Love Story: A Straw Bale Dream House

A home that marries several green building techniques brings its owner-builders closer together as well.

| January/February 2002

  • The soft curves of entryway arches and alcoves, easily achieved with earth plasters, lend graceful architectural details to the home. After learning the plaster application technique from Guelberth, Paula finished the interior walls herself.
  • Careful attention was paid to siting, so that the house is comfortably ensconced on the meadow site.
  • Sheer curtains offer privacy while allowing natural light over the salvaged tub. Paula loves to look out over the meadow while she relaxes in the bathtub.
  • Guests are greeted with an old terra cotta “doorbell” and glowing oil lamp at the threshold. A straw-clay coating on the foyer’s exterior provides texture, insulation, and soundproofing.
  • Overstuffed pillows invite reading or catnapping in the snug windowseat.
    Photos by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Salvaged interior doors complement vintage tag-sale purchases and family antiques in Chris and Paula’s bedroom.
  • A cozy view of the meadow surrounds the heirloom dining table, chairs, and place settings that belonged to Paula’s mother. Guelberth designed the round nook to accommodate the table, where Paula enjoys her morning tea while gazing out at the meadow.
  • The floral-shade lamp was a real find at a local consignment shop. The kitchen is separated from the entry way by a stair-stepped cob wall.
  • A welcoming adobe gate frames a sign that was a wedding gift to Chris and Paula. It reads, “Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much.” The home, located on 4.9 acres, is entirely off the grid, drawing from the abundant solar energy of the Rocky Mountain site.
  • Chris and Paula kept their construction costs to a minimum by doing much of the work themselves. Straw bales wrapped around a timber frame proved to be an easy method for the construction novices.
    Illustration by Gayle Ford

One quiet night, just before they began building their dream home, Paula Minucci remarked to her husband, Chris Banks, “You know, honey, most people who build a house together end up divorced.” Replied Chris, “Yes, but we don’t have to be most people.” Five years later, the couple boasts that their relationship is stronger than ever, and for that they offer credit to the 1,780-square-foot home they constructed near Carbondale, Colorado.

But this isn’t just a two-person romance. In fact, bringing a third player into the marriage proved critical. With minimal building experience, “all we knew was that we wanted the roundness and softness of an adobe-style house,” recalls Chris, a musician and teacher in the local schools. Initial research steered them toward straw bale construction, which costs less to build but creates a look similar to adobe and has higher insulating properties. Once they met Cedar Rose Guelberth, a designer and owner of Building for Health Materials Center in downtown Carbondale, the devoted duo became a trio, and the first straw bale house to be built in the area became a reality.

Guelberth was the conduit through which Chris and Paula’s ideas could take shape. “I thought Chris and Paula were fun people, and based on our initial conversation, their choices lined up with what I do,” she says. “These guys knew what they wanted; I simply brought the knowledge, expertise, and information about the environment.”

With Guelberth as designer and project manager and Chris and Paula as builders, construction on the straw bale home began in 1997. Each step of the design and construction was evaluated in relationship to environmental impact, indoor air quality, occupant needs, integration with the landscape, and cost. As a result, construction techniques became a marriage of green building methods, incorporating straw bale, straw/clay, cob, timber frame, earthen plasters, and earthen floors.



A Hybrid Home

The home is located on a secluded 4.9-acre lot overlooking the Roaring Fork Valley. “There are no neighbors and no noise, but we’re still only ten minutes from town,” says Paula.

During excavation, the hillside was cut to shed water away from the structure. Adds Guelberth, “We also wanted the home to be embraced by the hillside and move the energy around it.”






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