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Wowhaus: craft, tiny architecture & back-to-land home/studio

There once was a Wow House- a small backyard studio that Scott Constable built for his and his wife Ene Osteraas-Constable’s art and design work-, but then they moved to the country and now there’s just Wowhaus, the couple’s design collaboration.

Art, architecture and skateboards

It’s tough to define just what the Wowhaus designers do. They create furniture, art, architecture, crossover into agriculture and have even designed a wooden skateboard “handcrafted according to an individual’s bodytype and riding style, utilizing unique native Californian hardwoods culled from ‘horticultural salvage’”.

Back to the land for craft and the “good life”

Five years ago, the couple left behind the original Wow House and moved from Oakland to the Redwoods of Sonoma County where they have plenty of space to create, grow their own food and host large, public gatherings.

Constable admits they are attracted to the different iterations of back-to-the-land movement since Helen and Scott Nearing redefined the “good life” for many Americans. Though the Wowhaus spread is less homestead and more of “a rural outpost for a kind of urban rural experimentation, ranging from agriculture to craft, design, architecture,” explains Constable, “so it’s a living laboratory.”

Constable is a woodworker who began his career apprenticing with master woodworkers creating crafted homes. Now he continues to design highly-crafted architecture (see our House of Tree video), his forthcoming skateboard Deep Deck and a lot of furniture (notably for Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard).

Treenests and tiny architecture

The Wowhaus pair have also created works that fall somewhere between architecture and whimsy. Their collaboratively-built Treenests are a “rough-hewn variation” on a tree fort that have been built across the country using material found within walking distance of the individual tree and which make no penetrations into the tree.

The couple has created a lot of tiny architecture and much of it sits on their property today: the caddyshack from a historic miniature golf course they created for a San Francisco neighborhood now acts as storage for their sporting equipment; a solar-powered micro radio studio that at one point broadcast the audio archive of a day on Market Street in San Francisco, these days houses overnight guests.

The Bauhaus of Wowhaus

The Wowhaus name is also an intentional riff on Bauhaus. Constable relates to the utilitarian aspect of the movement. “We might have a similar goal of saying, ‘OK, how can this design improve people’s lives?’ But I think it’s learning from the fallacies of that, too,” he explained several years ago to the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not nostalgic or sentimental, but it doesn’t abandon the past, and I think the Bauhaus was pretty aggressive about abandoning the past.”

In this video, we visit the Wowhaus compound in West Sonoma County where Constable shows us the couple’s home/studio and their efforts in “adaptive reuse” of the property, refurbishing its “tear-down” quality buildings and reusing its “waste”, like the 3 fallen Douglas fir trees from which they created a huge “Viking table” or feast table for public gatherings.