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Gimme Shelter 

Lloyd Kahn documents wildly creative, sustainable living spaces

Page 2 of 2

click to enlarge Lloyd Kahn, in front of his own Bolinas home.
  • Lloyd Kahn, in front of his own Bolinas home.

Once he reached "critical mass," it was time for layout—by hand. Yes, in a world of InDesign and computer domination, Kahn still does book layout using an inexpensive color copy machine and removable Scotch tape. He enlarges the pictures, tapes them down and prints the text in two or three columns to figure out how it will fit.

"It works pretty good," he says. "That way I don't have to be locked into the requirements of the computer, and it's different for your mind."

He's been doing layout like this for years, ever since compiling his first book, Domebook One, in 1970, while working as editor for the Whole Earth Catalog. The book was based on Kahn's experience as a carpenter, building domes inspired by Buckminster Fuller. But after discovering domes didn't work the way they were supposed to, Kahn took the book out of publication and traveled to Canada and Europe to study the roots of building.

Upon returning, Kahn created the book Shelter, which has sold 270,000 copies since its publication in 1973. The book explores the history of hand-building from early man to modern times and includes building instructions for all kinds of shelters, from yurts to cabins.

Shelter Publications became a full-time endeavor with the publication of the book, and in 1978 Kahn published Shelter II. At the dawn of the Reagan era, the company began focusing on books about stretching, weight training and running marathons—not a far leap, since Kahn himself is an athlete. He still runs to this day, and has surfed for 50 years. At the young age of 65, he took up skateboarding (you can find online videos of Kahn dominating a hill on a longboard, white hair streaming behind). Then a little over 10 years ago, Kahn felt the urge to create books on building again, and he ended up publishing Homework: Handbuilt Shelter in 2004.

"All along, it's made sense to me for people to build and create their own shelter with their own hands—that never will change," says Kahn. "Your computer is not going to build your house for you, and you still use your 10 digits and a hammer and saw, even if it's an electric saw and a nail gun."

Kahn does acknowledge that it can be difficult for owner-builders in Marin and Sonoma counties, where building permits can cost exorbitant fees.

"Where I live now, it's pretty much impossible for anybody other than a millionaire to build," says Kahn. "The building permits in season in Marin County are $50,000."

Fortunately, the San Francisco native reaches beyond his own home to find inspiration, as seen in Tiny Homes, with its photos of joyous, small-space livers and builders across the country and the world, people who've bucked the system and done things their own way—just like Lloyd Kahn.

"I still never got discouraged," says Kahn. "I think that whatever is going on politically, you still need food and shelter. Maybe the biggest incentive, I think, is to avoid mortgage or high rents."

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