Straw Bale Guest House in Idaho Inspired by Shelter Book


I’m writing because we have just recently completed a straw bale ADU in our backyard in Boise, Idaho that all came about because of (1) a pregnancy and (2) seeing Lloyd Kahn speak at Bookshop Santa Cruz promoting Small Homes: The Right Size years ago. I wanted to share our story.

My husband and I had moved from Santa Cruz to the Santa Cruz Mountains (Boulder Creek right outside of Big Basin). We had the big dream of starting from scratch on an off-grid property and building a structure over time utilizing natural building principles. We had taken a straw bale building workshop at Real Goods/Solar Living Institute in Hopland, CA and fell in love with straw bale building. That first winter was tough. It rained so much that we barely had the ability to get that infrastructure going. There were trees falling and mudslides. Leaky roofs and mice. No power, no running water.

Then we found out we were pregnant and needed to rethink whether we would realistically be able to both work full-time in Santa Cruz, commute 45 minutes each way, and build a home while taking care of a small child. Land, permits, building materials, daycare, etc. all added up financially so to live in that area we would both have to work full-time jobs. How could we do that and build a home? It was daunting.

Seeing Lloyd Kahn speak about Small Homes heavily influenced us to look to finding an existing smaller home closer to a city to live out the dream. The idea that you don’t have to live that utopian dream of finding a property and starting from square one as simple as it may sound blew our minds. My husband Dan found a produce buyer job in Boise so off we went! We were able to find a small home built in 1954 in a lovely neighborhood close to the foothills and city that suited our needs and allowed me to stay home to take care of our child.

Not wanting to give up the natural building dream entirely, we decided upon building a 580 sq. ft. ADU (closer to 900 with the sleeping loft) in our backyard of the Sunset neighborhood of Boise (hence Sunset Strawbale Guest House). Luckily there is a local company (EarthCraft) who had experience designing/building straw bale homes so we worked with them and then did all the finishing ourselves (from shaping the straw bales with a chainsaw to all the plaster work and much more) slowly over 2 years.

We used reclaimed building materials where possible. It took us a year longer to finish it than we anticipated but we’re finally done! We now have that extra space to host friends/family when they visit (since our main home is modest) and rent it out the rest of the time to have a bit of income. We love being able to share the space so others can experience what a straw bale building feels like. I keep Shelter and Small Homes in the guest house because they are such wonderful books and I hope guests can walk away inspired as well.

So this is all a long winded way of saying “thank you!” to Lloyd Kahn and Shelter Publications for inspiring us and influencing us to live out our dream albeit in a slightly different way than anticipated.

We’ve shared our journey on Instagram. @sunsetstrawbaleguesthouse

Allison Green
Photos: Treasure Valley Real Estate Photography

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

One Response to Straw Bale Guest House in Idaho Inspired by Shelter Book

Leave a Reply