Humans and Nature: A Straw Bale Home in Sonoma County, California

Stroll down the apple orchards in western Sonoma County and you’ll experience the deep connection between Annie and Patsy’s home and nature.

| March/April 2004

“Everybody wants to come back,” says Patsy Young of her exquisitely detailed 1,200-square-foot straw bale home near Occidental, California. “They always think it is so warm.”

For Patsy and Annie Scully, schoolteachers in nearby Santa Rosa, the journey to this home began with the purchase of five acres of apple orchard in western Sonoma County’s rolling hills in 1998. Annie had learned about straw bale construction at Shenoa Learning Center in Philo, where the first California code-approved straw bale house had been built. While visiting the Real Goods Solar Living Center in nearby Hopland, they were referred to Tim Owen-Kennedy, who had formed a cooperative natural building company called Vital Systems. As Owen-Kennedy recalls, the future homeowners wanted a “modest little house for two people as ecological as we were willing to push it.”

Owen-Kennedy recommended architect Darrel DeBoer to help develop house plans. Armed with magazine photos, Annie and Patsy met with the architect on their new property. “We knew the exact spot where we wanted the house,” says Annie. “It just called itself out to us.” The three went back to a trailer placed as temporary living quarters to talk things over. They had a beer, and as Annie recalls, “By the time we were done with the beer, Darrel had captured the idea on paper.”

“Annie and Patsy showed me a couple of pictures, and I started sketching a view of a building that met those needs,” DeBoer says. “And oddly enough, maybe for the first time in my experience, that is what we ended up building.”

Teamwork and self-restraint

For Annie and Patsy, building with natural materials was never a question. “We wanted to do what made sense—a confluence of the warmth, the security, and the knowingness that it was the right thing to do for the planet,” Annie says. Patsy was a bit more cautious and in fact felt “disassociated” from the first straw bale buildings she saw. But as the house went up, she warmed to the process, and as the details took shape, she says, “It became truly ours.”

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