Shelter Masthead

Home Work:
Handbuilt Shelter


Table of Contents

About the Author


Feedbback from Our Readers


Sample Chapters:
Look Inside Our Book
Louie Frazier
The Inspiration for Home Work
The Yurts of Bill Coperthwaite
Natural Buildings
Photography by
Catherine Wanek

Bill & Athena Steen
Cob Houses of Mud & Straw

Michael Kahn
Sculptural Village in the Arizona Desert

Mongolian Cloud Houses
How to make a Yurt & Live Comfortably

Home Work: Introduction
by Lloyd Kahn

In the summer of 1973, Bob Easton and I produced the book Shelter. It was an oversized compendium of buildings and builders around the world and throughout history, containing over 1000 photographs and 250 drawings. It was about doing things for yourself, and doing so efficiently, ecologically, and artistically. It featured people who had created handbuilt homes, and included buildings not seen anywhere else. The book had a feeling of home, hearth, and ingenuity that seemed to capture the spirit of the times. It was picked up by the countercultural underground, became a hit, and is still in print, some 250,000 copies later.

It’s been thirty years since Shelter, and although our publishing company has gone on to other projects and subjects since, I’ve stayed interested in building — shooting photos and interviewing builders wherever I’ve travelled, and collecting books and data on building. Home Work is the result, a summary of what I’ve found over three decades, and is a sequel to Shelter. It’s also a sequel in another sense. By a neat twist of karma, it includes a number of people who were inspired by Shelter to build homes, and whose lives were changed accordingly. Over the years, a surprising number of people have told us that it inspired them to build something; it gave them the courage to get started.

It may be obvious that a thread of the ’60s runs through Home Work. Many of these people were motivated by what happened in the ’60s. (I certainly was!) In the spirit of the times, they went out and built homes, and they were successful — here was a part of the ’60s that worked. I started building in the ’60s because I needed a place to live and could never find a charming old house to buy. I guess it was my fate; if I wanted a good-feeling home I’d have to create it myself. Over the years, I built four homes, always learning on the job, I found the process of building, and the way things were put together, fascinating, and I’ve tried to keep this layman’s perspective in gathering information for other owner-builders.

Concurrently with learning to build, I started shooting photos of buildings. I took along cameras and a notebook wherever I travelled, and documented small buildings. Invariably the places that appealed to me most turned out to be owner-built. What was I looking for, what caught my eye? Handmade buildings that did one or more of the following:

  • showed good craftsmanship
  • were practical, simple, economical, useful
  • used resources efficiently
  • were tuned into the landscape
  • were aesthetically pleasing, radiated good vibes
  • showed integrity in design and execution
  • (and/or) were wildly creative

Home Work is not comprehensive in geography — it’s heavy on the West Coast, where we live. Nor does it cover all builders, building techniques, or materials. It’s country, not city. We haven’t tried to cover everything and everyone. It’s rather what I’ve run across over the years, a diverse bunch of buildings, all assembled with human hands.

It’s funny — we live in a world powerfully transformed by a number of factors, primarily the digital revolution, yet houses must still be created by hand — your computer’s not going to do it for you. We hope Home Work will motivate you, will give you the confidence that you can build something if you work at it. A tip: If you’re not sure what to do, start!

“You never know what’s shakin’ until you give it a shake.”

–Johnny Adams,
blues singer

What if you can’t build a home? Even if that’s not in the cards, you can use the ideas (and spirit) here to remodel (or decorate) an apartment, to build a studio, barn, treehouse, workshop, window box, sauna, furniture — to create something with your own hands, with your own body.

There was no master plan in assembling this book. We had a ton of accumulated material — photos, interviews, writing — but no idea what the final result would be. So we just started. We put it together a page at a time, a day at a time. As we went along, the book took on a life of its own. A bunch of this material came in while we were in production, and the book continually changed form. After about a year, Home Work seemed to have shaped itself — an organic process of sorts.

Now that it’s gone off to the printers, and as I’m writing this, I realize that, along with whatever else Home Work is, there is within it a family of builders, a bunch of people around the world with common interests. They’re alike in many ways, and they’re tuned into many of the same things. Getting them all together in this book allows me to share my discoveries, to show you their work (and to take care of what’s become a compulsion to communicate). Hey, Look at what these guys have done!

So, dear reader, come join us on another Shelter journey, an odyssey (in retrospect) of the last thirty years, in this scrapbook of builders, dreamers, and doers — a celebration of the human spirit.

Shelter is more than a roof overhead.