Name: Allison Green, Dan Theriault, our son Daniel, Hank the dog, KB the cat, and our chickens
Location: Sunset neighborhood, Boise, Idaho
Size: 580 square feet, with the loft it is closer to 900
Type of Home: Post and beam, passive solar, straw bale ADU
Years Lived In: Less than 1 year, we just completed the ADU however we’ve lived in our main house on the property since 2018, owned
We built our pink passive solar straw bale ADU in our backyard in the Sunset neighborhood of Boise, Idaho to give us a little extra space when guests visit. We rent it out the rest of the time because we love sharing the beauty of straw bale building with others. We worked with local professionals for the construction/plumbing/electricity and did the finishing ourselves over two long years. We’ve been interested in natural building for many years so this project is the culmination of a dream.
We moved from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Boise in 2016 after finding out that we were pregnant. We were living in a yurt on a property we had purchased with the intent of building a straw bale home there slowly but surely. Living in the mountains in one of the rainiest years with falling trees and mudslides, a baby on the way, and hearing Lloyd Kahn speak about his book “Small Homes: The Right Size” at Bookshop Santa Cruz spurred our decision to change paths to try to find a modestly sized home close to a city versus trying to build something from the ground up rurally. We weren’t abandoning the natural building dream but we did need to adjust it to make it work for our growing family.
The construction is post and beam with straw bale walls on three sides. The south-facing (non-straw bale wall) is primarily operable windows, which allow us to utilize passive solar principles to move warm air up and out of the house in the summer. The system is so effective that we don’t need to have air conditioning! In the winter, the sun comes into the windows at just the right angle to keep the place nice and toasty. The thermal mass of the concrete floor and straw bale walls help to insulate and regulate the temperatures. The exterior has been finished with lime plaster, cedar board and batten, and a corrugated metal roof. The interior walls are also lime plaster (no VOCs), cedar, or plywood. The main flooring is pigmented concrete with reclaimed cork flooring in the loft. There is no paint on any of the walls. We finished the flooring and wood with eco-friendly low-VOC sealants.
Designing the interior was so much fun. Building this from the ground up allowed us to consciously choose each and every design element in the home from the flooring to wall finishes to tiles and textiles for curtains and throw pillows We furnished the interior with primarily vintage and/or thrifted items. If it’s not vintage or thrifted, then most likely it’s from a small business, made by Allison, or something we already had. We even sourced secondhand building materials and appliances from Craigslist, Nextdoor, and a local company, Waste Equals, that sells reclaimed, surplus, and unused building materials to find things like pink vintage sinks, antique doors, and new old stock tiles all in attempt to make this building project as eco-friendly as possible.
My Style: Handmade, vintage, minimal, earthy with pops of pink
Inspiration: Nature, handmade homes, Big Sur, Sea Ranch, Georgia O’Keeffe’s homes, Lloyd Kahn’s Shelter, Terence Conran
Favorite Element: The straw bale walls are our favorite part of the home. Not only is the organic shape beautiful when finished in lime plaster but they are also incredibly well insulating, which saves money and is better for the environment. We don’t even need to have air conditioning and our bales came from about 20 miles away.
Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge was trying to do all the finishing ourselves on a tight budget with Dan working a full-time job and Allison taking care of a small child. Lots of blood, sweat, and tears, late nights, early mornings, and non existent time to relax. From shaping the straw bale walls with a chainsaw to three layers of lime plaster (not to mention the two layers of earth plaster before that) to cedar siding and tongue and groove ceiling, to installing the toilet and sinks to building a deck to refinishing the doors to landscaping and much more. We did it all!
Proudest DIY: All of the finishing work was DIY so we’re proud that we were able to manifest our vision.
Biggest Indulgence: Due to the timing and the increase in price of wood, the cost of the cedar boards to finish the bathroom walls was almost equal to what we paid for the cedar in the entire ceiling but it was worth it. The vision was a cedar bathroom so we had to do it.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? The straw bale walls are the most unique feature of the house. You don’t see too many straw bale homes but they’re out there if you start looking and asking around. They can actually be pretty well integrated into a neighborhood. We attended a straw bale building workshop at Real Goods in Hopland, California in 2017 and fell in love with the building style. We couldn’t believe our luck that there just happened to be a local Boise company, EarthCraft, who had experience with them. It was meant to be.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? Vintage rugs to make the space cozier, a custom built ladder with integrated handles and alternating treads because it’s much easier to climb, vintage pink sinks because they’re fun, and tons of plants because what’s a house without plants?
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Wait a week before buying something that’s new that you think you need; chances are you’ll change your mind. Purge your things twice a year.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? It’s been said before but it’s truly the best advice: Take your time when decorating. We collected things for years for the ADU. It allowed us to be selective and true to our vision.
This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.
This piece is part of Green Week, where we’re talking about ways to make eco-friendly choices and contributions at home. Head over here to read more!