A Rammed-Earth Home in Napa Valley

One homeowner uses pisé de terre, a 2,000-year-old building method, to make his sustainable home.

| September/October 1999

  • PISE terra tiles anchor the master bath where the ­vanity surface ­consists of recycled counter tiles from a seconds outlet.
  • You can book on good design in the dining area/library, the main artery of the compound. Floors are grounded with terra tiles, thick PISE pavers grouted to resemble their commercial cousins. Recycled beams form an overhead canopy.
  • Through this dramatic entryway, crowned with a cast-earth pediment, is the future of rammed-earth construction. It’s also a preview to David Easton’s courtyard compound, which includes the charming guest house with kiwi-covered arbor (shown opposite).
    Photography by Robert Reck
  • This massive cast-earth, wood-burning fireplace in the dining area provides heat to be held in 18-inch-thick walls and released during cool California nights. Opposite, more warmth comes from radiant-heat flooring in the ­living area.

  • Easton’s PISE technique is elegantly evident in the hearth of the house, where the rough texture of the kitchen walls, infused with terra-cotta plaster, contrasts starkly with the walls’ smooth flip side.

  • Pooling eco-assets is what Easton’s house is all about. Here, water from the pool anchoring the interior courtyard and outdoor fountain combine with San Francisco Bay breezes to deliver cool, moist air to the main house during sweltering summer days.
  • Far from the primitive earthen walls of ancient civilizations, Easton’s entry stairway is a complex configuration of nooks and niches indented in a PISE wall that have been grout-washed to resemble the look of marble.

For his stunning rammed-earth home in Napa Valley, David Easton uses ancient tools and cutting-edge technology to create a back-to-the-future eco-haven. "My life's work is helping to reintroduce earthen materials to world architecture."  

A lofty goal for an altruistic twenty-something lad with his head in the clouds but his feet firmly planted on the ground. The very ground that he has years since incorporated into his 2,800-square-foot home nestled against the majestic eastern hills of California’s Napa Valley. The very ground he has helped incorporate into over 150 rammed-earth homes around the globe.

Here amid the thriving vineyards that produce some of the world’s most exquisite wines, David Easton practices what he preaches: reintroducing ancient earthen building materials and techniques to his own backyard. Here, Easton—engineer, contractor, and author of The Rammed Earth House, the definitive blueprint on rammed-earth construction—has perfected the art of building with the soil that sustains us.

Pisé de Terre

Easton has refined the art of building with pisé de terre, a method of “stuffed earth” construction introduced to the Rhone River Valley 2,000 years ago by Phoenician traders in the Mediterranean, as Lugdunum—the capital of Roman Gaul—Lyons, France was, and is, the regional center. Pisé de terre is the process of ramming moist earth into moveable forms to create monolithic walls, and the construction method has dominated the region for centuries.

Easton has brought pisé de terre into the twenty-first century by creating his own earth-construction method called PISE, an acronym for Pneumatically Impacted Stablized Earth. This technique, which consists of using highly pressurized air to shoot a soil and cement mixture against a one-sided form, makes rammed earth construction less time consuming and more cost effective than conventional building methods.

Perfect Site

Conventional, Easton’s house is not. It echoes the Old World charm of a vintage vintner’s Provence estate, complete with magnificent landscaping.

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