• Celebrating the bones: Structural elements, especially massive timbers or heavy stonework, were featured prominently rather than covered with drywall or decoration. This “what you see is what you get” approach echoed a preference for personal authenticity over social niceties.
• Mixing indoors and outdoors: Open or fluid transitions between indoor and outdoor spaces not only allowed for more direct contact with the natural world, it meant that small structures would feel more expansive. Popular California locales such as Big Sur and Malibu provided a hospitable climate for these features.
Though handmade house adventures are friendly to small budgets, simple tools and untrained practitioners, Olsen’s examples aren’t limited to neophytes. Noted architects Bernard Maybeck and Charles Greene are in the lineup, as are woodcrafters Art Carpenter and Lloyd Kahn, poet Robinson Jeffers, and even Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychologist. These and other professionals reflect the diversity of this discipline.
Olsen also features recent examples of handmade houses from around the globe, not just the cluster of dwellings that sprung up in coastal California a half-century ago. Granted, those early “pioneers” enjoyed much more latitude in building permit restrictions than do current builders, and they were allowed at little or no cost to salvage old-growth timbers that nowadays command premium prices when a post-and-beam barn, vintage warehouse or railroad trestle gets dismantled.
For these and other reasons, following the exact template of those heady days isn’t really possible for 21st-century dreamer/builders, but the spirit that inhabits such efforts seems to have remained the same. “It was a real scene, man,” says one of the survivors from the 1960s. Yes, it was, and it still is for those with a sense of adventure.