John Swearingen, Principal


John's grandfather taught woodworking at he innovative Francis Parker School in Chicago, and from an early age, John and his brother were given real tools to play with.

John's interest in architecture and building developed at his high school school in San Francisco, where the motto was "Head, Heart & Hands", and four years of shop classes were required.

After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, he promptly became a carpenter, and then a general contractor in the Bay Area. John designed and built his first passive-solar house in upstate New York in 1979.

John has worked extensively with community and spiritual groups, and was offered a place in the first strawbale workshop in California in order to bring strawbale into community work. In 1995, he built the first permitted bale building in California with Janet Johnston. They co-authored an article on the project for Fine Homebuilding Magazine, and officially launched Skillful Means as a design/build firm.  Since then, John has gone on to build and design over 50 strawbale buildings around California. 

Jenna Johns-Yu


Jenna is a native of San Francisco.  Her first contact with strawbale construction came when her family wanted to build a strawbale vacation house in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and she went with her family to strawbale workshops and bale-raisings.

When Skillful Means designed the house, they included Jenna and her sister in the process. She was twelve. The house was never built, but Jenna was set on a course that led her to a degree in architecture from Rhode Island School of Design and a summer internship with Skillful Means. 

Upon graduating and returning to California she joined Skillful Means as designer. She's been a chief designer in Berkeley for three years.

Jenna at Skillful Means' office in Berkeley on a winter morning....

Jenna at Skillful Means' office in Berkeley on a winter morning....



Cindy at a job site...

Cindy at a job site...


Cindy is a graduate in Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, and began working with Skillful Means over a decade ago. She's well experienced in the design and implementation of strawbale and other alternative construction, and has led workshops and work parties throughout the Northern California.






Team Members

Skillful Means collaborates with fine builders and tradespeople all over California on our projects. We have experienced supervisors and work to bring green building into the conventional building world.  (under construction).


Skillful Means often accepts interns from colleges, and has partnered with the University of San Francisco on local and international projects undertaken by their students.