Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s car was once his house, back when he traveled the US six months out of the year in search of the best climbing and surfing spots.
But that was in the 1960s. These days, the self-described reluctant businessman splits his time between his house in Ventura, CA and one in Jackson, Wyoming.
Making headlines today after giving away his $3 billion company to fight climate change, Yvon Chouinard certainly doesn’t fit the businessman stereotype.
And neither does his California house, which he built together with his family.
Yvon Chouinard’s California house was an exercise in sustainability
When planning their California house, Yvon Chouinard and his family had three deal-breakers. One, the house should be small. Two, it should fit in seamlessly with the wild landscape of the surrounding coastline just outside Santa Barbara. And three, it should have as small an environmental impact as possible when it came to building and running the place.
The process that followed was a great challenge to Santa Ynez architect Robert Mehl and local contractor Kit Boise-Cossart, who had to become familiar with new materials and processes for the project. With no clear budget, Chouinard’s future house was built with recycling and minimal resource use in mind.
According to a comprehensive breakdown by Sustainable Design publication Building Green, the new Chouinard house’s most notable features included walls build out of broken down chunks of salvaged sidewalk, an array of solar panels that supplied a majority of the home’s energy and interior floors made from irregularly shaped bits of salvaged slate shingles arranged in a haphazard but artful way.
The house only used salvaged wood and includes a graywater system, which is used for garden irrigation.
While material prices were low due to recycling, installing some of them turned out to be quite pricey. For example, the salvaged shards of slate shingle had to be manually fitted, piece by piece, to create the unique mosaic patterns of the interior floors.
Nevertheless, in 1997 the Chouinards’ house was completed and, according to Mehl, it exceeded California’s Title 24 energy efficiency requirements by 30 per cent.
Chouinard’s “house” used to be his car during the 1960s
The Patagonia founder got his start as a professional rock climber during the 1950s and 1960s. And he has a million stories to tell from those days.
Back then, he writes in his 2005 memoir, Let My People Go Surfing, he would spend more than six months a year traveling across North America and parts of Europe, searching for the best climbing spots. “We took special pride in the fact that climbing rocks and icefalls had no economic value in society,” Chouinard adds candidly of himself and his climbing buddies back in the day.
During those times, he would live in his car for long stretches of time, eating damaged cans of cat food bought for five cents each, the New York Times reported.
He “found gas money by diving into trash cans and redeeming soda pop bottles,” he wrote in his memoir, adding that he would add meat to his diet by catching ground squirrels and sometimes lived on as little as $0.50 a day.
Meet Yvon Chouinard’s family
After news broke that the Patagonia founder and his family gave up their $3 billion company, they became the focus of reader fascination. What must they be like?
Chouinard and his wife, Malinda Pennoyer, married in 1971 and founded the apparel company two years later, in 1973. The couple have two children together, Claire and Fletcher, who are now both in their fourties.
Fletcher is a surfboard designer and owns Fletcher Chouinard Designs in Ventura, CA. His sister, Claire, keeps a low profile online, so not much is known about her.