Boat Builder Constructs Sailboat-Inspired Handmade Home

| 10/12/2018 10:23:00 AM


The following is an excerpted from Home Work: Hand Built Shelter (Shelter Publications, 2004) by long-time MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributor Lloyd Kahn. The book features more than 1,500 photos illustrate various innovative architectural styles and natural building materials that have gained popularity in the last two decades, such as cob, papercrete, bamboo, adobe, strawbale, timber framing and earthbags. If you love fine, fun or funky buildings, you will want to own this splendid book.

Dean Ellis grew up in West Vancouver. He studied science at the University of British Columbia in the 1960s. When psychedelia came along, he switched to studying art. Dean became a photographer and did a number of shows. “Conceptual stuff, sort of like Andy Goldsworthy,” he says. In the late 60s he started working as a carpenter in Vancouver. Then he built a 35-foot sailboat “to sail the world.” But he ended up selling it and borrowing $100,000 to build a 42-foot fiberglass long-liner for cod fishing.

From boat building he learned to work with metal. With this house overlooking a beautiful stretch of coast, he decided to build a metal-frame house. To get the curves he wanted, he got a metal fabricator to run the 2-inch-by- 2-inch roof beams through a roller, bending them to the right curve. Posts are 3-inch-by-3-inch and 4-inch-by-4-inch steel tubes. The frame was welded in place and then plywood was attached with self-tapping metal screws.

“I never relied on welding,” says Dean. “I always welded things as strongly as I could, but I didn’t want to depend on the welds.” So he stacked the steel beams on top of the steel posts, as you would with a wood frame. “It allowed me to take a leap into steel.”

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