A Cozy Farmhouse: A Curving Straw Bale Home and Farm

Warm, comfortable and at home in the countryside, this handbuilt Idaho dream house makes its own energy and provides space for a thriving organic farm.

| January/February 2011

When Georgie Stanley began considering the perfect building site for a home on her 60-acre property in Idaho’s Teton Valley, the decisive factor was simple: Would she want to camp in this place? Though an unusual yardstick, it made perfect sense for the longtime mountain guide and outdoor educator. She surveyed the property until she found the perfect campsite location—tucked against a hill of aspens and conifers with views of three mountain ranges, sheltered from the wind and close to the water. In this idyllic spot, Georgie, then-husband Brian Charette, and their two children set up permanent “camp:” a gorgeous off-grid home powered by a variety of renewable technologies; a barn; a greenhouse; and several outbuildings for Georgie’s business, Snowdrift Farms. Surrounded by native aspens, conifers and sage, Georgie grows certified-organic fruits, vegetables and flowers, raises chickens, pigs and horses, and produces eggs, dairy and pork products. She feeds both her family and her community, selling fresh food via local farmer’s markets and to area grocery stores and restaurants.

A Lifelong Love Affair with the Land 

Having spent most of her life working as a mountain guide and organic farmer, Georgie prioritized preserving the natural landscape as she and Brian built their home. They chose straw bale construction and green building materials, sourced as close to home as possible, and planned to keep the footprint small. Georgie solidified her plans when she fell in love with a “hobbit house” sketched by her family friend, New York architect John (“Jack”) Beyer, based on her photos of the hills and mountains surrounding the site. Georgie loved how the house’s curving roofline mimicked the landscape. “When Jack draws it out, it’s so beautiful, you can’t go back,” she says.

Curves aren’t usually used in straw bale construction. In Beyer’s design, bales—never the most malleable material—would have to be hand-cut and fit into place where the house joined the roof. Fortunately, Brian, a builder who had already worked on six straw bale homes, was up for the challenge.

Today Georgie says the collaboration among herself, Brian and Jack is truly what made the project work. “I was always trying to make things cheaper, smaller, more modest,” she says. “I’m used to making do. But Brian and Jack understood details like a driveway big enough for a truck to turn around in; large enough walkways for pushing a stroller; how much space is needed for a couch; and adequate room in critical spaces to make shoveling snow easy.”

Bringing the Outside In 

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