About admin

Richard Olsen is a writer and photographer specializing in rustic and environmental domestic architecture, historic and contemporary. The author of "Handmade Houses" and "Log Houses of the World" and a co-author of Julius Shulman's "Malibu," Olsen is currently writing and photographing two new books for Rizzoli International Publications, "CALIFORNIA GREEN: HOUSES OF THE ECO MOVEMENT, THE JOURNEY FROM HANDMADE TO HIGH TECHNOLOGY" and "BRAXTON DIXON: HANDMADE HOUSES OF THE SOUTH." Formerly the senior architecture editor for Architectural Digest, senior architecture and design editor for Abrams Books, editor for Doubleday and Rizzoli, and Arts & Photography and Travel editor for Amazon, Olsen also takes on special projects in a supporting concept-development role. In that capacity he has more than 50 books to his credit, including 2013's CULTURE, ARCHITECTURE & NATURE: AN ECOLOGICAL DESIGN RETROSPECTIVE by Sim Van der Ryn. Richard is an avid surfer and outdoorsman and lives in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles.

“The World According to Barbara Spring” | At Cherry Center for the Arts, Carmel, through Nov. 14


"Nothing to Hide"

“Nothing to Hide” by Barbara Spring

I’m very much in the middle of completing a new book but I must take a moment to mention this here, a special showing of the great Barbara Spring at the Cherry Center in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Information below.

In case you don’t know about the late artist’s work, how Spring carved the driftwood logs and the massive redwood deadfalls that were her principal medium using a chainsaw even as she aged into her 90s!, there’s a short doc on youtube that you should see.

Spring was an important influence during my process of making Handmade Houses, helping me immeasurably and becoming a friend along the way. The artist’s Big Sur cabin, a house designed and built in the late 1960s by Lloyd Kahn, a house like no other, is one of HH‘s features.

In case you can’t make the show, throughout the year you can see Spring’s work in Big Sur, at the Hawthorne Gallery.  Thanks. —R.O.



Redwood Auction at the Henry Miller Library, October 5, 2014


Don’t miss the redwood-slab auction at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California, on 5 October.  Having seen these gorgeous pieces up close and knowing their special pedigree, I’m reminded that, for wood connoisseurs and craftspeople, for lovers of wood furniture, for weekend carpenters seeking one-of-a-kind materials, this is simply an opportunity that you’re not going to come upon again. And it’s a chance to support California’s most unique center of the countercultural literary arts. Help keep The Henry Miller Library healthy. Call for details, and see the video below. The Henry Miller Library: (831) 667-2574.

Elitism in Architecture | Like a Rolling Stone


Two Wall Street Journal articles from this week are a painful reminder of much of what’s wrong with home design and “architecture” in general. Have you seen?

Sarah Susanka

Tony FadellBased on my field research here in Calif these last few years, combined with the previous decade-plus spent interviewing designers and builders and homeowners and investigating the neighborhoods of the US and Europe while researching for my other books on residential and while scouting houses for AD as its architecture editor, I can say with confidence that neither of these points of view, each exclusionary in its outlook, is in touch with what’s happening out there.

First of all, sweeping generalizations about how people will live “in the future” can make for entertaining reading, but they can’t represent more than a microscopic fragment of the population and its actual day-to-day activities, present or future. Such subjective viewpoints cannot possibly capture the present or predict the coming zeitgeist of the deeply unbalanced housing situation, the multifarious housing industry itself, and the historically change-resistant dwelling habits in this nation of 317 million. Essentially, such articles are valueless. Which is troubling because in the mainstream media there are increasingly few slots to discuss the real issues of how we shelter ourselves, both known and anticipated.

Sarah Susanka’s point of view is classic East Coast-suburb elitist.  In her relatively lengthy article, which you might be able to access in full here, in her casual talk of $70,000 Tesla cars and $500 Dyson vacuum cleaners—as if both were widely attainable and thus culturally ubiquitous—the architect and author doesn’t identify the demographics of the community about which she’s being paid by the WSJ to speak representatively, although in her very first sentence she does say “most of us,” so we are led to believe she is speaking for “the masses,” or at least the majority opinion of WSJ readers. (The WSJ is supposed to be a news-reporting entity, not a club.) But does “most of us” include members of, say, the Black or Hispanic populations?  Are we to believe that this is how they, too, are going to live in the future?  In speculating on a subject such as the “house of the future,” one ought to be a little more specific about the expected inhabitants’ demographics. Whose “house of the future” are we reading about?  When it comes to home building and houses in general, one “size” doesn’t fit all. It never has and it’s safe to say it never will, even in “the house of the future.”

I have to mention the ethnic-diversity point because, in making my latest book, in thoroughly exploring the history of “green” residential architecture in Calif, I haven’t been able to find, or have even heard about, a single Black or Latino owner or in-progress client of an architect-designed “green” home. That’s a deeply disturbing statistic. Not a single one. Ethnic diversity—wow; I won’t bother to go into how generally invisible Blacks and Latinos are in the pages of architecture books or in the shelter magazines, such as in Dwell and Architectural Digest and Elle Decor.

