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Off Grid Life
Your Ideal Home in the Middle of Nowhere
Formats and Prices
- Hardcover $28.00 $35.00 CAD
- ebook $14.99 $19.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 27, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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After spending three years on the road living in a camper van, Foster Huntington, author of Van Life, continued his unconventional lifestyle by building a two-story treehouse. Foster, like many others, are finding tranquility and adventure in living off the grid in unconventional homes. Organized into sections like tree houses, tiny houses, shipping containers, yurts, boathouses, barns, vans, and more,
Off Grid Life features 250 aspirational photographs in enviable settings like stunning beaches, dramatic mountains, and picturesque forests. Also included are images of fully designed interiors with kitchens and sleeping quarters as well as interviews with solo dwellers, couples, and families who are living this new American dream.
My foray into the realm of alternative dwellings moved from abstract daydreams to reality in August of 2011. I left my fifth-floor walk-up apartment in Manhattan at five in the morning carrying my last possessions—two duffel bags, a surfboard bag, and a large Osprey backpack—and headed to LaGuardia Airport to catch a flight to Reno, Nevada, where I picked up a 1987 VW Vanagon Syncro. Over the next three years, I logged 150,000 miles driving around Mexico, Canada, and the western United States—living first in the Vanagon and then in a Toyota pickup–based camper. I parked at night on public land, in friends’ driveways, and on city streets. I used bathrooms in coffee shops, restaurants, and truck stops. My vehicle was my bedroom and the outdoors was my living room. This period in my mid-twenties completely changed my expectations regarding what I needed to live comfortably, and what compromises I needed to make in order to be happy. It helped satisfy my thirst for excitement and confirmed my strong belief that there is more to life than a corporate nine-to-five.
Along the road I met people living in all sorts of different ways: in tents packed on the back of their motorcycles; in rustic cabins at 10,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies; in Airstreams in the hills above Los Angeles; and in treehouse colonies overlooking fields of marijuana in southern Oregon. The thread that tied it all together was that they all—some by choice and some by circumstance—lived in small homes they either built or actively maintained themselves, with self-taught know-how and their own hands. None of these houses had three bedrooms, two baths, and a garage. They were way below the average size, and most were less than 1,000 square feet.
After three years of living out of my vehicle full-time, I started pondering my next home. I looked at houses in Portland, Oregon, but quickly realized I had no reason to live in a city beyond the convenience of coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores. My ideal home wasn’t surrounded by neighbors in a city dead set on matching the gentrification of the Bay Area and Brooklyn. I wanted a place with the infrastructure to allow me to undertake larger projects—building, photography, filmmaking, etc.—and enough space to host all the friends that had been so accommodating to me on my travels. I wanted chickens, goats, and a garden. I wanted to have bonfires and cook over coals. I wanted to be able to pee outside without risking locking eyes with a neighbor midstream. I didn’t want to take on a mortgage that would force me to work jobs I didn’t want to work. I decided to look in rural areas, places a little more off the beaten path. I started brainstorming with my longtime friend, Tucker Gorman (featured in this book in both the Treehouses and Tiny Homes chapters), and we hatched a plan to build a series of treehouses and bridges in a cluster of Douglas fir trees on the top of a small dormant volcano overlooking the Columbia River Gorge.
We built the treehouses—an adventure described in more detail in the chapter on treehouses—and I lived in them from 2014 to 2019. They didn’t have running water or bathrooms, but since I’d been living in my car, it was a relatively easy transition. Using the treehouses as my bedroom and office, I lived, year round, 20 feet off the ground in a 200-square-foot space. I learned to tell what the weather was doing by the sounds the treehouses and bridges made. I dreaded the annual ice storms that coat my beloved Douglas fir trees in inches of ice. I refused to retreat to the ground during these stormy nights. I weathered falling tree limbs, shattering ice, and rocking trees with the same stubbornness as Ahab chasing the white whale. I noted the end of winter with the arrival of the tree swallows in April. Flying around the treehouses and below the bridges, chasing bugs and nesting in the trees, their coming always reminded me that we shared the same trees as our home.
As my mid-twenties moved on into my early thirties, my living needs changed again. My girlfriend, Kaycee, moved in with me, and we got a cocker spaniel puppy, Gemma. The treehouse started showing its limitations. Kaycee did not seem to enjoy peeing off the edge of the deck in the middle of the night the same way I did. There is a 1,000-square-foot converted barn home up at the Cinder Cone—the nickname of my property up in the Columbia River Gorge—about 200 feet from my treehouses. We started spending more nights on the ground and fewer in the trees.
These new presences in my life contributed to my evolving understanding of living spaces. When we travel in my van, Gemma actively seeks out the small storage cubby under the bed. She prefers to sleep there rather than on the mattress with the down comforter and pillows. When we are up at the Cinder Cone, Kaycee often chooses to sleep in a small loft or in the van instead of the queen-sized bed in our large bedroom. I see a pattern in their choices. Small spaces offer a sense of security and coziness that is very comforting. Over the course of human and mammal development, we’ve only been living in large, one-family houses for a very short time, about two hundred years.
