Dwellings made of alternative materials

Our son, an industrial designer, studied with Ianto Evans, founder and director of the Cob Cottage company in Oregon and author of the book The Hand-Sculpted House.

Raw cob ©Janet Allen
Unfinished cob - just clay and straw

What's cob? No, it's not corn cobs as many people guess. Rather, it's a blend of clay from the building site itself and straw mixed together.

It's an ancient building material and cob structures can last for hundreds of years.

Here's more information about his more traditional cob building projects.

A hybrid cob home in the city

Front ©Janet Allen
Front of the house

Because building codes haven't always kept up with new ideas about traditional techniques, it was not possible for our son to build in the city the all-cob kind of structure he would have liked to have built, so his Durham house project is a compromise—a hybrid of stick-frame, post-and-beam, strawbale, cob, earthen plaster, adobe floor, green roof, and so on.

Upper windows ©Janet Allen
The upper windows

The railings will be painted white as is customary in this historic neighborhood. (This house is being built on land left vacant after the original house burned down.)

The high ceilings and many windows throughout the house keep this smallish home from feeling claustrophobic.

Living room ©Janet Allen
Living room

It has a solar light tube in the center of the ceiling. It keeps the entire room well-lit.

This is the living room, heated by a gas stove.

The floors throughout the house are currently just plywood. They'll eventually be earthen, except for the kitchen floor, which is bamboo, and this room, which became a hardwood floor.

Eating nook ©Janet Allen
Built-in eating nook

A built-in eating nook is adjacent to the kitchen and the back porch.

There is storage beneath each bench.

Kitchen ©Janet Allen

The cupboards are custom made and feature "live wood" and glass inserts.

The sconces  ©Janet Allen
Some sconces

A cob house can be sculpted, so these sconces are built-in and create a warm glow in the evening. (Each sconce has a CFL.)

The loft(Enlarge)  ©Janet Allen
The loft

The well-lit loft can be storage or extra living space. The loft is reached by the ladder, which is stored on the wall, as seen in the photo.

Loft ©Janet Allen
Part of loft

This is the rest of the loft, which continues behind the left top wall.

Cubbies(Enlarge)  ©Janet Allen
Built-in cubbies

These cubbies are sculpted into the wall near the back door. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, they're handy for storing keys, cell phones, and so forth.

This photo shows that there are more than an ample number of electrical outlets and lighting/fan options. Going back to traditional techniques doesn't mean that new inventions are left behind.

Bathroom mirror ©Janet Allen
The bathroom mirror and sink

The bathroom mirror is made from the same live wood.

The shower stall ©Janet Allen
The shower stall

The shower is concrete and features glass blocks for light.

Inside porch ©Janet Allen
Inside back porch

This is part of the back porch.

Back of house ©Janet Allen
Back of the house

The back porch is partially screened and partially glass. The roof is clear.

From this perspective, the kitchen is at the left, the main body of the house (behind the porch), consisting of the eating nook, bathroom and living room is in the center, and the office and bedrooms are at the right.

Cob garden wall ©Janet Allen
A straw bale and cob garden wall

This is the entry to the back yard of the house. It's made of straw bale, covered with cob. The foundation is "urbanite" (i.e. discarded concrete from sidewalks etc.).

Urbanite ©Janet Allen

Here's a close-up of "urbanite"—otherwise known as chunks of concrete that would have gone to the dump.

Concrete can be such an environmental problem that it's important to use to whatever extent possible what has already been created.

It actually can make quite an attractive (and inexpensive!) building material.