The Tallest Little Straw Bale in Texas: An Eco-Friendly House With an Organic Atmosphere

A couple of empty nesters throw caution to the wind by building a three-story straw bale house on the banks of Lake Travis.

| July/August 2003

  • The native cedar used in the porch proliferates in central Texas. The deep eaves help protect the home and reduce energy needs during the scorching Texas summer. The Longs’ energy bills are remarkably low considering the size and location of the home.
    Photography By Paul Bardagjy
  • The home embodies the powerful positive flow of energy plus a sense of the sacred. The Buddha icon on the window sill was purchased at Marco Polo’s Attic in Austin (512-236-1320), and the hand-carved table is from Indonesia.
    Photography By Paul Bardagjy
  • The home of Joanne and Ken Long lies close to Lake Travis in central Texas. Their backyard stair-steps down, with limestone terracing, to the water’s edge. The couple worked hard to understand the energy and layout of their property before even beginning to build this house.
    Illustrations by Gayle Ford
  • The home of Joanne and Ken Long lies close to Lake Travis in central Texas. Their backyard stair-steps down, with limestone terracing, to the water’s edge. The couple worked hard to understand the energy and layout of their property before even beginning to build this house.
    Illustrations by Gayle Ford
  • The home of Joanne and Ken Long lies close to Lake Travis in central Texas. Their backyard stair-steps down, with limestone terracing, to the water’s edge. The couple worked hard to understand the energy and layout of their property before even beginning to build this house.
  • The home of Joanne and Ken Long lies close to Lake Travis in central Texas. Their backyard stair-steps down, with limestone terracing, to the water’s edge. The couple worked hard to understand the energy and layout of their property before even beginning to build this house.
    Photography By Paul Bardagjy
  • This chair is an antique from Belgium and sits beneath one of Joanne’s own paintings, “King David’s Israel.”
    Photography By Paul Bardagjy
  • Joanne wanted her home to be nontoxic—“both chemically and spiritually”—and the dining room captures this ethic. The room’s furnishings are largely heirlooms, antiques, or handmade items from around the world. Joanne’s Irish descendants have eaten on this table for generations.
    Photography By Paul Bardagjy
  • The home of Joanne and Ken Long lies close to Lake Travis in central Texas. Their backyard stair-steps down, with limestone terracing, to the water’s edge. The couple worked hard to understand the energy and layout of their property before even beginning to build this house.
    Photography By Paul Bardagjy
  • Native bluestone surrounds the stove; the hanging light hails from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The kitchen is rich in texture and warmth.
    Photography By Paul Bardagjy
  • Joanne and Ken Long spent many months looking for the right property before finding the site where their straw bale home now stands. They put much time, energy, creativity, and intention into its design and construction.
    Photography By Paul Bardagjy
  • This writing desk, a family heirloom, is more than 150 years old. Connecting to family roots is an essential part of the home’s character.
    Photography By Paul Bardagjy
  • Earthen floors, poured in place, bring the spirit of the outdoors into the home. Tumbled river stones are handset to accent the floor.
    Photography By Paul Bardagjy
  • Joanne wanted a water element in the front of her home, so she built this koi pond, an echo of the lake behind the her house
    Photography By Paul Bardagjy
  • The bathroom has a sculpted shower, an antique stained glass window, and a metal ceiling salvaged from an old Texas pharmacy.
    Photography By Paul Bardagjy

Some things are just meant to be. Ken and Joanne Long’s three-story straw bale home perched above Lake Travis, outside of Austin, Texas, appears to be one of them.

For years, the empty nesters had been looking for a lakefront lot in the increasingly pricey Lake Travis area. They’d coveted a wooded half-acre on a peninsula formed by the meeting of Lake Travis and the Pedernales and Colorado rivers, with panoramic water views and easy boat access, but the asking price was well beyond their means. Frustrated but determined, they kept searching until one day in 1993 they got a call from a mortgage company, telling them their dream property had been foreclosed on. The land was on the market for half the original asking price—exactly what Ken and Joanne could pay.

They snapped it up, of course, and a few years later bought adjoining lots for a small guesthouse and the septic system. Over the next couple of years, they spent weekends building stone terraces and the guesthouse—and enjoying some boating, barbecuing, and beer drinking. “We wanted to get the feel of the land before we built,” Joanne says. Adds Ken: “We had a feel for where we wanted to be at certain times of the day to really enjoy the property.”

Ken and Joanne spent two years working on their home’s design. Joanne would sit down by the lake and look up the bluff, sketchpad in hand. She envisioned a tall building, spiraling up out of the bluff, with a nautically inspired watchtower and a porthole window. “I followed no principles but my own intuition,” she says. “I’m not so much into feng shui, but into energy movement. I would just sit and sketch, letting it flow.”



She calls the open, lodge-like style that emerged “New Age Craftsman” and considers it a reaction to our modern techno-age. “People want to feel grounded and earthy,” she says. “And if we don’t, we’re going to get out of balance.”

The freedom of straw bale






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