Jan had visited almost all the Azorian islands before we finally met in Graciosa (except for the smallest and the largest), but he kept coming back to little Graciosa, the second smallest of all the 9. He had fallen in love with this island, he resonated with her energy. The calm and peace felt so healing for him.
And within the first week of exploring Her, he found the place he had been dreaming of. At the end of the small village Luz (Portuguese for „light“), surrounded by silent forest that had been untouched by human hands for maybe a century, with a foot path straight down to a tiny, magical bay, a secret place like it doesn´t exist a second time on this island.
He directly made efforts to buy a piece of land there, but the fisherman who tried to help him with that said in the end, that it is not possible, but he offered Jan to use part of his land for free, which was adjacent to the place Jan had intended to buy. It is much more land than I need, I don´t use it, the man said. He and his family became Jan´s new family.
So Jan started with big enthusiasm to fulfill a huge life dream: To completely grow his own food and build a healthy house completely made out of natural materials. To really find his perfect comfort zone.
He started with the garden, made a clearing in the forest and set up garden beds. Quite soon he could start to make the first harvests. It was when I first met him in January 2019 when he showed me the already impressive beginnings of his garden. And the place where he intended to build a tiny house from clay. Back then it was hard for me to grasp the idea. In my mind I had a picture of a small cave. Also, I had met many men with enthusiastic ideas but not much more than that… Also I had met many guests who were eager to move to Graciosa, to staying permanently and becoming part of the community, and in the end they couldn´t make it real. I had never met a Jan Backman before, though…
When I met Jan again in June 2019 (I was still searching for a house for me and my then-husband), I already saw the foundation of the house, the roof was almost ready. The garden was really impressive. Jan was even delivering veggies to a small café.
In autumn 2019 (I had left already for Germany to fold up the tents of the three first decades of my life to finally move to Graciosa) he really went all for the house. His youngest son also came for a short visit and built together with him. In the beginning he also got help from Karin, who was his life companion for many years back in Finland and who had sailed part of the journey together with Jan. Karin and I had become good friends and I was impressed by her gardening and artisanal skills, but Jan and her had decided to go separate ways and so she finally left Graciosa.
So in the end it was only Jan who diligently worked into the winter months, to finally move into his house on New Years eve.
The main ingredients for the walls were clay, straw and water, which were mixed in a concrete mixer into a compact but malleable mass. Jan avoided any sharp edges and corners in his design, he went for natural, soft and curvy shapes. The windows and the door are formed directly into them. Jan used old windows and doors that were donated to him. He even used the door of a washing machine as a small window over his bed.
For warming the house he built a rocket mass heater which uses the fuel (the wood) extremely efficiently, up to 90% of the produced heat is used to heat the room instead of being lost through the chimney. He also constructed it that way that part of the floor is heated up and becomes a comfortable and warm clay bench.
The view of the small village of Luz in the south of Graciosa from the new roof Work in process on the roof The roof, the important foundation to safely build the clay structure underneath The roof tiles laid out by hand, an immense job. Jan got old clay tiles for free. Preparing the clay, that Jan got directly from the island. The first load was sold to him by an inhabitant, who ripped him of and took a huge price for it, later he found better sources from supportive souls. Starting with the building of the clay structure View over the garden from the house Father and son building together What a fun project! This was the first project early in the year, build from a ruin: A little shed for the garden tools Excited visitors are examining the project Here Jan is going to build a compost toilet The little window over the bed corner: An old washing machine window Some beautiful lights The entrance almost finished The corner for the bed almost finished What a beauty, a one-of-a-kind piece of Art Finished from outside Being in alignment with what feels good for you brings happiness Part of the floor and the bench that will be heated from inside by the rocket mass heater First steps on the rocket mass heater The heat raiser The insulation of the heat raiser The front part is where the wood is filled in for burning. On the right the hollow bench to collect and efficiently use the heat and additionally give warmth, mostly by body contact In the end a barrel is put over the heater construction. Now just the furnitures and the rest of the floor is missing. Jan happily moved into his own home, the hard work of his hands Enjoying the view of Pico and Sao Jorge in the evening and morning from his bed Jan´s dinner preparations Another big step for Jan´s new eco-friendly life here taking roots: An electric cargo bike (another one for friend José) Me visiting the finished house in January 2020, innocently sitting on my friend Jan´s bed. In that moment I had no clue where the universe would lead me just a few months from here…