Part Strawbale - Part Stick Frame in the Southern Oregon Cascades
Uninterrupted views of the Siskiyou Mountains, a sense of space and a deep commitment to environmental responsibility inspired Craig and Kia Sanford to create a one-of-a-kind strawbale/stick frame house in the old Cherry Hill district across the interstate from Ashland. By combining their skills-he's owner of Sanford Design & Renovation and she was the primary designer-the couple was able to incorporate innovative green building materials into their 1880 square foot, two bedroom, two bath home.
"It was literally a from-the-ground-up project," says Kia of the original 1000 square foot strawbale structure. "After building the foundation but before the walls were put up, the cement floor was poured and stamped."
Tinted and scored to resemble large, textured stone tiles, the floor grounds the home's hand-applied earth plaster walls, lending warmth and smoothness. More tranquility comes from rounded corners and sloped window frames and nooks that are all cut from approximately 125 standard three-string wheat bales and form the base of the walls.
To further enhance the "mountain barn meets adobe" theme, the Sanfords installed mismatched and oddly sized vintage doors with found hardware. "What was fun was we had most of the doors before we started and then we just cut out the doorways to match them," explains Kia.
A grand great room-decorated in a mix of rich ethnic textures, simple Scandinavian furniture and lots of natural light-is the home's main living area. A loft peers down from the north peak of the 15-foot cathedral ceiling, while a built-in bench hugs a wall of south-facing windows. A small, cast iron Jotul propane stove, along with passive solar heat, keeps this portion of the house toasty in the winter; during the summer, the thick strawbale walls and exterior arbors insulate the indoors from blistering sunlight.
Under the loft is the Sanford's homey kitchen, outfitted with a refurbished 1940s Youngstown Kitchens double sink unit and edge-glued pine countertops and cabinets. "I think wood is so beautiful and should be seen," Kia says. "It's a living, breathing thing and it goes so well in a farm-style kitchen."
More farm flounces are found in the main bathroom, where a 1920s sink recovered from Craig's parents' remodel and an antique claw foot tub rule the beach-themed room. The beach stretches into the master bedroom, where a high plant shelf is lined with a colorful collection of bottles, overlooking several pieces of vintage furniture and a large, handcrafted bed.
"It's a 'found objects home' in a way," says Kia. "Kind of like my cottage garden style, it has just come together organically over time."
What also "just came together" was the 880 square foot addition built onto the strawbale home in 2000. To maximize their square footage, the Sanfords decided on a stick frame base. "The strawbale walls are 2 feet thick, so we would have lost a lot of space," says Kia. "Instead, we chose sustainably harvested lumber."
How to bridge the two building styles became the next point to ponder. Because the strawbale portion of the house had a lower roofline than would be necessary to accommodate a two-story add-on, a transitional section was needed.
"Craig has been fascinated by the West Coast water towers with their tapered sides," says Brint Borgilt, owner of Nautilus Design Studio in Ashland, who designed the Sanford's addition. "We let that unusual structure influence the design of the vaulted entry area, creating a sort of 'stair tower'."
The stair tower effectively draws together both halves of the house, while making its own statement. "It has really become a focal point feature and centerpiece of the home," says Borgilt.
Building several small windows into the upper mezzanine and walls off the stair tower-an architectural detail lifted from traditional water towers-adds the illusion of scale. It also allows the whole foyer to be flooded with natural light. "We didn't want the area to feel hot and overlit, which could have happened if we'd used one large window," Borgilt explains.
The new wing gave the Sanfords plenty of room to play with color. Vertical stretches of pumpkin-hued walls embrace the dark softness of the monolithic concrete floors in the entry, while a bathroom shines in bright green and cultured marble. The main floor guest room is painted in three shades of "pool blue" and houses a century-old chaise lounge as well as a second Jotul propane stove.
At the top of the mahogany post-and-railing staircase is the breezy mezzanine/office and the Sanford's home theater. The latter is dramatically painted in shades of deep wine and is dressed in heavy red curtains that once belonged to Kia's grandmother. "I save things that I know will serve a specific purpose," she says.
Craig summarizes it best: "It has a real unique feel" With little wasted space and lots of aesthetically pleasing features, this home bridges more than two building techniques-it bridges several generations of furniture, a variety of architectural styles and a rainbow of décor. And the Sanfords couldn't be happier with it.