Curves & Color: A Straw Bale Home in Northern California

In an audacious and healing feat, a single woman builds a feminine and earthy straw bale house on raw, remote land in northern California.

| July/August 2004

Nestled into a northern California knoll, the elegant arch of a wavy roofline graces an artful straw bale cottage. A bountiful garden blesses this earthen plastered retreat with flowers and organic food. Inside, curves and color create a feminine ambiance. An art studio shimmers with mica-containing clay paint. The watery blue bedroom’s French doors open into a walled garden where fragrant herbs and blossoms surround an outdoor shower and bathtub. Hummingbirds whir through the air.

“It’s as if the door to my home opens into the real me,” says holistic healer and artist Linda Drew. “I made it really personal.” Throughout the construction of her home, which is possibly the first permitted earth-plastered straw bale house in California, Linda’s background as a ceramic artist served her well. “My house was one big pot,” she says. She sculpted sensuous nichos and shaped art nouveau-inspired bas-relief. She made all her interior wall paints out of kaolin clay, wheat paste, and natural pigments in a vivid rainbow of hues. “This house is truly handmade,” she observes.

In addition to its artistry, the home is environmentally practical. An array of photovoltaic panels supplies Linda’s electricity, a cooling tower keeps the house comfortable during sizzling summers, and radiant-floor heating and a wood stove warm the house in winter.

A pioneer and her posse

“Oasis Ranch” is what Linda calls her home on thirteen acres of oak-dotted hills in Lake County, the wine country between Calistoga and Harbin Hot Springs. “It’s an oasis of harmony and quiet,” she explains. She also admits that building her oasis totally off the grid on raw land in a remote location was nearly the antithesis of the finished product, especially because Linda acted as her own contractor. “Being a single woman who had never done this before was really hard,” she says. “Every day was a huge learning curve.” The work was so demanding, in fact, that her friends labeled her “pioneer woman of the sustainable West.” Pete Gang of Common Sense Design in Petaluma, one of her two collaborating architects, adds that often “the pioneer is the one lying face down in the dirt with arrows in his or her back.”

From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, Linda traveled the globe. During her odyssey, she apprenticed with an architect in Washington and kept notebooks about what she liked and disliked about houses she lived in. In Tucson, she stepped inside a straw bale house for the first time and felt the sensation of being “house hugged.”

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