In the winter of 2005, I traveled throughout Central and Eastern Europe and Scandinavia with photographer Radek Kurzaj documenting rustic architecture for a book we’d been commissioned to make. I fell in love with Zakopané, a village in the mountainous south of Poland, near its border with Slovakia. There, we encountered the village’s namesake architectural style, evident in all its exuberance in houses, churches, and even treehouses. The Zakopané Style, an extensively ornamented, H.H. Richardson-influenced hewn-log architecture, incorporates the rich folk-art traditions of this region’s highlander culture—traditions that involve making everything by hand.
The man who formalized the Zakopané style in the 1890s, Stanislaw Witkiewicz, left behind several iconic examples in the village, most of them well preserved. There are also many contemporary interpretations of his work, such as these two houses by architect-builder Sebastian Piton. In Zakopané, the sons and daughters of the village’s elder craftspeople are taught the Old World methods and are encouraged to carry them forward. Here, you can indeed still find the talent.
Yesterday, we were in Rustic Canyon, in Santa Monica, and decided to drive by the old 1924 Hellman Cabin, where Daryl Hannah had lived for a while in the 1990s. It’s an Arthur Heineman-designed and J.E. Sturgeon-built log house that I’ve always liked, one that I included in “Log Houses of the World,” my 2006 book with photographer Radek Kurzaj. An actual log cabin in Los Angeles?? If you know the enclave called Rustic Canyon, you won’t be surprised. There are three or four good ones in that little community.
Fortunately, Radek’s photos capture the details and accurately evoke the charm of the old Hellman place, because the cabin is no longer. (For years following Hannah’s sale of the house, a new owner had been fighting preservationists to get renovation plans approved, and evidently his side of that battle won.) What’s going up now on the site, I’m pleased to see, is also a log house. Hopefully, it’s more a sensitive restoration of the original, not a completely new cabin. I’ll post some information on that soon.
In the meantime, here’s the Hellman Cabin pages from Log Houses of the World. Check out the Adirondack-style eucalyptus-trunk balcony that projects out from the upper-level bedroom. And the 10-foot-wide cobblestone fireplace. And the hand-forged iron strap hinges on the wide-plank door. And the stairway. If you’re going to chink log construction, you’ve got to go with a material like hemp, not cement, I say. But otherwise, the cabin’s interior was outstanding.
A book on the design, carpentry, and construction work of the late Roger Somers is overdue. It’s my intention to help get it off the ground and to write and photograph it.
For the last year, since including in my book Handmade Houses some of Somers’ work at Druid Heights and touching on his close associations with Henry Jacobs and Alan Watts and his part in Sausalito’s The Trident, I’ve been steadily filling out the story—gathering more photos and interviewing his family, friends, and close associates.
If you attended my slideshow last summer at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, you got to see a sampling of the photos we have of Roger’s fantastical work on Neil Young’s mid-1970s tour bus. But there’s much more to share, many more incredible projects.
I’m now putting it out there—a call for support: If you knew Roger or know his work, if you’d like to help get a book on Roger published, please contact me. firstname.lastname@example.org [Thank you, Ann C.]
In the meantime, here’s a few photos from the family’s collection (please don’t re-post these in a public forum) and a video clip of “The Bed.”
I’ve been in the thick of gathering material for my Handmade Houses follow-up, so I haven’t had the time to post much to the blog, especially lately. Recently, while out photographing for the new project I had the pleasure of experiencing the work of the late Dudley Carter (1891–1992) and can’t help but take a moment now to share a few pics.
No nails, no screws, no assembly hardware at all. Just pure hand labor and artistry.
Along with his totems and other sculpture, Carter did houses. This one from 1935, now another family’s cabin, is deep in the woods of California’s Central Coast. The family’s outdoor bed shown here, one of several in strategic spots, overlooks the creek that cuts through the property, a bit downstream from the hot springs. Not bad.
All photos copyright 2013 Richard Olsen.
For more on Dudley Carter, including more photos, check out this link.
One of the best books on California’s environmental movement, authored by one of the movement’s most important figures [and eloquent writers], is now available for a steal on Amazon.com. Check it out—and don’t miss the chance to buy it—here.
Following a few frustrating months of back-order status, the HANDMADE HOUSES reprint (the third or fourth so far) has arrived and the book is again available for purchase. Click here to order.
I’ve gotten a lot of complements on the Australia pictures in Handmade Houses: A Century of Earth-Friendly Home Design. Those photos were taken in the late ’60s and early ’70s by John Witzig, one of surfing culture’s legendary figures. Before going into surf photography and journalism and co-creating and editing Tracks magazine, John studied architecture and was integrally involved in Australia’s spirited back-to-the-land scene. In little more than a month, he has a big book coming out, a project I worked on over two-plus years, serving as editor. This is the second surfing book I’ve helped put together, and I’m jazzed about the outcome. For the last decade, publishers have been eager to cash in on surfing’s explosive popularity growth. There have been some ill-conceived attempts, for sure. This book is something else entirely. You can check it out and pre-order it through Amazon.com here.
The Clark House (1967–69) in West Vancouver, B.C., a design by Henry Yorke Mann, is one of the featured homes in Handmade Houses: A Century of Earth-Friendly Home Design. This was a high-stakes project, folks. Back in those days, the Clark children, two boys, suffered from life-threatening allergies. (They were allergic to practically everything.) Every last strategy and material, then, had to be meticulously scrutinized with the kids’ severe health challenges in mind. During construction, at the end of each day, the Clarks would be out on the job site, searching for and removing dust particles so they wouldn’t end up being irrevocably built into the walls, ceiling, floors, and beyond.
Mann’s solution was to build principally with solid fir finished with linseed oil. No paint. No drywall. No building products or furnishings with off-gassing VOCs.
Mann’s construction crew, which included his master-carpenter father, Richard P. Mann, John Senac, and a group of journeyman carpenters, several of them Vietnam War conscientious objectors from California who camped on-site, completed the job in 1969. Healthwise and otherwise, it turned out to be a great success, and the house is still in the original ownership today.
I took many photos during my visit to this incredible home, and here’s some favorites that didn’t make the book. Thanks again, Hilary. —R.O.