Reader Feedback: Issue 177, February/March 2006
An honorable pursuit
After Katrina’s floodwaters finally receded, it suddenly became fashionable, even glamorous, to build a house. Celebrities, movie stars, and politicians all were swinging hammers on TV. It didn’t last, of course. Home building’s 15 minutes of fame faded quickly, and the morning shows went back to reporting on the previous night’s reality programs. At Fine Homebuilding, we’ve always thought that putting a roof over someone’s head, your own or anybody else’s, is an honorable pursuit. And the people who know how, especially those willing to share their knowledge, are to be celebrated. For us, they are the stuff of magazine covers.
In fact, Fine Homebuilding has been featuring builders (along with the fruits of their labor) on covers for 25 years now. And to celebrate this anniversary, we’ve tiled the cover of this issue with some of our favorite images from covers past. We’ve also thrown a few extra articles into the issue.
One of my heroes, Larry Haun, has been after me for years to let him write about building houses on the California tracts back in the ‘50s. This issue seemed like the right place for such a piece. “One Carpenter’s Life” begins on p. 72. Former editor Scott Gibson pulls back the curtain with his brief history of Fine Homebuilding in “The Magazine You Built” (p. 56). Writer Matthew Teague looks back at the building industry with “25 Years of Milestones” (p. 78), and writer Roger Yepsen looks ahead to “The Future of Home Building” (p. 112). You’ll find a few other surprises scattered throughout the issue, including a peek inside the editors’ homes (p. 118). Finally, we’re taking a different approach to the “Letters” column.
Other magazines often print letters that are sappy valentines from readers professing to love this or that about the publication. We don’t generally go for that sort of thing. The letters in Fine Homebuilding are where readers correct, complain, and argue about what they’ve seen in the magazine. But just this once, we decided to give over the whole column to readers’ appreciations. We’ll return to the usual maelstrom in our next issue.
As you read these effusive notes from grateful readers, don’t presume for a minute that they were meant for me, or for my fellow editors and art directors. These valentines are for every one of us, from the builders willing to share what they’ve learned, to you, the readers, who value their knowledge and honor their craft. Thank you for 25 great years. As my old pal Chuck Lockhart used to say, “Read all you want; we’ll make more.”
—Kevin Ireton, editor
From one mentor to another, thanks
I began my career as a carpenter in 1972 in Mendocino, Calif., building barns on ridge tops with hand tools. In those days I was on my own with no one to show me the way. So I read old textbooks and, through trial and error, began my self-taught apprenticeship. In 1981 I bought issue #1 of Fine Homebuilding and now have a complete collection. Fine Homebuilding became my resource, teacher, and mentor. After 30 plus years as a carpenter and building contractor, I am now an instructor in the carpentry department at Laney College in Oakland, Calif. Despite student demographics diverse in age, culture, ethnicity, and gender, all of my students develop a love for their craft, inspired by me and by the information I glean from Fine Homebuilding. Thank you for being my mentor.
—Brian Simmons, Oakland, Calif.
Inspired to work again
A little over three years ago, my life came to a screeching halt after a commercial refrigerator fell on me while I was remodeling a kitchen. I fractured one of my vertebrae and herniated several of my discs.
After a year of physical therapy, my doctors said that I would be at least 60% disabled for the rest of my life. On top of my injury, I had gained more than 100 lb. due to inactivity, but I refused to give up.
Over a period of about six months, I lost a considerable amount of the weight and got my body strong enough to start working again. Then in June, I got my chance. Some good friends had a contractor walk off their renovation and asked if I knew anyone who could help. Long story short, their remodel is now complete, and I am back to doing what I love. And I just wanted to thank Fine Homebuilding and The Taunton Press for taking the time, effort, and energy to publish such great magazines and books. You not only answered my technical questions, but also offered an immense amount of inspiration in helping me rebuild my life.
—Brian Simmons, Flint, Mich.
