Sunday, January 27, 2008

Update on our straw bale house build – Part 1. With Gabrielle’s various siblings also coming to stay, there was no room at the inn during Christmas at her mum’s house and so we had to find somewhere to stay during our short UK visit. Gabrielle searched the Net and found suitable B & B accommodation less than a mile away, meaning that we could walk to and from. The hosts were charming and accepted our booking on the basis that they would supply breakfast but that we’d have to prepare it ourselves, being busy themselves on Christmas and Boxing Days. We found their rather stately home down a private road, that’s to say “not maintained at public expense”, which is also to say, “not maintained at all”, which was my impression as we bounced the van from one pothole to another. Mr Chalmers then showed us to our accommodation, a little separate square building at the boundary of their garden (see photo above).

Little, tiny, small … it was all of these yet more than adequate for what we wanted. (I’ll avoid the obvious cliché and call it “cosy” … oops, I just did or doesn’t that count?) I was interested to know the history, why was it built and for what purpose. He wasn’t sure and his best guess was that the main house was historically the farm manager’s house of a big estate and, because of the contours of the land, he couldn’t survey all of the estate from the house and needed a lookout tower cum office at the end of the garden and this was it.

The outside stairs had been replaced internally; upstairs was simply one double bedroom with windows on two sides (always an attractive feature of a room, see Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction) and downstairs comprised a shower room and toilet and, the other side of the stairwell, a galley kitchen. A conservatory (a modern addition) provided an eating area with a view.

Perhaps a little too small to live in permanently, it certainly asked questions of how much space we really need; the size of many modern houses seems sometimes to have more to do with publicly demonstrating how affluent one is rather than providing essential living space. I came across the Tiny House Company™ website on Dragonfly Jenny’s excellent Texan permaculture blog and have just read their book, A Tiny Place to Call Your Home, cover to cover today, which has given us plenty to think about as we turn our attention, once more, to the design of our proposed straw bale home. A smaller house would be less expensive to build, use fewer raw materials and be cheaper to heat, along with many other advantages (you read the book) which even includes being cosy! Gabrielle is shown in the photo above for scale purposes and she’s only 5’2”. In Part 2, I’ll tell you more about the designing and planning permission issues.