Shelter Masthead

Home Work:
Handbuilt Shelter


About the Author

Table of Contents


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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


Utne Reader
Sep-Oct 2004

Ever dream about building your own nest? This fascinating book will spur your imagination with its pictures and plans of houses made from bottles, telephone poles, driftwood, and mud. International in scope, it's also a group portrait of people who like to live lightly on the land, whether it's in a yurt, a treehouse, or a converted bread van.

–Chris Dodge

Back Home Magazine
Sep-Oct 2004

In the curious world of owner-built housing, few books have elicited as much comment as those of Lloyd Kahn, the holistic builder-turned-publisher who’s given us such treasures as Shelter, The Septic System Owner’s Manual, and the Domebook series of the 1970s. His newest book, Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter, continues in the original Shelter vein, highlighting the most imaginative and often arcane examples of owner-built and homemade architecture that the author could gather in the 30 years of travel, interviews, and documentation he spent putting the book together.

Home Work is not strictly a how-to book; that would probably spoil it. Rather, it is a palette of ideas and concepts born from creativity rather than social requirement. The 256-page large-format paperbound book is organized by category, running the gamut from builders’ and photographers’ profiles to overviews on homes, barns, old structures, and native designs such as tipis and yurts. It explores natural and indigenous materials, fantasy designs (tree and bottle houses, stone homes, and more), homes on wheels, and dwellings encountered on travels around the world.

Kahn’s new work is an incredibly colorful and inspiring collection that includes more than 1,000 photos, several hundred illustrations, a further-reference book list, and a nice background appendix. It’s also the kind of book that you’ll wish you had bought when you discover later that it may not be so easy to find

San Francisco Chronicle
July 28, 2004

A few days ago I got a serendipitous lesson in the extremes of American housing.

Just for fun, I had been leafing through the plans for a new mansion -- there's no other word to describe it -- being built in one of San Francisco's toniest suburbs. The work of a very fine neotraditional architect, the design included every lavish detail and contrivance known to man. Moreover, it managed to do so within the confines of an impeccably traditional idiom. I counted 153 sheets of drawings in the building plans, each of them brimming with extravagance worthy of the Vanderbilts.

By coincidence, on the same day I received a promotional copy of Lloyd Kahn's new book, Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter, a compendium of unique owner- built homes, most of them in the western United States. Kahn is the Bolinas publisher whose 1973 book Shelter -- about handmade dwellings built "efficiently, ecologically, and artistically," in the author's words -- has sold more than 250,000 copies.

In the three decades since, Kahn has stuck to his convictions about socially responsible building. Home Work presents a new generation of handmade dwellings, variously built of mud, straw, brick, boulders, branches and other natural materials. In form, they run the gamut from more-or-less normal houses, through domes, yurts and treehouses, all the way to rolling cabins built on pickup trucks.

Though an unusual number of the builders pictured are in their late 50s and sport beards and long, gray hair -- the male ones, at least -- Kahn's book isn't just a paean to aging hippies. On the contrary, in this era of suburban sprawl and SUVs, its message is timelier than ever.

Home Work's offbeat pages celebrate the energizing power of a social conscience, not to speak of the amazing fertility of the human imagination. One can't help but admire the creativity of these builders, some of whom cling proudly to the furthest fringes of society. As for the dwellings themselves, despite their primitive materials -- or perhaps because of them -- most appear eminently livable, and more than a few are downright enchanting. Strangely, the seemingly opposed ideals seen in these two examples -- culture versus counterculture, regal versus rudimentary -- spring from the very same traits in our national character.

American individualism on the one hand inspires people to build an ingenious array of environmentally conscious homes, while on the other it moves millionaires to build 10-car garages. At one extreme, it drives people to reject the cult of consumption, while at the other it helps sell Hummers and hot tubs.

I finished Kahn's book suppressing a smile at its kaleidoscopic portrait of human ingenuity. By contrast, after I had taken in the last of those 153 sheets of drawings describing a single dwelling -- replete with its eight bathrooms, two kitchens, eight furnaces, acres of hardwood and custom-made everything, ranging from fountains to foundation vents -- I was left feeling as if I'd just eaten a 2-pound box of Godiva.

I love an over-the-top mansion as much as the next guy -- probably more -- but it's plain enough that the world of the Vanderbilts is passing. What kind of world will replace it is still up to us.

–Arrol Gellnor