Lloyd Khan rolls out an inspiring new Tiny Homes book (video)

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Shawn Gaynor's picture
Ella Jenkins stands on the porch of her home Little Yellow Door
Ella Jenkins stands on the porch of her home Little Yellow Door. Photo from Lloyd Khan's Tiny Homes on the Move.

By Shawn Gaynor

Lloyd Khan is no stranger to alternative living. His 1973 book Shelter served as an inspiration and a guide to a generation of back to the land homesteaders as much as The Whole Earth Catalog that he edited served as their virtual community. Khan has continued his work over the years producing four books on small hand-built DIY homes in the past 10 years. His latest book, Tiny Homes on the Move, documents beautiful and creative living arrangements with the open road, or the open water, as their foundations.

We caught up with Khan at the 2014 Makers Faire. Surrounded by drones and 3D printers Khan was preaching something simpler and more valuable than many of the tech start-ups. “You can build your own house with your own hands. A computer is not going to do it for you. You still do it with a hammer and a saw. It's kind of comforting for me that in this day in age some things don't change.”

“What's changed in the last 40 years is that it was a lot simpler in the 60's and 70's to find a place to build your own house. Now it is prety much impossible especially in the San Francisco area. You have to live quite aways from a city now to be able to do that yourself.”

The book is definitely a coffee table conversation piece; a wonderfully photographed snack for creative minds and a jumping off point for planning an extended adventure.

Through out the book custom van conversions and homemade camper tops show a warm charm you will not find in the plastic interiors of a factory built camper. So much woodwork goes into these creations that they look like old fashion boats set on wheels. Some have borrowed heavily from nautical themes: curved roof lines, keyhole passageways, wooden seating areas of built in cabinetry that convert to beds.

Clever low tech maker innovations appear throughout the pages. An elongated closed loop of 4” PVC pipe serves as a self-contained gravity fed water system in one camper van. The Quickupcamper utilizes two truck shells that stack into each other like Tupperware and set up to form a hard shelled camper, by tipping sideways away from each other, creating an A-frame of sorts.

As a tip of the hat to one of Khan's favorite designers, Jay Nelson's lightweight and roomy camper top is a Buckminster Fuller style dome of ¼ inch plywood covered in clear fiberglass. The effect keeps a natural look while keeping down the overall weight.

The gypsy carts in the book are a simple and beautiful way to put a room semi-permanently just about anywhere. While some of the carts in the book are used as a summer camp or a starter home for a homestead, it is easy to imagine the mystical looking wooden carts in the backyards of the East Bay serving as an extra bedroom or a summer's night hangout away from a sleeping household.

What draws people to these situations? Though out the book their testimonials explain the pull to create and inhabit their own tiny spaces. “It's a relief to have a simpler life,” says Ella Jenkins who lives in a cabin on wheels called Little Yellow Door.

Kera the Dreadnaught Darling, who lives in a gypsy trailer home called Fortune Cookie, was caught in the same trap that many found themselves in during the economic crisis.

“I was unhappy and trapped in a job I hated because I had a house I could not afford that I purchased right before the market crashed,” says Kera. After leaving it all behind and having Fortune Cookie built Kera says she is “happier than I have ever been in my life. I make my own hours and live life at my pace. It is glorious.”

The book concludes with a section on boats. Living aboard a boat is no new concept, but the section dovetails well with both the books theme of moving homes and Khan's DIY self made home ethic. The boat section covers everything from a Kentucky shack built on a floating dock to a old British Columbian ferry hull made over into a hand carved cabin with giant bear totems holding up the structure.

Perhaps the most imaginative boats in the book are the long narrow houseboats of the English canals, one of which is a renovated 100 year old coal barge.

“I think the young people, 20 and 30 year olds have discovered what we we doing in the 60's,” said Khan. “Their different, these folks, they're not just out to make a million dollars.”

And it is that spirit that continues to inspire Khan. His new book once again demonstrates how the creative spirit and some hard work can manifest practical and beautiful solutions to our most basic needs.

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