Handmade Houses: A Century of Earth Friendly Home Design

By Gillian Johnson

  Photo: © 2012 Kodiak Greenwood

 Photo: © 2012 Kodiak Greenwood

Left entirely to my own devices I would be in absolutely no rush to build a “proper” house. Living off-grid in my 17 ft yurt is pretty much all my dreams are made of. I love the process of filling the water jugs and carrying them down, attending to the fire and creating systems that will conserve my resources and sustain me as efficiently as possible. It is a kind of living that is creative in ways I never imagined. I don’t long for modern conveniences while there (well, maybe refrigeration from time to time), the structure has been surprisingly resilient through all sorts of extreme weather and the birdsong, sound of wind blowing through the trees and the coyotes howling against the moon rising fills me with wonder every day.

My undisturbed dream for the land would be to have yurts, tiny houses and tree houses scattered through the forest but with the regulatory restrictions applicable in my area I have to make some modifications to the vision and build a primary structure. There are about a million restrictions to take into consideration with the house design to ensure it will be satisfactory to the many regulatory bodies that have a say, making the breadth and depth of this portion of the project intimidating to say the least. But I am doing it, just about to swan dive off this cliff and among a number of other emotions am excited for all the knowledge to learn and people I will meet along the way.

While compromising on building a primary structure at a minimum square footage, I am unwavering on using natural building principles and ecological design models as guides for this build. Amidst my research I came across the perfect inspiration book, “Handmade Houses” by Richard Olsen. He exposes the roots of “green architecture” by visiting homes in which cost-cutting, DIY improvisation, eco consciousness, art and craft simultaneously converge and shares fabulous photos of houses that embody all these characteristics. For these builds, the designers and builders, wholeheartedly embrace handcraft as a buffer against the prevailing cultural obsession with all things technologically new and as a result have created structures that are so much more beautiful and soulful than most you will find in our world of ever increasing uniformity. Follow along on the blog for more updates on the build!


“There is a fine line between what we want and need. If you make what you need, you may find that it is also what you want.” Alexander Weygers