Lloyd Kahn, DIY Building Expert

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Lloyd Kahn, DIY Building Expert


Occupation: Photographer, writer, publisher 

Place of Residence: Northern California coast

Current Projects: Lloyd’s latest major book, Tiny Homes and Simple Shelters is now in production and will be published in February, 2012.

Background: Lloyd Kahn has a BA from Stanford University. During the late 1950s, while serving in the United States Air Force in Germany, he ran a USAF base newspaper, the Sembach Jet Gazette, for two years. Returning to California in 1960 he worked as an insurance broker for five years. When the countercultural revolution of the ‘60s was underway, he quit his insurance job and began work as a carpenter, eventually building four houses.

His first project was a sod-roof studio in Mill Valley, with succulents planted on the roof. The second was a used-wood, timber-frame Japanese/Bernard Maybeck-influenced design: a post-and-beam frame, with several 10-foot (3.0 m)-high poured concrete walls. Before these two jobs, he’d had little building experience, but learned on the job. This is where he discovered the owner/builder perspective in learning to build. He tried to maintain this outlook throughout his publishing career, so he could explain building techniques to novice builders.

He next got a job in Big Sur as foreman building a large post and beam house out of bridge timbers from a dismantled bridge; the main structural members were 30′ long, 8” X 22″ redwood beams. He then built his own home out of used lumber and hand-split shakes in Big Sur, developed a water supply, and terraced a hillside for small-scale farming.

In 1968, influenced by Buckminster Fuller, he started building geodesic domes. This resulted in a job coordinating the building of 17 domes at Pacific High School, an alternative school in the Santa Cruz mountains. They experimented with geodesic domes made from plywood, aluminum, sprayed foam, and vinyl. Students built their own domes and lived in them.

Lloyd next worked for Stewart Brand as Shelter editor for the Whole Earth Catalog. During 1970 he published his first book, Domebook One, followed the next year with Domebook 2, which sold 165,000 copies. During 1971, he bought a half-acre lot in Bolinas, California, and built a shake-covered geodesic dome – later featured in Life magazine. After living in his dome for a year, Lloyd decided domes did not work well: he stopped the printing of Domebook 2 and disassembled and sold his dome. He then went in search of other (non-dome) ways to build – across the U.S.A., Ireland, and England, and the bookShelter (1973) was the result.

During the next two decades, Shelter Publications produced a series of fitness books, including Bob Anderson’s Stretching (which has sold 3 million copies and is in 23 languages), Galloway’s Book on Running by Olympian Jeff Galloway, and Getting Stronger by legendary bodybuilder Bill Pearl. In 1997, Shelter produced StretchWare, software that reminds you to stretch at your computer. 

During 2004, Lloyd published Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter. Home Work summarizes the best of his work over the past 30 years photographing buildings and interviewing builders, and includes numerous buildings directly inspired by the book Shelter. The Septic Systems Owner’s Manual, first published during 2000, was extensively revised in 2007. In 2008 Shelter Publications published the first English translation of Dutch architect Johan van Lengen’s The Barefoot Architect: A Manual on Green Building. In 2008, Kahn published Builders of the Pacific Coast, an odyssey describing his trips to British Columbia to document Canadian carpenters. 

Lloyd and his wife Lesley live and work in a small town on the Pacific coast north of San Francisco, California.


Domebook One (author, 1970)

Domebook 2 (author, 1971)

Shelter (editor, 1973)

Shelter II (author, 1978)

Stretching (editor, 1980)

Galloway‘s Book on Running (editor, 1984)

Getting Stronger (editor, 1985)

Getting Back in Shape (editor, 1995)

Mrs. Restino’s Country Kitchen (editor, 1996)

The Septic System Owner’s Manual (editor, 2000)

Marathon: You Can Do It! (editor, 2001)

Stretching in the Office (editor, 2002)

Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter (author, 2004)

Builders of the Pacific Coast (author, 2008)

The Gardeners’ and Poultry Keepers’ Guide (editor, 2010)

Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter (author, 2012)

More Places to Find Lloyd on the Web: 

Lloyd’s blog 

Lloyd on Twitter 

Lloyd’s Facebook page

 Shelter Publication’s website