Mother Earth Living


Shelter and Serenity: A Straw Bale Home in Virginia

A snug straw bale home abutting the foothills northwest of Charlottesville, Virginia, provides protection from the heat, light, cold, and humidity as well as a peaceful haven for its owner-builders.



Sitting gently on the land, the home’s roof mirrors the lines of serene Buck Mountain nearby. Stucco arches frame views from the protective west and north porches.
Photo By Philip Beaurline
Always trying to reuse and recycle when practical, Joy helped tear up about 1,500 feet of oak flooring during a salvaging project for Habitat for Humanity, then purchased some and had it installed upstairs. The balcony overlooking the two-and-a-half story great room also provides a place for the stereo speakers, which bounce music off the angled wood ceilings. “It makes a lovely, acoustically alive little concert hall,” says Joy.
Photo By Philip Beaurline
Expansive porches allow the Matthewses to enjoy Charlottes­ville’s moderate climate while they take in views of Buck Mountain and the surrounding rolling countryside.
Photo By Philip Beaurline
After many discarded drawings for the floor mosaic in the entry, the “spirit” of the house guided Joy’s hand as she experimented with leftover pieces of tile. The design that emerged is an enhanced compass, reflecting the home’s solar orientation and openness to the elements. Southwestern Native American influences are there too, thanks to daughter Bonnie, who lives in New Mexico. Again, the design was brought to life by Doug’s skilled hands.
Photo By Philip Beaurline
Neighbor and cabinetmaker Mike Mooney made the frame and doors for the traditional “truth window” out of old oak fence board from the property. Behind the doors, curious visitors can actually touch the uncovered straw.
Photo By Philip Beaurline
Joy’s storage unit in the recessed center of her kitchen island includes electrical outlets, so she can just pop up the blender or the food processor. Thin spaces flanking the built-in bookshelf were put to use for key and skewer storage.
Photo By Philip Beaurline
In the South, where gourds grow wild, spring is the season for making organic birdhouses for sparrows, martins, and other small birds. Doug made the birdhouse shown here for his mother. To make your own birdhouse out of a green gourd, cut holes large enough for birds to get through, scrape out the seeds and pulp, and hang the gourd to dry. Poke holes through the top and run wires through for hanging. It’s that simple!
Photo By Philip Beaurline
A favorite mini-view is the narrow casement window in the southeast bedroom, which catches the first morning sunlight and throws the bright shaft onto the opposite wall. Next to
Photo By Philip Beaurline
Joy and George are blessed to share their property with their son Doug, his wife, Kelly, and their granddaughter, Maggie. The younger Matthewses now live in the home that was already on the site, where Joy and George lived for a year as they directed and took part in the construction.
Photo By Philip Beaurline
The dining area opens to pastoral views while welcoming the warm sun three seasons of the year. The roof overhang provides summer shade, and Joy and George plan to add trellises with deciduous vines to enhance that effect.
Photo By Philip Beaurline





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