How to Design and Fabricate Homestead Projects


I’m a horrible designer. My music degree (I have a master’s degree in un-listenable noise from UC San Diego), did not prepare me for the rigorous design and fabrication needs required for our two books and this blog. But, over the years, I’ve bugged our art, design and architecture friends for advice. Luckily, I’m also married to a talented artist (also with a UCSD degree–go Tritons!) who can provide 24 hour emergency art and art history advice.

I’ll use the process of putting together my Vegetable Prison as a way of showing what I’ve leaned from my brainy, art-damaged friends:

Go to lots of art shows, museums, take classes, go to furniture stores and watch strange movies
One of the things I love about living in a big city is the opportunity to experience lots of high and low culture. I drew on those experiences when it came time to come up with a cage for the veggies. Due to my fascination with out-of-favor 80’s postmodernism, I remembered Robert Venturi’s Franklin Court from an architectural history class I took as an undergrad:


Impressed that I remembered a small detail from a slide show in a class I took 30 years ago, I Googled Franklin Court and showed it to Kelly. She countered with Wonder Woman’s airplane:


I counter-riposted with the set from Lars Von Trier’s difficult Dogville, which takes place entirely on this bare-bones set:


A trip to a high end furniture store yielded a contemporary example of this “outline” or “ghost” strategy, in this case a fire log holder:

With these ideas in mind I proceeded to the next step: doodling. As tempting as it is to dive straight into Sketchup, it’s best to draw stuff out on paper first, otherwise you risk letting that 3d modeling program turn you into a “tool of the tool.” I’m not great at sketching things on paper but you don’t have to be a great artist to get some ideas down. And that’s the point. With paper and pencil you can draw lots of ideas out quickly.

For learning how to draw there is no better book than Drawing From on Right Side of the Brain. Once you go through that you’re ready for a fun book I’m currently making my way through called Sketching for Architecture + Interior Design.


Lastly it’s time to get those ideas in the free version of the 3d program Sketchup. You can learn Sketchup in an evening or two and it has really helped separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to my many bad ideas. With Sketchup you can rotate the object and really see if it works aesthetically. You can even place it in a photo and see it it works in context. It’s also cut down on waste as well as those “I forgot something” trips back to the hardware store. Once the object is rendered I can easily determine how much lumber and hardware I need.


Where do you get your ideas both good and bad?

Our hypocrisy revealed


(Well, one of our hypocrisies.)

We make snarky comments  all the time about the new trend toward horizontal fencing in our neighborhood– what we call “flipper fences.” We’ve talked about flipper fences at least once on this blog, probably more, and anyone who hangs out with us has heard the term from us too many times.

To us, these fences are symbols of gentrification. The appearance of one in front of an old house is a sure sign the interior has undergone a rough-n’-ready “Dwell” style modern makeover inside, and the house is about to be re-sold at a 100k mark-up.

Yet when it came time to finally install a handrail on our staircase (just in time for the holidays, to appease our family, who for some reason find our treacherous staircase problematic) we discovered that arranging the boards horizontally worked best.

In short, due to a combination of laziness and skill deficiency and general expediency (the usual deciding factors in our design decisions) we’re constructing our very own flipper fence.


A Pedal Powered Lathe


I’ve blogged many times now about the incredibly useful and free 3D visualization program Sketchup (and had John Zapf on to talk about it on the podcast). A few avid woodworkers used the program to help build a wooden, bicycle powered lathe for a school in the Dominican Republic town of Punta Cana. They built the lathe so that kids at the school could make their own baseball bats.

You can find out more about the project on the Sketchup blog.

The Ultimate Flipper Fence?

cornsoup 9

Talk about neighborly! The horizontal (a.k.a. “flipper) fencing on this 1905 bungalow has not only metastasized down the driveway, but has blocked off the view from what remains of the front porch. After all, who wants to sit out on the porch and chat with the neighbors on a warm summer night? Heck, there’s no need to even see them as you scurry around your high-security compound.

Examine the picture carefully and you’ll see the mandatory san-serif address numbers and the sort of biometric entrance gizmo they have in all those action movies to keep the zombies out. For that $890,000 you also get some Dr. Seuss plants. The real estate listing says, “Completely remodeled and designed with Silver Lake living in mind”.  Silver Lake living don’t mean what it used to.

The best dry toilet ever

Version 2

We are fortunate to have talented friends all around us, because they are a never-ending source of inspiration.

Case in point: Our friend, Gloria, needed a toilet for her off-grid compound. She asked our mutual friend, Daniel, to make her one. Daniel is a gifted maker– all his creations seem to have an inherent grace about them. Using the classic text, The Humanure Handbook, as a resource, he built her the most beautiful dry toilet system I’ve ever seen.

See more pics of this system and read Daniel’s story on his book-as-a-blog, The Cabin Dweller’s Texbook.

Also, we interviewed Daniel earlier this year for Root Simple Podcast #044.