macintosh came along and revolutionized bookmaking pre-production.) Bob also hand-lettered all the headlines and subheads on the pages.

Two pages from SHELTER

The impetus for Shelter was our book Domebook 2, which turned out to be an underground hit. Unfortunately I'd discovered that domes (as homes) just didn't work. I had an audience of about quarter of a million people who thought domes were the cool way to build, and I needed to tell then about all the other ways of building a home.

I took off with cameras (Nikon with Tri-X, Nikkormat with Kodachrome) in '71-'72 (America, Canada, and Europe) to photograph the diversity and wisdom of tested, traditional, or artistic methods of building. We printed up a poster at Rip-Off Press in San Francisco soliciting material.

We put Shelter together two pages at a time, and it took 3 months. Bob and I both were Life Magazine fans, with its emphasis on photos. Bob and I also argued a lot, and this sharpened our work. Bob designed it so that each two-page spread would stand alone and tell a story. Material kept coming in while we were in production (as is happening right now, 40 years later as we put together Tiny Homes on the Move).

Our initial print run was 50,000 copies. What did we know? You'd never do that nowadays with an unknown author and non-categorizable subject matter. The book ran on a Harris-Cottrel M-700 heatset web offset press at the Recorder Sunset Printing Company in San Francisco. I hung out at the press, sometimes all night (I took naps on pallets) as they printed new signatures. The press guys were great (as they always are); they worked with me at getting colors right (by adjusting set screws on the rollers by hand). They would occasionally cook turkeys in the press oven.

It cost us about $1 per book, and we sold it for $6.00. We delivered the books to Random House and it sold like mad. We did another run of 50,000, and a 3rd of 60,000. To date it's sold well over 250,000 copies and been translated into French, Spanish, German, and more recently Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. In the US it's still selling 2-3,000 copies a year, and seems to be increasing as people connect it with our other building books.

Old copy of SHELTER
Above: Max Godino's early copy of Shelter

Suite of Building Books After a 20-year period doing fitness books, I got back into building books in 2004 with production of Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter. It turned out that many of the homes in it had been inspired by Shelter. Next came Builders of the Pacific Coast in 2008, then Tiny Homes in 2012 (has sold 40,000 copies in its first year, and rescued our publishing operation). It turned out there was a continuity of inspiration and action in these books, and to this day people are telling us that one or the other of these books inspired them to build something.

Mini Books We now printed 20,000 copies of these 2" x 2" Tiny Homes promo books. They are a huge hit. Kids love them. We've been sending out 10, 20, or 30 to people all over the country who are dispensing them. If you'd like some, send your name, address.

Two kids with mini-books

Tiny Homes on the Move: Wheels & Water We're about 3/5 of the way done with this, our next building book, and it's looking better by the day.

The Half-Acre Homestead I'm preparing a slide show of this title, to do presentations at the Maker Faire in San Mateo on May 18-19, and at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington on Sunday, June 1. It will cover tools and techniques I've learned in the past 50 years used in building, gardening, foraging, food preparation, etc.

Ooh-wah, ooh-wah, cool cool kitty I'm already excited, going to NYC May 26 for the big book convention. The city just takes my breath away. Always.

Recent posts on my blog:

Tiny Home Built from One Windfall Tree
Tiny Home Built from One Windfall Tree

To the Beach with the Boys
Beach shelter

600-Year-Old Timber Frame Building in France
600-Year-Old Timber Frame Building in France

Today's Marijuana is Too Strong

Music du jour: J.B Hutto and the Hawks, Hawk Squat -- " of the all-time great Chicago blues albums·"

Signing off from Shelter's international recycled lumber headquarters,
Shelter's international recycled lumber headquarters

I live the life I love and I love the life I live (Muddy Waters),

PS "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." (Not by Mark Twain, but Pascal.)