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Builders of the Gulf Islands

Here are pix of homes on two of the Gulf Islands, off the east coast of Vancouver Island. I don't need to name the islands here, they already get plenty of publicity. There's been a high level of design, ingenuity, and craftsmanship in this part of the world. For me it was photographer's wonderland.

Michael Dennis left his job as a professor at UC Medical School in 1980 and moved to B.C. He milled his own posts and beams from timber on his land and built a large and elegant house. It feels a bit like a wooden medeival hall, with light shining on broad-width polished flooringn.

Robbie, who's retired, lives a very simple life in moss-roofed "Mossy Hollow," built on a forested hillside and reachable only by trail.

Swann moved to the islands in 1968. He built a house in the '70s that burned down in 1985, so rebuilt it on the same spot. He and his wife, (prolific) artist Sudasi Gardner live and work in this light-filled colorful home.

Bedroom. Quilts, pillows, art on walls all by Sudasi.

Bathroom infused with light

Driftwood house built on a remote beach on Denman Island by John Moreland in the '70s.

Architect Michael McNamara built his own house in 1971. It has good vibes and a good fung-shui feel and is sited in a grassy meadow and surrounded by gardens.

Alexander Cockburn's Living Room

In a small town in Northern California

Greg Smith

Bedroom in Greg Smith's beautifully executed rammed earth house. It's in a sunny meadow sitting above a large river in northwest coastal California.

Poured concrete floor made to look like large fired Spanish tiles.

Tony & Julie's Hillside House

A work of love. In the '70s, Tony and Julie Anderson built this liitle multi-level home on a coastal hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean.


A Great Wednesday in Victoria

A good part of the reason for this trip is due to my friend Godfrey, painter, woodcarver, artist extraordinaire, native of Vancouver Island, a sailor, a boat builder, enthusiast for all that's beautiful in life. I met Godfrey in Yelapa, a small town in Mexico in 1964 (it's a long story), and we've been in touch on and off over the years.

It was Godfrey and his friends who gave me people to visit and places to see the past week. I've been in the territory north of Victoria for about 9 days and now back in Victoria and heading south, I plan to photograph the work of Sun Ray Kelly in Cedro Wooly, Washington and then visit John Raabe, an architect doing wonderful work, who lives on Whidbey Island off the coast on Washington.

This morning I went out to Godfrey's and met — I can hardly believe it — Tony Hunt, chief of the Kwaigulth (what the white man refers to as Kwaikiutl) tribe and extraordinary woodcarver and artist. Tony helped his grandfather, Mungo Martin carve all the totems and build the large wooden "Big Houses" in Thunderbird Park, adjacent to the Victoria Museum in downtown Victoria. This work is POWERFUL! It was a privilege to meet him. He showed my photos of his work and brought along a moon mask he was just about finished carving. Godfrey grew up with Tony and met Mungo when he (Godfrey) was 12 years old, and that's another long story…

So after I left Godfrey's I ended up having lunch at Swan's Pub on the Victoria. After lunch I asked if they had a room. Yes they did, but it was a suite over the pub and there'd be music until 1:00 AM, therefore the room was substantially discounted. What kind of music, I asked. "West coast blues," he said. Well all right! So I am at the moment ensconced in a great room, on Wi-fi with my laptop, about to go down and hear the band's last set and will return to try to get some blogging done later on. The Bill Johnson Blues Band, and they are excellent. Big crowd.

From Vancouver Island on a Rainy July Night

I've been on then road for a little over 2 weeks now, it seems like 2 months. This trip has been rich, so much so that I haven't had time to blog until now. The idea was to take 3 weeks going up the Pacific Coast, visiting and photographing builders' work along the way, ending up on the islands in waters off the coast of Vancouver Island, where I'd heard for years there were some wonderful houses.

I started by visiting my friend Louie in Mendocino county, whose house, due to late rains, is only reachable by riding a bosun's chair on a 500' cable across a river. Louis and I share a passion for wild duck (my Dad was an avid duck hunter) and we've gotten into the habit of preparing dinner together, we have shots of tequila while making a salad from greens growing in pots on the deck, a little rice, ducks split open, marinated in red wine, then barbecued on high heat, along with Louie's homemade inky-red Zinfandel. Two old guys, in their clubhouse in the woods.

When I left the next morning for points north, Louie handed me a bag and told me it was lunch. After about five hours of driving, I was hungry and found a meadow in the woods, pulled the truck in and opened the bag. One whole duck, a bottle of Zin, and a green apple. Yasss!

The Eel river was beautiful, crystal green, clear, lively with late spring rains. This turned out to be Hank Williams day, the CD was just right for the countryside.

That last long day she said goodbye,
Well Lord I thought I would die,
She'll do me, she'll do you,
She's got that kind of lovin'
Lord I love to hear her when she calls me
Sweet Da-a-a-a-a-dy

A perfect song.

I spent a night in the old hotel in Arcata, a pretty cool college town (except for the draggy burnouts who seem to occupy the main square). Went for a run in the woods, saw these kids sailing frisbees through pretty densely forested areas. What were they doing? Playing "Frisgolf," where instead of a ball, they sail the frisbee. In place of the holes were posts with pieces of pipe attached, that clanged when the frisbee would hit it. Kids all through the woods playing, an Arcata invention I guess.

You know, I started out writing this in sequence, the order of my trip, and it now occurs to me that if I were to go on at this rate, it would take me about 20 hours to just highlight what's been happening, so I'm going to skip around, OK?

The most spectacular part of the trip has been visiting Denman Island and its sister, Hornby Island, reachable by short ferry rides from the east coast of Vancouver Island, maybe a couple hours north of Victoria. I've never seen such a collection of wonderful homes. People have told me for decades about the builders up here, and they weren't kidding. Oh my!

Most of the guys I met on the islands were expatriate Americans who came here in the '70s to avoid Vietnam, and became Canadian citizens. Every single builder I talked to knew our book 1973 Shelter well, and each guy would tell me to go see this or that place. In the course of doing this I made friends, some wonderful people who I'll be in touch with forevermore, plus I saw the work of a builder that just stopped me in my tracks. It was the same kind of experience I had when I met Louie a dozen years ago. This was just another level of tuned-in design and building. And the name of this guy, whose work I hope to feature in my book on builders, is — Lloyd House. Was this meant to happen or what?

I'm now in an internet cafe in the town of Courtenay, east coast of Vancouver island after getting back from those beautiful islands, reason I'm here is that I spent 2 hours with Lloyd House yesterday, he's a most unusual and delightful and (sorry for the overworked cliche), but he just blew me away. Wow! He now lives on an island off the west coast of Vancouver Island, 9 miles by boat from the town of Tofino, and I plan on visiting him on my next trip.

I met a wonderful designer/builder developer today in Courtney, Tom Larsen, who has built over 100 simple little houses for older and/or handicapped people in town. His latest project is a work/live complex of buildings in a light industrial area, where a young person can have a shop or office on the ground level and live in an apartment on top. The buildings are sided with corrugated metal, sited nicely, there are gardens and trees, it's a grass roots little village, no government grants, just good design, good construction, at a good price.

This unit has woodworker's shop below, with spacious-light-filled apartment above.

Then tonight Tom's 29-year old son Olaf took me skateboarding in the hills above town. This is such a nice part of the world. I'll try posting some pics from the trip next chance I get. I'm heading over to the west coast of Vancouver island next. Have shot over 1000 pics.