Casa Natura: Building a Family-friendly Home

Following centuries-old building techniques using timber frame, straw, clay and earth, a mother designs a home for herself and her daughter that’s healthy, ecologically sensitive and naturally nurturing.

| May/June 2002

  • The 1,500-square-foot econest is snuggled in a forest of ponderosa pine overlooking a field of willows. Four-foot overhangs protect the straw-clay walls, a south-facing solar room helps heat the house, and a pent roof at the gable end protects the exposed wall from driving winds and rain.
    Photos By Laurie Dickson
  • Straw-clay walls are one foot thick, providing lots of insulation and adding to the cozy, cavelike ambience.
    Photos By Laurie Dickson
  • Daryl’s bed is a model of composition—an organic mattress, hemp/silk sheets, organic cotton and wool blankets, a plant-dyed hemp/silk bedspread, and hand-dyed hemp/ silk pillows. The bed is a metal-free Samina Sleep System.
    Photos By Laurie Dickson
  • The slate shower-surround and backsplash in the master bathroom are embedded with fossils. A skylight offers a view of the heavens. Fluffy organic cotton towels stand ready.
    Photos By Laurie Dickson
  • Although many chemically sensitive people cannot tolerate a gas stove, it doesn’t bother Daryl. In fact, she prefers it for cooking. Pine cabinetry and butcher-block countertop are solid wood, hand-rubbed with ecological finishes. Because kitchen cabinetry can be expensive, Daryl put doors only on bottom cabinets and left top shelves open, which is the way she likes it, anyway. The backsplash is slate.
    Photos By Laurie Dickson
  • Some interior walls are unfinished adobe brick, like this partial one, which makes a cozy nook to house the woodstove. Adobe acts as thermal mass, storing heat from the stove and releasing it after the fire burns out.
    Photos By Laurie Dickson
  • When it comes to furnishings, Daryl’s style is natural and eclectic. Wood tables and chairs are antique or recycled. “I haven’t refinished any of them,” she says. Upholstered pieces are custom-made with organic stuffings and coverings. Daryl has had the handwoven all-cotton rug in each of her houses. Living room, dining room, and kitchen comprise one open sixteen-by-twenty-foot room.
    Photos By Laurie Dickson
  • Locally harvested white fir posts and beams give a feeling of structural solidity to the interior. Walls are straw-clay, mixed together with a pitchfork and tamped into a temporary plywood frame. Windows are from Pozzi.
    Photos By Laurie Dickson
  • Thick straw-clay exterior walls add texture and keep the home comfortable year-round.
    Photos By Laurie Dickson
  • Daryl Stanton is known in Santa Fe for her healthy, natural interiors and the natural products sold in her store, Casa Natura.
    Photos By Laurie Dickson

When it comes to her environment, Daryl Stanton walks a fine line. Completely dedicated to a natural, organic lifestyle, Daryl is as close to a purist as any normal person wants to get. She wears natural fabrics and eats simply, growing her own vegetables and herbs. An interior designer by trade, Daryl has an established reputation in her hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico, for designing beautiful interiors using natural products, many of which come from her boutique, Casa Natura.

A true pioneer in the healthy home movement, Daryl traces her commitment back to the late 1970s when the first house she remodeled and decorated literally made her sick. “I didn’t know anything about natural materials back then,” she says. “I was a holistic health practitioner so I thought I knew how to be healthy. What I didn’t know was that a house full of outgassing synthetic chemicals—formaldehyde in pressed wood and wall-to-wall carpeting, polyurethane on the floors and in fresh paint, upholstery stuffed with polyester—can make people sick.”

The significant amount of earth—20 to 30 tons—provides a life force of its own.

Daryl fled Los Angeles and the toxic house in a travel trailer retrofitted with natural materials and began an intense period of re-education and healing. She soon began to think clearly again, and her symptoms vanished. From that day forward, whenever Daryl decorated or purchased anything for her house, she did it consciously, using products biologically conducive to life.

“I consider myself lucky,” she says. “We all should avoid these strong synthetics, but because I am sensitive I can detect them. I regard my sensitivity as a gift.”

Along the way her concept of beauty changed too. Where once she viewed natural interiors as sterile, featureless environments, she now sees them as biologically beautiful. Her new house attests to her evolution. Infused with Daryl’s uncompromising spirit, this—the third “natural” house she has designed for herself—is built to be ecological as well.

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