Oldest Strawbale Building in Europe!

In 1921 the French Engineer Émile Feuillette designed a strawbale and timber frame home that stands today in excellent condition. The building has recently been purchased through the French Network for Straw Building (PGPR), and with many partners in preservation, to uses as an information and demonstration center.

Almost a century old, the house is still in excellent condition and, despite single-pane windows, has excellent thermal performance.

To  more about this house, the project and the many institutions involved in its preservation can be found at the National Center for Straw Construction.


Return to the Ranger Station

We recently visited  the District Headquarters of the Los Padres Nation Forest in King City, where over a year ago we set the bales and lathing and plastered the building.  The building uses no steel or wood framing in the bales to handle seismic or wind loads–the bale wall assembly does that work.  Following WRNS’s design intent, the bale work was installed and finished to an high level of precision.

The building was designed by WRNS Studio in San Francisco, and Plant Construction was the General Contractor.  Skillful Means was hired as a consultant for the project in the early stages of design.  Tipping+Mar was the structural engineeer.

Skillful Means first partnered with Tipping+Mar for design of the Harrison Vault in Joshua Tree. Working with WRNS, Tipping+Mar we used some of the systems  originated on that project , since  tested and refined, to reduce the cost of steel braces in the walls–many thousands of dollard, for this large building.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which sponsored some of the testing, reaped the benefits of straw bale testing on this project!

(Architects Dan SmithAnni Tilt and David Arkin joined us on our way back from a CASBA weekend retreat in San Luis Obispo County).

Studio with Guest/Office & Breezeway—Plans

Skillful Means is offering completed plans for this one-bedroom house with a detached guest unit and garage.  The house is designed around a breezeway which serves as entry porch, lounging area, and provides a sheltered separation between the guest unit and the main house.  The house performs well in winter and summer, featuring ample south glazing for winter sun as well as shade and ventilation for the summer.  The roof is sloped to the south and runs then entire length, perfect for solar collectors.  The laundry/bunk room area can easily be reconfigured for a second bedroom.

(click below for a zoomable version)2013_08_Breezeway

Classic strawbale house plan

Skillful Means is pleased to offer some of our pre-designed house plans.  These plans are complete, but can be modified to suit your location and needs.  Plans come with details, and can be provided with engineering and energy (T24) calculations.

Our first offering is a square design with a hip roof of about 2300SF. This classic design can be easily adapted to different site conditions and use, and will blend in with any neighborhood or landscape.

This house is designed to perform well in any climate with ample light and solar gain.  Windows on two sides of each room, and a high cupola in the center of the building make for a bright, airy house, and also provide excellent ventilation for passive summer cooling.

(Click on the plan below for a zoomable version)

The house is designed so that engineering details can be adapted to use earthen plaster, interior or exterior, and a green roof, and many interior partitions can be moved. The house is designed for 24″ wide straw bales, plastered with lime/cement, and 10′ high ceilings.  Window heights can be easily modified to optimize daylighting, solar gain and desirable views.

Some of the custom features of this plan include: wide decks on two sides–a generous entry porch, a dining area, and a private deck for the main bedroom. The main bath features a Japanese soaking tub, as well as a shower, and the second bath is joined to the laundry/mud room. The middle bedroom features a bay window large enough for a bed.  The kitchen features a pantry closet and dining counter.  The layout allows the living room to be isolated from the kitchen and dining when that is desired.  The family computer is located in the middle of the house, central to the bedrooms and lighted by the cupola.  The front porch is covered with a gable roof with a sitting area.  At the rear, entry is through the mud room and laundry.


Open House!

An inspiring way to recycle old housing and uplift a community!

Home stretch…finish plaster is on!




The final plaster coat is on our project in the Central Valley, drywall is being installed, and we’re measuring for cabinets.

This simple strawbale house is arranged so that a family of four can live comfortably together through hot summers and cloudy winters.   The two-story “bedroom wing”  is covered by a highly reflective metal roof, and the long, single-story “family wing” is covered by a cool, green “living roof”.  The two wings are joined by a breezeway that has already proved to be very effective at channeling fresh and cool breezes–the wall of the building blocks the prevailing breeze and sends it through the breezeway with amplified force, providing natural ventilation and cooling.   (The roof will eventually carry solar collectors).


The children’s straw-bale fort, with its plywood flag,  stands to the right, where it will remain until the the new house is ready to explore (the kids will have a house with a attic for the first time!)


The downstairs, strawbale portion of the “Bedroom Wing” contains the parents’ bedroom, an office/guest room, bath, powder room, and laundry. The upstairs portion has enough room for four kids, a bathroom, and room for play.

HGTV Visits a Skillful Means Home

HGTV visited our project in the Sonoma Valley of California….this home features strawbale walls with earth plaster, recycled wood flooring, salvaged rustic doors and much more. The house is energy efficient, warm in winter and cool in summer, with great views in all directions. Skillful Means designed the home and built it as well.

Heat Wave?

My room is still bearable.  thank you John. Beautiful design.

We received this message during the recent severe heat wave,  from a seriously ill friend who is staying in one of our straw bale houses (without air conditioning).   The outdoor temperature was 110F.



….plaster & straw bale–straw and scratch coat

At our project in the Sierra foothills, installation of the straw bales is almost complete, and already the building is becoming a cool refuge from the summer heat.  Windows are installed in the bale walls, and now the lathing begins.  The strawbale assembly of bales, lath and plaster, form a structural element in the design. Here’s a view from inside the great room.


Meanwhile, down in the valley below, the plasters have completed the first two coats on our house design for a farming family.  Shown here is the flat, living roof portion of this strawbale.design, and on the left the breezeway entrance, which captures natural breezes for summer cooling.Image

Straw into Summer

Moving from spring to summer, our crew has been stacking bales, and this week we’ll be plastering the first house of the season.




The plaster crew has masked the floor, which will be exposed concrete…..





…and the bale crew is tying the first custom bales at a our second project.