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

  • The arched roofline of Snowdrift Farms’ barn and greenhouse mimics the rolling mountains in the distance.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn
  • Recycled Oceanside Glasstile surrounds the bathtub and bamboo cabinets.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn
  • Wood on the ceilings, eaves and baseboards was reclaimed from a local mill. The trestle wood used for framing came from the nearby Great Salt Lake.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn
  • A herd of cows is the latest addition to the Snowdrift Farms family, which already included chickens and pigs.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn
  • Varied ceiling heights and partial walls define and differentiate spaces. A dropped ceiling creates a cozy reading nook that overlooks the kids' art area.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn
  • Two Tulikivi soapstone stoves and a solar-powered radiant floor warm the Stanley home through long Idaho winters.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn
  • Georgie revels in her farm’s abundance.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn
  • Georgie and Brian incorporated a children’s play area, defined by low half-walls, where the kids can stay busy within sight of the living room, dining room or kitchen.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn
  • Kitchen countertops built at varying heights facilitate specific tasks such as kneading the dough for Georgie’s home-baked bread.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn
  • Powered by a wind turbine and solar power, Georgie Stanley’s home and organic farm are truly self-sufficient.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn
  • Photovoltaic and solar-thermal panels provide electricity and hot water.
    Photo By Michael Shopenn

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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