Among all categories of architecture, the house is the most intimate. Where one lives, whether simple or elaborate, outdoors or in a high-tech connected home, we can like the chapters of a book, tell our story through the houses we inhabit. In A Carpenter’s Life as told by houses, author Larry Haun does just that. From Nebraska to Oregon and all the places in between, Haun tells a story that in many ways reflects the arc and dramatic growth of residential architecture in the U.S. during the 20th century. I found the book on sale for less than ten dollars during one of my many browsing sessions at the Tattered Cover bookstore in downtown Denver.
Haun, who’s close in age to my mom, was born during the Great Depression in rural Nebraska. I mention this coincidence because in reading his story, so much of what he says and how he says it, similarly to that of my mom, reflects a deep understanding of the concept of enough. As modern people, we struggle with the idea of enough. We live in a world where most anything from anywhere is available at anytime. Ours is a culture of convenience, normalized by pervasive marketing, fueled by technology. Want it, got to have it, now. Too often we overshoot the mark and are then left to deal with the aftermath. Haun gets this challenge of our modern times intuitively. While he appreciates many of the benefits of progress he also has many good insights on what we’ve lost.
Haun is a master carpenter but his book reveals he is so much more than just that. Haun is a storyteller and a bit of a philosopher. The book’s twelve chapters progress chronologically from the soddy, those earth-built, houses of the Great Plains that were sustainable well before sustainability was a thing, through the progression of residential construction and up to the little greenhouse he built to grow vegetables with his granddaughter.
Happily, A Carpenter’s Life isn’t nostalgic, it’s more so reflective and thoughtful. I liked what Haun had to say and how he said it. I also appreciated Haun’s expert, first-person account as a builder. That he has the ability to communicate his extensive knowledge in an interesting way was an unexpected bonus. A Carpenter’s Life is one of my favorite book buys from 2016.
The Library is a recurring series on the books that confirm, challenge or otherwise inform the Peopled Places point of view.