Today more than ever, small homes offer young people an opportunity to have a house of their own. Statistics on home ownership among millennials are bleak. We are on track to be the first American generation less well-off than our parents. With more and more people working for themselves or as freelancers in the gig economy, fewer and fewer of us will ever be eligible for home loans. We will be forced to look for alternative ways to live. This will be difficult because so many of us have lost all connection with our immediate environments. We no longer have the ability to make things or take care of our lives. Our food comes from hundreds if not thousands of miles away; it is delivered pre-prepared to our doors or to our local grocery store. For better or worse, we don’t take care of our health on a personal level: if we get sick, we go to the doctor. When things break in our cars and homes, we pay professionals to fix them. No wonder people feel more depressed and helpless than ever before.
Of all the ways we can take control of our lives, getting involved in our shelter is one of the easiest and most accessible. The last forty years have seen an enormous transition from rural to urban areas, driving up property prices in cities to unheard-of levels. In San Francisco, for example, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in October 2019 was $3,600, according to Rent Jungle (www.rentjungle.com/average-rent-in-san-francisco-rent-trends).
If we accept the conventional wisdom that a third of one’s disposable income should go toward housing, it would take a salary of well over a hundred thousand dollars a year to live comfortably in San Francisco. Major cities all over the country—L.A., New York, Seattle, D.C.—are becoming increasingly unaffordable for the vast majority of people. Those living in desirable smaller cities like Portland and Asheville are feeling the pressure, too. Conversely, rent and property prices in rural areas across the country have stagnated or declined.
As population numbers and property values in rural areas go down, the spread of the internet is creating more and more opportunities for remote work. My hope for this book is to inspire people to leave cities and move to these areas and find a piece of land. Start with something small. Build a yurt, put down a shipping container, or level off a space for a tiny house. Plant a garden. Invite friends out for a weekend. Build a wood-fired hot tub. Create memories building a structure with your friends and loved ones. Get your hands dirty.
The structures in this book, without exception, were all built outside of the traditional home financing system and could never be purchased with a traditional loan. They were built with cash, either in quick sprints or slowly, as money allowed. The total prices range from as little as ten thousand up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The common feature of the structures is that they were built with passionate and relentless work by people like you and me.
Nothing is without compromise. These structures all required some kind of compromise on the lifestyle many of us are used to—geographic compromises, size compromises, comfort compromises—but with these compromises comes the ability to live more economically, to make things ourselves, and to experience the natural world as more than something we watch on Netflix or scroll past on Instagram. My hope is that somewhere in the following pages, you will come across a building style or structure that plants a seed in your brain—a seed that ultimately grows into a home or retreat you can share with your friends and family.
Rebirth of an Old Commune with Artist Fritz Haeg
Fritz Haeg is an artist and builder living in Mendocino County, California.
My life as an artist has happened in chapters. For many years I lived in L.A. and was very engaged in community projects and the local art scene. Around 2005 I felt a conscious urge to start traveling. For the next ten years I was going to different cities all over the world, working on commission pieces. But from the very beginning, I knew that one day I wanted to live rurally and have a more settled life.
In 2006 I collaborated with a friend on a project called Plan B. We did a massive amount of research on intentional communities around the world and put together five binders of documentation, one for each continent. We used the material to create an installation at MASS MoCA exploring failed utopian projects. So even at that early moment, communal living was a real interest for me and something I had spent a lot of time thinking about. There just wasn’t any place in my life for it yet. It’s one of those ideas you let germinate while other things are happening.
During that whole period of time, I was nursing this dream. I had a very specific idea of wanting to be settled, rural, connected to a piece of land for the rest of my life—a place where I could literally and metaphorically put down roots, plant trees and things I could grow with for the rest of my life. I knew I needed the perfect piece of land, because it had to be something that could be the next project for the rest of my life, something that I could put all my resources and time into. I didn’t want a virgin piece of land. I wanted something that had a legacy to build upon, maybe a homestead or an old farm. What I found was even better.
The Salmon Creek Farm was founded in 1971 by Robert Greenway, a professor at Sonoma State, and his partner, River. They had a blended family of seven kids, including six boys. Salmon, Huckleberry, Hawk, Rainbow—they all had these amazing commune names. Originally, Greenway’s plan was to start a school, but later he developed this idea of an intentional community, very similar to communes going on all over California at the time. They had a very organized system for joining the group. Everyone was a partial owner of the property and everyone had a vote in community affairs. The group divided labor and chores systematically. They had a charter and a clearly articulated vision for the society they were building. They were also very much a part of the counterculture. They had peyote circles and solstice rituals. They grew their own food. They built their own cabins from materials scavenged locally.
Over time, people left and the community faded away. When I bought the property in 2015, there were thirteen owners spread all over the globe. It made communication a little difficult, but when I explained my vision for the future of the land, they agreed to sell me the property for less than market value.
My vision for the Salmon Creek Farm is eclectic—a hybrid of different aspects of art, education, and community that I believe in. I was never interested in reviving the commune as it was before, but the community was built with certain principles that I think are truly universal and timeless: resourcefulness, simplicity, self-reliance, respect for the land.
“The heavily illustrated volume is a collection of photos and essays that…. unfurl the imagination: an Earthship modeled after a Hobbit house, a fire pit in the woods beside a homely black shipping container, a treehouse with a wraparound porch, nestled between birches or aspens. If you really are thinking of returning to the land (or sea), this book will both feed your fantasy and give you a taste of what the experience is really like…. Whether you’re dreaming, hoping or planning, Off Grid Life is a good place to spark — or park — your dreams.”—Timothy R. Smith, The Washington Post
- On Sale
- Oct 27, 2020
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Black Dog & Leventhal