Off-The-Grid Straw Bale Getaway
David Arkin and Anni Tilt of Arkin Tilt Architects design beautiful homes. A lot of architects design beautiful homes, though. What distinguishes the work of Arkin Tilt is their ability to capture the essence of a place and the personality of a client and craft a design that complements both to near perfection.
What makes the firm particularly unique is their unwavering dedication to ecologically sensitive design. They won’t take on a project that doesn’t have energy and resource efficiency as a core focus. This takes us to the Chalk Bluff Cabin, an off-the-grid straw bale getaway high on the remote edge of the Tahoe National Forest in California.
Hybrid Straw Bale
The 872 sq.ft. cabin is a hybrid straw-bale home. That simply means that some of the walls are conventionally built with dimensional lumber, the roof is made of SIPS and the other part-the main volume in this case-is built with straw bales. It’s an approach commonly taken by the firm, who are strong advocates of the ecological and performance benefits of building with straw bales, but acknowledge the benefits of other construction methods as well.
Cut off from the Grid
The home is so remote that its location is well beyond the utility grid. The home harvests energy from the sun through a PV array on the roof and stores the energy in batteries to operate the well pump and other domestic electrical services. A Solar Hot water collector provides domestic hot water and heat for the small cabin. Along with the solar hot water collectors heating is accomplished through a 2ft deep Sand-bed heat storage system.
Though it’s tucked deep into the wilderness, the home sits isolated in a clearing to protect it from wildfires. The siding, metal roof and earth-cement on bale walls all contribute to the home’s wildfire resistance.
An Honest Interior
Inside, the home is unadorned with plywood-clad ceilings, polished concrete floors and rich, textured plastered walls. The arrangement of the floor plan is simple, but executed with defined, functional spaces. A queen sized sleeping nook off the living room, for instance, can be used as daytime away space while still being connected to the hub of the house. At night, it becomes its own bedroom by being buffered from the other sleeping areas by the living room. The kitchen, tucked below a bedroom feels as though it occupies its own room even though it shares floor space with the main living area.
Upon visiting their site, Arkin Tilt presents you with a short passage. It reads:
“As a branch grows in search of sunlight so too does a design evolve as a natural fit to its climate and circumstance.”
Like all of their work, the Chalk Bluff Cabin delivers on that idea.
Architect: Arkin Tilt Architects www.arkintilt.com
Photographer: Eric Millette www.ericmillettephotography.com
*For more information on Straw Bale Construction visit the California Straw Building Association (CASBA): www.strawbuilding.org
The shed roof rises to the south and allows winter sun deep into the living space. Large barn doors help temper solar gain and provide security when the homeowners are away. When open, the interior living space spills out onto the patio.
The second floor tier houses a bathroom, a mechanical room and a bedroom. It's conventionally built and clad in clapboard siding.
The north side of the home is set aglow by a hanging fixture that announces the entry
Set in the middle of an island of stone, the home is built and placed with wildfires in mind.
The main living space is day lit from south facing glazing. Interior materials are simple, low maintenance and honestly expressed.
The kitchen sits tucked beneath a bedroom. The lower ceiling defines the space and gives it a more intimate feel.
A queen sized nook is ideal for sleeping at night or for hanging out during the day without missing any of the action in the living room. Storage opportunities sit below the bed platform.
The main living space is built with straw-bale construction, while the second floor tier is conventionally built. A roof made of structurally insulated panels caps it all.
The first floor plan.