And for Susanka to suggest that the practice of site-built construction is on its way toward obsolescence and that, in its place, those of us who can afford a new house will get (much less even welcome) factory-made assembly-line architecture is quite the reach, a gross oversimplification of a gigantic and endlessly complex industry and a very personal subject for human beings.  And her comment that the house will be “a place for assessing the world around us.”  She’s getting paid to offer this “wisdom?”  With wireless Internet and 42″-wide TVs present even in low-income housing situations, has there been a time recently, or even since the days of Walter Cronkite, when the home wasn’t the principal perch from which we observed and evaluated the world around us? For those of us out of school, where else would such activity happen? At work?

All this talk about the house of the future… So what are we going to do with all the existing houses, the houses of the past, the defuncts conceived according to “antiquated” practices?

Meanwhile, in the other article, there’s Tony Fadell’s prediction of a new green nomadic housing phenomenon, one in which gasoline and jet-fuel prices and the attendant environmental effects miraculously have no bearing worth mentioning and where accessibility design practices and eco-focused tech that’s been available since the 70s finally conquers resistance to cost and sees widespread popular adoption. His is a far-removed first-class-seats-only viewpoint, one that could only stem from an experience marked by considerable privilege—well, that of a millionaire (or is it billionaire?), right?

Let me go out on a limb, as these writers so boldly have, and say that now and in at least what I consider to be the foreseeable future, here in the “mainstream,” the rest of us working folks, especially ones with families, will continue to reside close to where the work is, and in the preexisting housing (some of it quite attractive and spatially suitable and intelligent even) that fits our income brackets.

Sorry, Tony, not everyone has Google money and can afford—or would want—to live like an itinerant Trustafarian.

This house-of-the-future talk is not “news,” but rather yet another unwanted dose of the same stale old concoction. It’s a heavy stone that hasn’t come upon a wall substantial enough to stop its roll.

In effect, the house of the future is part of the classic “Architecture for everyone” fairytale. It’s for you too, really it is…so long as you’re rich enough.



Muennig in Monterey Herald


Happy to be able to support the great Mickey Muennig.

Sequoia Stump House in the Sierra Nevada


TIMELY EXPOSURESJackie McDougall Weiner’s Timely Exposures gets inside the endlessly fascinating exploits of pioneering California photographer C.C. Curtis, uncovering his documentation of early sequoia logging at what’s now Kings Canyon National Park; the Curtis family’s home-studio built atop a sequoia stump at the Comstock Mill (the image on the book’s cover dates to 1888); and the family’s participation in the utopian Kaweah Colony.

Gerald McCabe Dining Table | At SURFING COWBOYS, Los Angeles


A 1968 dining table in shedua by Gerald McCabe, of McCabes Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, has come on the market at Surfing Cowboys and looks to me like a very rare opportunity, and one worth sharing here. I can’t imagine it’ll be around for more than a few days.

Surfing Cowboys: 12553 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90066 (310) 915-6611

Surfing Cowboys:
12553 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 915-6611

Mickey Muennig | The Book


Last week I got together with Mickey Muennig in Big Sur for purposes related to my forthcoming book and came away with a gift, a copy of his new book. Several years in the making, the thoroughly illustrated 192-page volume gives readers a glimpse of the many big accomplishments from throughout Muennig’s career. Full-bleed images predominate, having the effect of transplanting you to this magical stretch of coastal wilderness and leading you inside these earthy, one-of-a-kind dwellings and other buildings in which one spectacular surprise follows the next.

I was especially jazzed to finally see photos of his lost-to-fire 1975 house for Sam Prussin, a Big Sur cabin made from milled redwood bridgetimbers and a 10,000-gallon water tank, the latter of which stored hot water that, by design, heated the entire house. What a gem of invention it was.

And perhaps best of all, in the book Mickey, himself, opens up about his story, including how, in 1971, he was compelled to relocate from Denver, Colorado, to Big Sur after taking a two-week course in Gestalt therapy at the Esalen Institute. (You should hear what he says about what took place during the class…)

Too many architectural monographs come off as blatant marketing tools and thus can bore the layperson to tears. This book is anything but that, and it should be of enduring interest to anyone who visits this blog. Buy it from the Post Ranch Inn’s store, Post Ranch Mercantile, or by phoning 831-667-2795.

Thanks again to Mickey and Diane.


The baths at the Esalen Institute, a Mickey Muennig design. Photo by Richard Olsen.

The baths at the Esalen Institute, a 1998 Mickey Muennig design. Photo by Richard Olsen.

Muennig_Owl House_RICHARD_OLSEN

The little-known “Residence for Isis” in Carmel, designed in 1974 by Mickey Muennig. This is one of the architect’s early riffs on what would become a favorite theme, the pole structure. A legendary crew from Big Sur handled the build: Principal carpentry and construction was done by the Wankerworks crew (Kasparian and Jeff Bishop and Rob Keystone). Mark Byrne, son and protege of the great Big Sur stonemason Ralph Byrne, did the rockwork in the front. Larry Share was on interior cabinetry  and also executed the front elevation’s circular stained-glass window made from koa. Like many of Muennig’s early houses, this building was originally spec’d to feature a turf roof but it was never carried out—probably seen at the time as too costly or too complex. Photo by Richard Olsen.


A close-up. Photo Richard Olsen.

A close-up. Photo Richard Olsen.

Muennig at home in 2014. Snap by Richard Olsen.

Muennig at home in 2014. Snap by Richard Olsen.


The old sign that used to hang outside Muennig's office-studio in Big Sur.

The old sign that used to hang outside Muennig’s office-studio in Big Sur.