Natural Building (93)

Breathing New Life into Old Wood: Former Duck-Hunting Cabins Find a Home

In 2017, the Millers snagged a 10-acre gem on Buchanan Lake in Minnesota, complete with a trio of old-school duck-hunting cabins that had seen better days. Legend has it, even an NFL big shot used to hunt here. Right before sealing the deal, the previous owners were close to tearing the cabins down. But the Millers saw some rustic gold in that wood and decided to dismantle the structures instead, aiming to breathe new life into the aged siding.

Two old wood cabins

Each cabin told its own story. One was the crash pad, still packed with a dozen mattresses—a mash-up of bunk and twin beds in one room, plus a couple of full-size beds in the next. The roof had given up on doing its job here, and most of the windows were a testament to better times gone by. Another cabin was all about the grub; its kitchen setup was surprisingly intact with a fridge, stove, and sink. And then there was the storage shack, standing firm on a concrete foundation, while its siblings squatted on wooden floors that were quickly deteriorating—think rotted planks! 

One long old wood cabin, half rotting

But here’s where it gets good. The Millers managed to rescue about 60% of that wood, trimming off the rough edges (literally) to weave it into their new digs inside a steel shed—you know, the steel shed that people use for a house—a “shouse.” They power-washed each plank to its former glory, skipped the sanding to keep that rugged charm, and sealed each with a layer of clear varnish. They went all in on a cozy, lived-in vibe.

two walls with repurposed wood, one rustic tongue and groove and the other painted shiplap

Installing the siding was a bit like putting together a giant puzzle—using the tongue and groove style on stud walls, pinned down with finishing nails. Some of the boards were stripped in half for the trim to keep up the rustic look. The roofing boards got a new lease on life too. They were cleaned up, painted, and lined up for a shiplap statement wall. All in all, it took about a week of prep and DIY magic to get everything up and looking sharp.

picture of Meg Simonds house from the book, Small Homes

While many of our books feature recycled materials, Meg Simonds, featured in Small Homes, explains it best: “Building with recycled wood is a slow and arduous affair, from finding it to pulling the last nail. It is a lot of work and rarely is it delivered. The payoff is twofold. The quality of older wood generally surpasses that of new, and its deep, rich beauty only comes with age. For us, more importantly, [we love] getting to have a truly deep relationship with the wood. All this wood once had a home, an ancient forest, the lungs of the Earth; little of this remains. The best we can do now is to have a deep respect for what was and what is. We approached building our home with this in mind.” (pg. 126-127)

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Driftwood Shacks Publication Date Today

It’s now available in independent bookstores.

I’m doing the following appearances:

  • Saturday, March 16th, 7 PM at Mollusk Surf Shop, 4500 Irving Street, San Francisco (maps)
  • Tuesday, March 19th, 7 PM at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz (maps)
  • Wednesday, April 17th, 6:30 PM, Gallery Bookshop, 319 Kasten Street, Mendocino, Calif. (maps)
  • Friday, April 26th, 7 PM, Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, Calif. (maps)

Some early reader feedback:

“…a breathtaking new book…”
–Kay LeRoy, Book Passage, Corte Madera, Calif.
Driftwood Shacks is spectacular!”
–J. Tony Serra, Lawyer, San Francisco
“…a marvelous book with lovely pictures of the California Coast.”
–Eliot Buchdruker, CPA, San Francisco
“Driftwood Shacks is splendid, a tribute to Lloyd’s fine and undimmed eye.”
–John Van der Zee, author
“…fascinating, ephemeral forms of spontaneous architecture.”
–Elise Cannon, Publishers Group West
“…fantastic new book”
–Chris “Uncle Mud” McClellan, natural builder
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Driftwood Shacks Book Version 2.0 Just Released

We just received our new version of Driftwood Shacks: Anonymous Architecture Along the California Coast. It has twice as many pages/pictures and was printed by our printers in Hong Kong who print all of our building books. It is now available for order at www.shelterpub.com/building/driftwood.

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Ziggy and April's Timber Frame and Straw Bale Home in Missouri

…After ten days of the Straw Bale Workshop (and yet more punishing heat), we built the walls of our new home, installed all the windows and doors, and began the natural clay and lime plaster finishes on the walls.

Amazingly, we were able to live in the house by winter of that same year. Granted the house was not complete, but we had a dry, warm place to rest in before the next year’s work started. A year or so later the house was completed.

Building our straw bale house challenged us in many unexpected ways. Just as we had taken a bare piece of ground and utterly transformed it, the straw bale house itself changed us in ways we could never imagine…

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Lovely Cordwood Cabin on Small BC Island

Gary and Marlene Cooper built this lovely cordwood cabin on a small BC island in the 90’s. All the cordwood came off the beach. “I wanted it to be salty,” says Gary.

They used the book Cordwood Building: The State of the Art, by Rob Roy.

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On the Road Again — The Lost Coast

First driftwood photo of trip, near Mattole river yesterday

I took off at 8AM Sunday, driving through Petaluma to get on Hwy 101. The Nicasio lake is full to the brim, the hills a verdant green — both from late rains. The fog of the beach gradually gave way to the sun of inland. Orange splashes of poppies amidst the green … Roadkill — during the day: two skunks (neither smelling), a fox, a raccoon, two deer, today two squirrels; must be spring fever … giant piles of redwood logs in Cloverdale lumberyard … Hwy 101 narrows down to two lanes north of Willits. It’s relaxed, very little traffic, you can make a U-turn in middle of road … it clears the head to get out of the Bay Area where everything by comparison seems congested, every inch spoken for and/or ridiculously high-priced … south fork of the Eel River is turquoise … getting into crackpot roadside territory with rock shops, bears-carved-out-of-chainsaws shops, kind of like the reptile farms that used to be along Hwy 66…

Ended up camping at the Mattole rivermouth, then drove through back roads today to Shelter Cove … tomorrow 8AM, I’m getting a ride back to Mattole, will then backpack along beach 30 miles back to Black Sands Beach near Shelter Cove, hoping to find driftwood beach shacks to photograph … have decided to expand and reprint the driftwood shack book … just had great fish and chips down at Shelter Cove boat ramp…

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More Driftwood Shacks

After breakfast in Boonville, Louie and I drove through the giant redwoods back to the coast and went out to Navarro Beach, a driftwood mecca. Here’s the inside and outside of one of the shacks.

(I’m thinking of taking a two-week trip up the coast in May, including a three-day backpacking trip along the Lost Coast beaches, photographing shacks — and doing a larger driftwood book.)

Louie collected select pieces of driftwood to make a chair while I ran around shooting photos. Before we left I jumped into the Navarro River for a moment. The rivers up here are beautiful right now, plenty of water, and emerald green in between the rains…

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