My First Building Project

In 1961, a surfing friend, John Stonum, was studying to be an architect at UC Berkeley, and designed this small building for me to build in Mill Valley, California. I wanted to build a sod roof (now called “living roof”), and we had journeyed up to the Heritage House on the Mendocino Coast to see their two sod-roofed cabins.

This was a post-and-beam structure, with posts 6 feet on centers, and oversized precast concrete piers for the foundation. A lumberyard in nearby Olema, California was going out of business and I bought a truckload of “merch” grade rough redwood two-by-fours for $35 a 1000. Not $350, but $35.

As you can see, there were two 2 × 10 Douglas fir rafters bolted to each post (which had notches). The roof decking consisted of the two by fours on edge, nailed together. I knew very little about building, but with this building started out a process that I follow to this day: when you don’t know how to start, simply begin. As you go along, you’ll figure things out.…

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6 Responses to My First Building Project

  1. "when you don’t know how to start, simply begin. As you go along, you’ll figure things out.…"
    Great advice.

  2. QUAIL333 says:

    Lloyd, what are you thinking, that house is Mid-Century Modern, the sort of thing Dwell readers worship, only the real shite. Maybe one day out of spite they will do a feature on you. Just saying…

  3. Lloyd Kahn says:

    Nope, Dwell wouldn't like it, it's too rough, too owner-builderish. Moreover, once they saw the inside, with colorful rugs, paintings and posters on the walls, and in general, messy lived-in-ness, they'd go running. And believe me, they wouldn't do a feature on me no way no how.

  4. QUAIL333 says:

    If Dwell wouldn't like it, that is their loss. I am into your approach but I am sympathetic to people who love the modernism aesthetic and maybe cannot do it for themselves. I wish you would come down for Modernism Week in Palm Springs, early February. Especially I would like you to see Albert Frey House 2.

  5. Lloyd Kahn says:

    Quail, I'm not against modernism per se, in fact I really like the Frey house in Palm Springs. Also Philip Johnson's glass house. But there's just something about Dwell that rubs me the wrong way. Interesting connection with Johnson, as described by Richard Olson in his book Handmade Houses; a house I built in Big Sur in the 60s was one of those featured in the book:
    "There’s no denying the emotional draw of the sustainable structures featured. Take Big Sur’s Kahn House, built around 1967. Sculptor and then owner Barbara Spring welcomed Philip Johnson to the almost primitive, shed-roof domicile built by Lloyd Kahn, a former insurance salesman turned carpenter. The Glass House’s visionary architect was so taken by it, he reportedly wanted to buy it. As Olsen writes, Johnson simply said, 'It has a feeling.'"

  6. QUAIL333 says:

    Thank you, I know I can't take it either but the magazine business is double tough so they might not have the leisure to venture far from selling. What I found in Palm Springs was a very artful Modernism-a subtle juxtaposition of planes and glass against a rugged backdrop.

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