Jan Simone and Cliff Crutchfield did not set out to build a straw bale home. They began by discussing how they wanted to live.
As they embarked on building a home, they took stock of what they owned and how they were currently living. They wanted as few possessions as possible, they agreed. Their new home had to conserve energy. In choosing construction materials they also wanted to pillage the earth as little as possible.Simone already owned 11 acres near Moab. Several years ago, the couple began to look for an architect who shared their values. They chose Kenton Peters, of Salt Lake City, who heads the energy committee of the local architects association.
Peters was the one to suggest straw bale. He actually mentioned several energy-efficient low-impact construction methods, including rammed earth. Straw bale sounded right to them, says Simone.
Serendipitiously, Simone came across a book called "Places of the Soul," by British architect Christopher Day. She wrote Day a letter of appreciation, for saying so well what she had been thinking. He wrote back.
He became their consultant. Day spent a weekend with Simone and Crutchfield and Peters, staying at a guest ranch near the Moab site. The four of them ate, laughed and talked together, Simone recalls. They studied the land.
Using clay, Day sculpted a model of a house he thought would suit the property. Meanwhile, Peters sketched.
When the weekend was over, the two architects compared their designs and found them to be quite similar. Simone and Crutchfield were reassured. This would be the right house for the site. Not intrusive, respectful of the land. It would be the right home for them.
They moved in in December of 1996.
Theirs is a modern house, spacious and uncluttered. (Owners with few possessions, an architect who favors big closets.) The most unique feature is the entry with a lap pool stretching across the front of the house. (Swimming is Simone's favorite exercise.) A thick bale wall separates pool from home.
The pool and concrete slab-on-grade floor are used as a thermal mass, explains Peters. They collect solar heat in the winter. In the summer, roof overhangs shade the interior. The house contains two evaporative coolers, which they never used last summer, Simone reports.
Simone doesn't like forced air heating. So their solar heat is augmented by radiant heat in the floors.
On the side of their home, hidden from view, is a photovoltaic cell that powers the pool pump. Their electrical system is designed to be converted to photovoltaic as soon as they can afford to buy more cells.
Before they moved in, Simone and her husband got rid of most of their small appliances. Their big appliances are the most energy-efficient available, and include an on-demand water heater.
Every room is wheelchair accessible. Simone being a massage therapist as well as a psychological therapist, wanted their home and pool to be welcoming to patients and friends.
As Peters was designing their home, Simone and Crutchfield told him they'd never be able to buy new furniture, once they paid for their dream house, so to please take their current furniture into account. He did. He measured each piece and made sure there was a wall in the dining room just perfect for Simone's grandmother's china cabinet.
And so the house is theirs. They may be the only Utahns living in straw bale who didn't stack the straw themselves - but in its design, in the materials used, says Simone, the house is theirs. It reflects their hearts.