A visionary carpenter shares meditations on work, creativity, and design, revealing powerful lessons on building a meaningful life through his experience constructing some of New York’s most iconic spaces.
For forty years, Mark Ellison has worked in the most beautiful homes you’ve never seen, specializing in rarefied, lavish, and challenging projects for the most demanding of clients. He built a staircase that the architect Santiago Calatrava called a masterpiece. He constructed the sculpted core of Sky House, which Interior Design named “Apartment of the Decade.” His projects have included the homes of David Bowie, Robin Williams, and others whose names he cannot reveal. He is regarded by many as the best carpenter in New York.
Building: A Carpenter’s Notes on Life & the Art of Good Work tells the story of an unconventional education and how fulfillment can be found in doing something well for decades. Ellison takes us on a tour of the lofts, penthouses, and townhomes of New York’s elite, before they’re camera-ready. In a singular voice, he offers a window into learning to live meaningfully along the way. From staircases that would be deadly if built as designed and algae-eating snails boiled to escargot in a penthouse pond, to the deceptive complexity of minimalist design, Building exposes the tangled wiring, scrapped blueprints, and outlandish demands that characterize life in the high-stakes world of luxury construction.
Blending Ellison’s musings on work and creativity with immersive storytelling and original sketches, photos, and illustrations, Building is a meditation on crafting a life worth living, and a delightful philosophical inquiry beyond the facades that we all live behind.
About the Author
Mark Ellison is a carpenter—the best carpenter in New York, by some accounts. He is also a welder, sculptor, contractor, cabinetmaker, inventor, industrial designer, and musician. He lives in Newburgh, New York.
“Mark Ellison is known for building beautiful rooms, but here he has crafted a gorgeous book. This cross between Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Kitchen Confidential contains fascinating insights about working with your hands, the nature of talent, and how to create a meaningful life, whatever your craft is. Oh, and lots of juicy stories of pain-in-the-ass clients. Even if you aren’t handy—I can barely hang a picture frame—you’ll find this book a wonderful read.”—A. J. Jacobs, bestselling author of The Puzzler
“Who knew Mark Ellison’s handiwork would include a book this exquisite, purposeful, absorbing? Building merits reading and rereading—it’s a book with much to teach us all.”—Ayad Akhtar, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Homeland Elegies
“Reading this amazing book is like listening to a very wise and funny man share the best stories in the world, wound up with wisdom, craft, and hard-won philosophy, and told with such eloquence. Clearly, Ellison had this book waiting inside him for years. I’m so glad that it’s out in the world, where it will find its readers for years.”—Burkhard Bilger, author of Fatherland
“On a job site, Ellison will make irreverent banter while scribbling measurements on the back of a pizza box, as work of astonishing complexity and precision materializes under his direction. Now he has applied the same offhand but exacting craft to unspooling his ascent to the summit of one of the most demanding construction habitats on earth. Building is absolutely fantastic.”—David Hotson, architect, Skyhouse
“Mark Ellison is an amazing polymath and an Olympic-level aesthete. Unlike many polymaths and aesthetes, when he gets up in the morning, it’s to make real, physical things. Some lucky people get to live in them. Now the whole world gets to share in his wisdom.”—Craig Nevill-Manning, engineering director, Google