Close to my house, there is a curious shop. It says MICHAEL KELLY above the door in bold red letters. Nothing seems to be for sale. The shop is filled with petite, white, pitched-roof dwellings. Elegant, handmade shutters have been installed in all the windows.
In one front window, Michael Kelly has a small workbench. His tools are carefully arranged, both on the wall and on shelves behind the bench. Small containers of small nails are neatly stacked on the shelves. Another set of shelves contains books: the wisdom of Primo Levi, and psychiatrist and academic Thomas Szasz, among others.
There is a small blackboard resting in the window, and every day Michael chalks a new aphorism, something that reflects the matters he has been mulling. Today, it reads, “What is life without love and beauty, the gifts of art, music and ideas?”
Others I remember, off the top of my head, are: “Walk with wise people”, and “No truer comment on the human heart is the state of the environment”. Many people stop and talk to him about what he writes in the window and many others wave as they pass.
When I first visited Michael and his wife Nadeen, he spent all afternoon talking with me. Their dog Rusty pawed around us. Michael is tall, straight-backed and square-jawed. His hazel eyes see with strict, clear purpose.
He told me about his belief in building as simply as possible. “If you can build a rectangle, you can build a box. If you can build a box, you can build a house.” As you construct a rectangle, be sure that the structure is square, not skewed. Measure the two angled lengths, from opposite corner to opposite corner, and knock the structure until those lengths are equal.
Michael owns a battered yellow ute, in which he collects discarded timber from demolition sites. He seeks out Oregon (otherwise known as Douglas Fir), the soft but strong timber that was previously used for framing in houses. He picks up not only sizeable planks, but also the Oregon lath (thin timber strips) from old lath-and-plaster interior walls. He makes it into shutters, shelves, tables, walls, roofs: you-name-it.
I have since spent several fruitful afternoons at the shop, sharing labour and conversation. We are building a small dwelling (or studio structure) in his courtyard – and that will be the subject of forthcoming posts.