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.

My New Book | Still In-Progress but Getting Close


calif green book by richard olsenI’ve been in the trenches working on this new book for so long, I know even some of my many participants, not to mention friends and family, are wondering what’s up. Am I still alive? Is the book still happening?

The update from the fighting front is, I’m making good progress and closing in on completion of the writing. If you were expecting to get a call from me before my completion but have not, please don’t be alarmed. You’ll hear from me soon.

Part of the delay has simply been the enormous scope of the material. Over the course of two years, I photographed nearly 100 buildings from San Diego to Humboldt for it and interviewed as many people (those parts of it are done). This is a big book. If you read the little blurb above, I think you’ll get a feeling for where this is headed. It’s a story that hasn’t been told.

That cover design featuring the house on the coast, by the way, is only a temp thing I put together so I’d have a visual to represent my editorial concept, something to show as I went around conducting field research and doing the interviews and the photography. (That particular house is one of the book’s featured houses.)  Rizzoli, my publisher, has not begun the process of designing the book, as, well, I’m still writing it!  Even the title is not completely set. But this is indeed real, and on that note, I’ll get back to it. Thanks for your interest in this book. —Richard

RIP stonemason Ralph Byrne (1934–2015)

Richard Stratman


Richard Stratman at home in a house of his own design and construction

Richard Stratman. Copyright 2015 Richard Stratman.

Richard Stratman (1933–2014), a California painter, architect, and handmade house builder of unusual prowess, was an integral part of a small group of Esalen staff who drove the green-building agenda at the Institute during the early Carter Administration years. Also along the Big Sur coast in the late 1970s, Stratman built thrilling cliffside and ridgetop houses designed by architects Mickey Muennig and George Brook-Kothlow (in adobe and in bridgetimber respectively). The guy did a lot of work that moved people.

I tracked him down and began interviewing him in 2012. Late last year, following a long illness, Stratman died.

To date, Stratman’s been a largely unsung hero of the scene. That status is finally corrected in my forthcoming book California Green: Houses of the Environmental Movement, from Handmade to High Technology, which, dare I say, is nearing completion and will be published internationally by Rizzoli next year.

You can read Stratman’s obituary in the Carmel Pine Cone (see p. 12) here.


A side note for the CabinPorn ilk:  These images are Copyright Protected. Please be respectful; Do not repost publicly or republish without authorization. Thanks. —Richard Olsen

Richard Stratman. Copyright 2015 Richard Stratman.

The work of Richard Stratman. Copyright 2015 Richard Stratman.

Richard Stratman. Copyright 2015 Richard Stratman.

The work of Richard Stratman. Copyright 2015 Richard Stratman.

Rainbow House,

The work of Richard Stratman. Copyright 2015 Richard Stratman.

Photo by Richard Stratman. Copyright 2015. Used with Permission.

Photo by Richard Stratman. Copyright 2015. Used with Permission.

The Art of Larry Zgoda | A Chicago Opening


That uplifting blast of vivid color that stained-glass windows brings to interiors, a symbol of quality so inseparable from the handwork-heavy image of the high-end Craftsman-era bungalows and Spanish Colonial Revival houses and certainly the 1960-70s handmade house, is sorely missing in the new residential construction where I live in Los Angeles. And I seldom see it in the magazines. Stained glass doesn’t have to be strictly an Arts & Crafts deal. In fact, it was a part of the educational program at the high temple of Modernism, the Bauhaus in Germany. (Have you seen what Josef Albers did with stained-glass windows?) So what happened? Where did it go? Why don’t we see more of it in new construction?  I have my theories on this but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below.

In the meantime, Chicago-based stained-glass artist Larry Zgoda, whom I happily discovered through my research on the all-too-little-known Edgar Miller, carries on with this work, continually elevating the artform for an ever-discerning clientele. Next week, he’s having a big show that’s not to be missed. Here’s some of Zgoda’s art and a link to more info.



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“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.