Warkentin Residence

Nicasio, California

The owner came to Van der Ryn Architects asking for a modest one bedroom house for his property in west Marin County. His goals were to use alternative building materials to reduce impacts, rely heavily on passive solar design, and to create a cozy, non-toxic home. To meet these goals, we designed a 1000 square foot and selected straw bale construction with an engineered-wood post and beam structural system for the exterior walls, incorporated passive solar and daylighting design strategies throughout, designed and engineered a series of beautiful reclaimed redwood trusses to shape the main space, and specified reclaimed redwood for all interior trim. In addition, all the finishes are natural and recycled. We've included three madrone trees from the site as design elements at the entry and in the living room, and specified compressed rice straw board with non-toxic binders for the ceiling finish, refurbished and salvaged cabinetry, and kitchen countertops which we salvaged from bowling lanes.

The thick straw walls help maintain an even indoor temperature. Other passive and active solar strategies, including solar domestic water heating panels, were implemented in this remotely located residence. The builder had never worked with straw bales before this job, but with our assistance and through his own interest in learning to build with alternative materials, this project has become a strong example of owner-architect-builder teamwork. Through our collaboration, we were able to keep the cost comparable to standard insulated wood frame construction.