Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Invitation to a Straw Bale House

Come and have tea at our house today. If you drive along the dirt road you’ll recognise it at once. It’s the one that looks like a Chinese pagoda, gently sloping, wide tin roof, sheltering thick uneven walls, plastered with a warm red clay. A friendly house with walls of straw bales.

We get visitors quite often ringing up out of the blue to come and look at our straw bale house. Sometimes, as we start the conducted tour one more time, we wonder silently to ourselves whether we should be charging an entrance fee, or selling souvenirs and home-made fudge at the door. Here in South Africa using straw bales to build with is a new innovation, greeted with amazement and polite enquiries about fire-risk, planning permission and the like. Gradually more people are getting interested and drag their architects along to our house to see how it works in practice.

“Yes” we say, “it is amazingly cool in summer and warm in winter, as long as you keep doors and windows closed, there can be as much as 10 degrees C difference between outside and in.”

One of the best things for me though is that our new house immediately had the atmosphere of an old house, that solid sense of having sheltered the family for years and absorbed its history into its walls. Its thick walls give you a feeling of being protected from the outside world and a quality of stillness. The house has its own persona. It keeps us cosy and warm and also firmly tied to its apron strings. It is hard to leave and always welcoming to come back to.

Its generous rooms expect us to offer hospitality to all comers. Our seasonal festivals are ever growing and our house seems to expand to accommodate all our friends, family and acquaintances, over forty people at our last one including the children. The house likes children too, they feel safe here, free to charge around on bikes and scooters, spread toys all around the playroom in the centre of the house, climb through the windows, even deal out knocks to the walls.

If a chunk of the clay plaster comes off to reveal straw underneath, when someone charges against it with their sword, we can just mix it up again with some water and slap it back on. When this occasionally happens the straw shows itself to be still golden and sweet smelling, after four years as a wall.

The whole experience of building and living in a straw house has been a positive one, I can't imagine ever moving away from it, we'd have to take it with us somehow! One thing we did have to do though was add a line into the tale of the three little pigs: "the first little pig built a house of straw, but he didn't make proper foundations, tie down the bales or plaster it, so it wasn't strong enough..."

So do come and visit, I’ve been baking mulberry muffins, with the berries from my new young tree just outside, which has been prolific, though it was only planted just over a year ago. I won’t charge an entrance fee really, just bring your stories to share.


  1. Your home sounds amazing, don't mind if I do have a muffin, why thank you. Happy NaBloPoMo to you.

  2. Wow, thanks for sharing photos.

  3. Breathtaking Kit! It seems to open out to earth and sky beckoning...I can see from the picture it melds perfectly with the fauna and flora. I am sure within it's walls is that energy that is HOME and comfort and safety. What a haven you have built! And yes...I will have a muffin and some of that exotic tea you mentioned and stay a while and chat.

  4. Kit, would you mind sharing your recipe for the mulberry muffins? We have many mulberry trees on our farm and I never know what to with the dark purple tart berries that drop in heaps in June here...they sound wonderful!


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