A note from Africa
I don’t need to go into how wonderful Fine Homebuilding is as I’m sure you have a thousand letters of commendation, but consider this: When a Scotsman goes out of his way to spend his own money for over 100 issues of a magazine, you know it’s got to be a very special magazine indeed. Thanks. I think I got more than my money’s worth.
—Jim Bunyan, Cape Town, South Africa
Like a kid with a new toy
My first issue of FHB? Number 64. I may not have been there since the beginning, but I quickly became addicted.
It was obvious to me what made your articles so good: the authors, of course, but just as important, the strength and consistency of the editing. You also set yourself apart with excellent photographs and sketches. And not just photographs that wow people with craftsmanship, but those simple and perfectly angled ones that reassure (“Oh, now I get it!”) and educate those of us with 3-D-challenged minds. They are real; even the tools look just like the ones I picked up at the rental place.
Like many of your loyal readers, I still get that “child with a new toy” feeling when I see my latest copy in the mailbox. Thanks for being there.
—Jean-Marc Dupont, Aylmer, Que., Canada
Authors like old friends
When I found my first issue of Fine Homebuilding in Heathrow Airport in 1990, I quickly learned that there were others like me, passionate about the design and construction of homes. I have been a subscriber ever since. Contributors like Mike Guertin, Rick Arnold, John Spier, and Gary M. Katz seem like old friends even though we have never met.
I’m thankful to have discovered your magazine and have been truly enjoying the inspirational ride.
—Christopher Kiernan, Onaping, Ont., Canada
FHB inspired a change
The December 1987 issue of Fine Homebuilding changed my life forever. The article “Three Custom Stairbuilders” started me dreaming of my own curved-stairway business.
I remained a trim carpenter for several years, constantly rereading that article. I finally decided that I would rather try and fail than fail to have tried. Thank God I tried. I haven’t regretted it for a second. I have always wondered how my life would have turned out had I not been so inspired. Thanks for being the source of my dream.
—Stan Foster, Paxton, Ill.
Helpful advice online
A month ago, my wife broke her hip. I was eager to upgrade the security of our home during her recuperation but was unsure of the best way to fasten a safety grab bar to a tiled bath/ shower. I immediately posted a message at your online discussion forum, “Breaktime.”
Within 24 hours, I had six very helpful responses. Four of them recommended the WingIt system (www.wingits.com), and one individual went so far as to suggest I should not be a cheapskate and to “go ahead and buy their carbide hole saw.” Thanks to Fine Homebuilding and “Breaktime,” my wife is recovering nicely—secure and clean.
—Jerry Frost, Ann Arbor, Mich.
A Pattern Language was the best advice
After I’d been reading Fine Homebuilding for a few years, I noticed that in many of the articles on houses that appealed to me, the architect mentioned A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander’s incredible compendium on everything that works in design. I bought the book, and over the years, my wife and I went about implementing as many of the patterns as we could. With zero design experience and that not-so-slim volume, we created exactly the house we wanted.
I still read every issue cover to cover, but the introduction to A Pattern Language is easily the best thing you ever did for me and my family.
—Michael Morse, Garrett Park, Md.
FHB to the rescue
Back in the summer of 1996, I was working on a redwood gazebo. As I was eating lunch and enjoying the July issue of Fine Homebuilding, I heard some commotion from inside the house. The young, inexperienced painters had managed to ruin the beautiful, original inlaid-linoleum floor. The homeowner was very upset because the insurance agent had just told her that it was not repairable and that linoleum was no longer available. She would have to settle for vinyl.
I interrupted as tactfully as possible and handed over the article I happened to be reading, “Choosing Resilient Flooring.” After calling the toll-free number provided, the homeowner found the sole local supplier of linoleum, which was just starting its rebirth here in the East. She was able to get a good color match to the original and even found someone to do the inlay.
Fine Homebuilding had come to the rescue. The customer was ecstatic. For an instant, I was a hero. The insurance agent was only too happy to pay up.
—Nicholas O. Lardas, Pittsburgh, Pa.