Tag Archives: Shelter Publications


montj prada

The idea of building a simple, rectangular home either from a flatpack or by customising shipping containers sounds alright. I’ve long been interested in pods, partly because of the start-from-scratchiness of it, partly because – done the right way – the completed house would not really be a house per se, but a temporary ‘moveable’ structure, and therefore something that could be perched on sites where other houses can not go.

Driving across the USA was in large part an excuse for meeting pioneers of the small house movement, and people who had for a broad spectrum of reasons decided to buck the trend and take it upon themselves to build the house they wanted, in the way they wanted, and where they wanted. Some of these to my mind looked like gingerbread houses with a suffocating surplus of trimming designed to slot in between normal houses on a normal street. But others were modern, modular, efficient spaces; platforms for a different way of living, and designed to be a more interactive part of the site on which they stood – whether just by orientation and views, or through a much more indoor-outdoor flow as well as a harnessing of what was locally available as in sun, rock and rain with solar panels, natural landscaping and rainwater collection. The houses were fresh and the people building them were as interested in the psychology of societies and impact of environment as in plumbing and wiring. Meeting people doing this stuff was exciting and inspiring. Among the people met, interviewed, featured and filmed in the USA roadtrip were Brad Kittel, exuberant founder of Tiny Texas Houses; Tracen Gardner and Eric Bricker at Reclaimed Space; Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed, and of course, the ever-curious, pivotal figure that is Lloyd Kahn of Shelter

Aside from the finished thing, another part of the appeal of a modular or flatpack construction was the potential to control the design, and to end up with something that suited your taste, lifestyle and budget. I have bought dozens of books (ranging from coffee table pod porn to practical handbooks for the conversion of shipping containers) and I’ve drawn up plans. The notion that I could feasibly create my dream house refuses to go away. However, by virtue of the fact it is quite literally my dream house, I probably won’t do it.

Anyway, that ever present just below the surface interest was piqued by the sight of a glass-sided module in the spectacular setting of Montejaque. Could we buy land and build our own modern home in a cost-effective way? Well, the short answer to that is no. At least, maybe in Ohio but no, not in this neck of the woods. But this thing which I think is an abandoned sales office for a construction project down the hill now on hold until the end of the ‘crisis’, while slightly on the small side, did look quite a bit better than several of the houses we’d so far traipsed around. It triggered a chain of wild thought which eventually concluded with a firm resolve not to travel too far from my own notion of somewheresville.

The abandoned container itself is reminiscent of Prada Marfa. If it was anywhere else people would drive for miles to see it, and read into a message about the topsy turvy world of economics or some such thing.



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Lloyd Kahn, King of Shelter

Everyone was building their huts, domes and homes from reclaimed material, but it was Lloyd Kahn and the first of the Shelter publications (Shelter) that put pictures and descriptions of the homes that people were building for themselves under the eyes of treadmill-weary workers. For forty years that book, and the DIY house porn that’s followed, has changed thousands of lives, triggering thousands of resignations, and turning accountants, doctors, dreamers and surfers into green builders. Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter – the prospect of designing and building a home plus the can-do spirit of ordinary people – was probably 78% responsible for me packing up and setting off in search of something or other. The books are a powerful mix inspiration and practical advice, and Lloyd, as founder and Editor-in-Chief, has played a hugely important and pivotal role by providing that platform for the exchange of ideas, pictures and success stories.

Yes, the books are great for providing ideas on how to construct yourself an affordable home, but what they do best is remind you that you have choices about where and how you live – and what you live in. The people on these pages have used their imagination and built houses that fit their character and lifestyle; houses that are homes.

He’s built five or so houses himself, and I went to meet him at the one he lives in, in the green and quiet paradise that is Bolinas, above San Francisco on the North Californian coast. We talked about how a new generation of 20-30-year olds is revisiting the ideas of the 60’s for a mix of spiritual, practical and economic reasons, the restrictions of regulations and land prices, ideas for building within disused urban properties, the benefits of constructing a house that is a home not a shell, and some of the amazing, inventive stuff that’s going on around the world. Not a day goes by without Lloyd getting emails from people telling him about their house project or plans, and he’s currently collating material for the next publication. I also got to stroke a bobcat, albeit the skin from a local road kill, and meet a wise, amusing and self-effacing man at the heart of a major worldwide house & home rethink.

I’ll be writing about Shelter, self-build and the small house movement (not necessarily the same thing), and will upload some edited footage once I’m off the road, (I could do with the converted bus / film lab featured in the Shelter book, Home Work). In the meantime, here’s a a few rough cut clips.  The back catalogue of publications is available from the Shelter website. Warning: Buying one of these books will cause you to either bemoan your boring life, or change it.


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