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Handmade Houses: A Century of Earth-Friendly Home Design

December 2011
By Richard Olsen. Rizzoli, 2012, 240 pages, $45.
April 2012

Reviewed by William Morgan

Handmade Houses
Click the image above for details about book mentioned in this review.
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Handmade Houses takes us on a delightful journey back to the heady and rebellious days of the 1960s and ’70s, when green design—the world of reduce, reuse, and recycle—was sired. Its author, Richard Olsen, is a West Coast architectural writer and editor; he is also the grandson and great-grandson of Norwegian carpenters.

This tale is a lot more than hippies and hot tubs, however. Olsen provides a thorough history of the owner-built, woodbutcher movement from places like Big Sur, California, and Prickly Mountain, Vermont. And he addresses the sources of handcraft construction: Buddhist architecture of Japan, Norwegians cabins, Sea Ranch in California, Gaudi, Maybeck, and Jung, to name a few). Works from Europe and Australia provide an international context.

Handmade Houses features 25 homes from the 1930s to the present. This funky but glorious architecture, often without architects, building codes, or contractors, is a significant guidepost for what is truly green design.

William Morgan is the author of The Cape Cod Cottage and other books.

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