gather and grow

Homegrown, hand-spun living in the city

Now that Dan and I have signed up for a cob building course in June (yay!!), I’ve found a good excuse to spend some time drooling over natural building images and dreaming about the home we hope to build one day with our own hands.

For those of you who are new to this, cob is an ancient building material, a mixture of clay, sand, and straw that can be hand-sculpted into buildings, with or without a timber frame. It’s extremely durable: there are cob houses in the UK, for example, that are hundreds of years old. Often the clay for building can be dug up from the building site itself, so it doesn’t get much more local than that — or affordable, for that matter! And because the building technique is easy to learn and there’s no need for machinery, cob building is also accessible: children, the elderly, and utter novices can all jump in for a work party.

What got me initially so fired up about natural building was the idea of being able to build with local, non-toxic, affordable and sustainable materials, such as clay and straw. But the more I visit actual natural building sites, the more I fall in love with the spaces themselves. I think you’ll see why…

planetrepair-2This is a passive solar garden cottage at Planet Repair Institute in Portland.

cob-2The lovely cob sauna at Tryon Life Farm, also in Portland.

cobA studio at the Permaculture Institute of Northern California.

When I now think of the words “dream home,” this is what I see I see in my mind’s eye — earthy, thick, breathing walls. Round, organic, at times playful shapes instead of box-shaped rooms and 90 degree angles. Cozy nooks that can be custom-sized to fit the person who is going to curl up there to read a book. Creative spaces that literally have their builders’ hand prints on them. Everything designed with comfort and the surrounding landscape and the daily rhythm of the inhabitants in mind. In short, utterly livable and lovable spaces.

In case you haven’t had your fill yet, here are some of my all-time favorites:

Source: little two-storey cob house in Southern Oregon has deservedly been called “the most beautiful green home construction project ever.” Here’s a little video tour.

A Low Impact Woodland HomeA low-impact woodland home in Wales.

And if hobbit houses are not your thing, cob lends itself to more conventionally sized homes as well, such as this one.


In strawbale houses, the rooms are more angular and the walls thicker, but they have the same utterly unique and earthy feeling. This is the writing studio of my dreams.

5 thoughts on “Natural building inspiration

  1. These pictures are gorgeous, good luck I hope you get to build your home soon.

    1. Mari says:

      Thanks! I sure hope so too.

  2. I had never heard of cob houses until this post. They are amazing. My husband and I have a long term plan to build our own home in the next ten years but couldn’t find anything that remotely fit us. I think this may just jump to the top of our idea list! Thanks!

    1. Mari says:

      I’m glad I could pass along the inspiration… It’s contagious, isn’t it?

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: