When you think of the hair and clothing styles and the “tune in, turn on, drop out” culture of the 1960s, those times can seem an ancient memory.
Still, some things from that era have stayed fresh, and one of them is the deeply ingrained impulse to shape one’s home into a personalized environment.
Architecture writer and editor Richard Olsen’s recent book, “Handmade Houses” (Rizzoli International Publications; $45; hardcover, 240 pages), reveals that the dream of designing and handcrafting an “artisan” home is very much alive, and he includes both vintage and modern examples to inspire another generation of owner/builders.
While he does include some particulars of technique and craftsmanship, Olsen’s book serves more as cultural history than as a building guide.
Building one’s own home was a core element of the early American experience; it’s how much of the country was settled by European immigrants. But the 1960s and 1970s were a chapter unto themselves, and they represent a sort of golden age of the “build your own pad” tradition.
Those decades saw a confluence of historical events and trends – the war in Vietnam, a burgeoning environmental and counterculture movement, experimentation with psychedelic substances.
All of that gave the handmade house movement a unique new tone. In addition to providing shelter, the dwellings of this era allowed for self-expression. The canvas for self-portraiture was wood, glass, steel and stone.
Some of the movement reflected an architecture of protest – a refusal to conform to societal standards, but it was inspired by plenty of positives as well.
The pragmatism and economy of do-it-yourself effort, respect for natural ecology and the opportunity for creative expression led many adventurous owner/builders to dive headlong into what were for many unfamiliar waters.
They salvaged, scrounged and bartered materials, assembled simple tools and got to work. The results were as varied as the personalities involved.
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.