Homes That Inspire: ‘Handmade Houses’

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We’ve been talking a lot this month about designer Nate Berkus’ new book The Things That Matter and the importance of decorating your home with items that have personal significance to you. In Handmade Houses by Richard Olsen, we get a look at the homes of people who take this idea a step further; they build their houses with something of personal significance in mind—the environment. Handmade Houses illustrates the different ways eco-sensitive homeowners have designed their homes to work with nature, not against it.

Olsen traces the history of the handmade house movement, which began as home building became a business during the industrial revolution. Those who still appreciated the intricacies of handmade houses wanted to get back to the earth-communing, home-building style of our ancestors. In the 1940s, early adopters of the handmade house idea, such as Renaissance man Alexander Weyers, made their houses themselves out of local materials. Weyers and his wife moved to Carmel Valley, Calif., and used reclaimed pine-slab cladding, salvaged windows and doors, and hardware that Weyers forged from auto-junkyard finds to build the house that he and his wife occupied for nearly five decades.

The movement picked up steam in the so-called hippie era of the 1970s. Designers and builders, in a denial of a cultural obsession with all things technologically new, sought to create individualistic homes that would stand out from the “little boxes” of uniformity. Architects, such as Michael McNamara, found inspiration in the works of the early adopters and desired to build one-of-a-kind structures that were environmentally friendly. In 1972, McNamara left city life and, with a next-to-nothing budget, cleared a lot on Hornby Island, British Columbia. He started the home with driftwood that he and some friends had collected from a Hornby beach; nine months later the first draft of his two-story home was complete. No electric tools had been used.

In recent years, the movement has become more popular with the general public, especially with the expanding cultural interest on environmental issues. For anyone thinking about making their living space environmentally conscious, Handmade Houses is a great resource, and the photography by Lucy Goodhart and Kodiak Greenwood allows readers’ minds to run wild with possibilities. But the most important feature of these homes is that, as Olsen points out, “[t]hey are imbued with love.”


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