March 20, 2010

Free-Spirited Builders of the Pacific Coast

“If I have a right to life I have a right to living space… I wasn’t born with dollars in my pocket. I shouldn’t have to chase the big buck all my life just for a place to live.” Barbara Oke.

Lloyd Kahn, hand-built home and simple living guru, has published several books to inspire the frugal free spirit that lies within us all. All of his books not only explain and illustrate how to build your own shelter, but introduce you to people from around the world that have done it themselves. The inspiring message is that regular people with basic skills and tools can house themselves. Without a monster mortgage.

This is what said about Lloyd's book on free-thinking alternative builders and their structures on the Pacific Coast:
There's been a vortex of creative carpentry energy along the Pacific Coast over the last thirty years. Lloyd Kahn made four trips up the coast over a two-year period, shooting the photos that appear in this book.

Many of the builders shown here got started in the countercultural era of the '60s and '70s, and their work has never been shown in other books or magazine articles. As in the author's previous books Shelter and Home Work, there are three featured builders: Lloyd House, master craftsman and designer who has created a series of unique homes on a small island; Bruno Atkey, builder of a number of houses and lodges built of hand-split cedar on "The Wild Coast" (the Pacific Ocean side of Vancouver Island), and SunRay Kelley, barefoot builder tuned into
Nature, who has designed and built wildly imaginative structures in Washington, California, and other parts of the country. In addition, there are working homesteads, sculptural buildings of driftwood, homes that are beautiful as well as practical, live-aboard boats, gypsy-type caravans, and examples of stunning architectural design.

The two predominant features of the landscape along the Pacific Coast are water and wood. Most of these buildings are on or close to the sea. Trees grow fast and tall in rainy Northwest forests; many of these buildings were constructed entirely from logs off the beach or trees from adjacent land. You are invited to join Kahn's journey up and down the coast: driving the roads, riding the ferries, camping on the beaches, meeting these builders, and seeing their unique creations.

In Kahn's second book, Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter, he ruminates on simpler times when peace, permissiveness, trust and freedom still dominated in North American life. He says, "Looking back, it's hard to believe you could ever do something like this, just an hour away from San Francisco. A home that costs practically nothing. No taxes, building inspectors, electricity, cars, roads. Are there things like this going on in American today? Could this be the same planet?"

It reminds me of the local example of Sombrio beach that for over 30 years provided a sanctuary for a group of simple living folks braving a radically alternative lifestyle.

"For decades, it and a chain of other beaches on the Canadian side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca have been home to free spirits who refuse to march to middle age and conformity with the rest of the baby boomers. Here amid abundant plant and animal life across from Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, the old ways -- early homesteader meets flower power -- prevail."

The Sombrio "squatters" living in their "hippie shacks" eventually saw the dream die in 1997 when the BC government evicted them to make way for the newly formed Juan de Fuca Trail.

Paul Manly produced and directed a 2006 documentary on the Sombrio Beach community. Paul says, "Sombrio is an important story because it was an example of self-sufficient living in the modern age. Most of the people living there had ideological reasons for doing so. They wanted to create a smaller footprint and disengage from the world of excessive consumption. Although it looked like easy street in the summer, living at Sombrio was not always easy and required perseverance and a lot of daily work."

Is anything like this still going on anywhere in North America? Is this even the same planet?


  1. I think it's just different now, but similar things are still going on for sure. For example there's a growing number of "stealthy" van dwellers out there. But the closest thing to what you're talking about I think would be people living in caves for next to nothing. Here's a link to a quick documentary/interview on it.

  2. Thank you for the link. It is comforting to know that there are still creative thinkers saying "NO!" to mainstream thinking, and living free and clear of institutional systems. There is still hope for us non-conformists.


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