Mud homes exist all around the world. Some are simple one room huts. Others are magnificent works of hand-built architecture. One type of common mud home is the Cob house. Cob in Old English means “lump”. The most common way to make the special mud is to take lumps of soil rich in clay, mix in straw, and then stamp the mixture, blending it to create an earthen building material. The process uses local earth, no complicated tools, and can provide mortgage free homes. Building with mud has been done this way for centuries, and many cob buildings have stood for more than 500 years. Some extravagant ones are located in some of the most pristine and beautiful places on earth.
A cob home can be a dream home, filled with solar and wind power for appliances, in-floor heating to keep things cozy, and plug-ins to keep an electric car running. The most modern mud homes use ancient building techniques and contemporary eco-friendly technology. They marry fairy tale appeal to the conveniences of modern living. Spectacular homes range anywhere from several thousand to several million dollars, depending on location, design and labor costs. But once built, they are environmentally sensible one of a kind homes. For cob builders, it’s a passion.
Here are 10 incredible mud homes from around the world:
1. Kristen’s Cob and Straw Bale Home in Denmark
The Eco Village of Dyssekilde, Denmark is the home of Kristen’s magnificent Cob House. The Eco Village has a focus on living with the land and getting to know one’s neighbors. There are over 100 people living in the village, and Kristen’s aim was to live simply with nature and others of like mind. She wanted her house to have soft shapes and to be built from completely natural materials. Cob construction was ideal for her, so she made the plans for her home and built it. It has a rubble trench and stone foundation with exterior walls mortared with lime. The interior walls are cob construction, while the exterior walls are made of straw bales. There is a thatched roof and reclaimed windows throughout. There is a greenhouse which catches the sun for warmth, and two cast iron stoves and a central mass heater for less sunny days. Solar electricity powers the house with 12 volts, and there is a composting toilet. It is a spectacularly beautiful addition to the many different kinds of natural buildings located in the Eco Village.
2. The Hobbit Hole House
Built using the mud and stone remaining from the initial digging at the site, this house is a stellar example of what is possible when using local materials. The wood was sourced from forests near the construction site. Every attempt to preserve the natural beauty of the wood was made, as the interior structures follow the lines of the curving remnant wood pieces. There is a well nearby which supplies water and all human waste is composted. The Hobbit Hole House cost under $10 per square foot to build.
The home, built by Simon and Jasmine Dale, was left for use by woodland workers after the couple had lived in it for some time. They were able to purchase a seven-acre land parcel in West Wales, and built a new dwelling, which they have called the Undercroft. The new site offered them enough land to include a barn, a workshop, space for planting trees, a vegetable garden, a fruit orchard and to raise farm animals. Their starter home, the Hobbit Hole, was only the beginning of a large, now realized, dream.
3. Ileana Mavrodin’s Romanian Cob House
A walk down a country path in the midst of green meadows, past rows of corn, across a pedestrian only wooden suspension bridge over a bubbling stream, down a wooden flight of stairs, through an old orchard, through thick brush along a narrow walkway, then onto a dirt road, to emerge in a clearing in the woods… this is the way to the Romanian Cob House. It is the first ever in Romania, and it is small; but very sweet. Mavrodin built the Cob House, named Casa Verde, as an experimental project to try the local mud. She left Canada to build Casa Verde and decided to stay. It took two summers to build the home. There is a kitchen, an oven, a heated bench, an upstairs bedroom and all the normal functions a house has. It is oriented to the sun to collect as much light as possible. One roof window faces the Polar Star. The interior is a warm blend of rust and tan colored muds, with special niches built into the walls for storage. Found objects are pressed into the surface to decorate windows and doors. Mavrodin started the house for her own inspiration, but she has become famous as an architect throughout the area, and also teaches others the process.
4. Samhitakasha Cob House, Muizenberg, Cape Town, South Africa
Samhitakasha is a bed and breakfast just 200 meters from the beachfront of Muizenberg. This family swimming beach is known for its warm waters and surfer friendly conditions. Samhitakasha was constructed on an existing suburban site where a previous home had been demolished. Green builders call this a brown-field site, and prefer it for building because it doesn’t use soil which could otherwise be used for agriculture. The B&B was built with mud and straw, sharing the traditions of African house design and the ancient cob mud techniques of the UK.
The house foundations were made of compacted gravel. The support structures were handcrafted of wood, and the poles which support the first floor and roof were gum trees which were cleared from the property. The timber is local pine, with joinery of the South African hardwood, sustainable siligna.
The guestroom furniture was made from old railway sleepers and reclaimed wood. The roof is a combination of clay, straw, wood and recycled cardboard, which provides a high quality of insulation. The roof was also waterproofed with torch-on bitumen. Plans to add plants to make a living roof are proposed. The structure’s solar geyser, rainwater collection points, grey water system, and passive solar heating and lighting are all key elements in the building design.
The guest accommodations include a private entrance, ensuite shower and ablution facilities, a large triple bedroom, garden access, and views of the Cape mountains. WiFi connection is an option. The façade is a beautiful adobe brick color, while the interiors are tan, brown and white. Colorful bedding, curtains and a striking blue mosaic mirror over the bathroom sink are eye catching additions to the interior. The exterior is surrounded by native gardens and the coast is just a few short steps from the B&B. Single accommodations begin at $56 per night, and a free continental breakfast is offered daily. Room service is available during limited hours.
5. White Cottage on the Edge of Filby Broad, UK
This cottage was built approximately 400 years ago, and features cob construction and thatched façade of the period. A cob and bale extension was added by Charlotte Eve and Kate Edwards, famous throughout the UK for their cob structures, about five years ago. The home is currently for sale for $682,347.
The original cottage features a cob porch covered with a roof of living sedum. The entrance hall has a stained glass roof designed to reflect colorful light on the interior plastered walls. The entire original structure was upgraded and renovated with natural clay paints and lime plaster. Each renovation was completed within the style of the original and the aesthetic details, such as the local reed thatching collected from the surrounding marshlands give the home a kind of fairytale appeal. It is situated on approximately two-thirds of an acre of land with private access to Filby Broad. It is a stunning piece of historic building adjacent to some of the UK’s most protected and secluded waterways and nature preserves.
6. Kate’s Mayne Island Cob House
Kate, with the help of Cobworks, built this dream house for approximately $100,000. It is 1,200 square feet. In addition to the cob construction, it uses logs from trees which were milled on the island property. The first floor features cob walls, with green exterior and white interiors. The second story is a loft, which is framed with the property-sourced posts and beams, plus planks. It began as a project with Cobworks, and continued with three additional workshops over a few more years. Kate and her daughters built the interiors by hand, and with the help of cobbing crews added on a cob oven, the garden gate and wall, and the finishing plaster.
The home has radiant in-floor heat tubes and a rocket stove which warms an attached cob bench. The Kitchen features an array of colored glass bottles aligned over a reclaimed leaded glass window. The curved kitchen countertop is blue tile. A side door near the television niche is curved wood and frame of cob plaster. Curved top windows provide light around the house. Nurse trees were used to create the one-of-a-kind curved doors, and flat stones were dry stacked and cobbed into the exterior walls during the building workshops at the site. A green outdoor cob oven in the shape of a frog was built by Tracy Calvert, Cobworks co-founder. Curved fascia and rafter tails, exterior skylights and several relaxing seating areas grace the exterior of the house.
7. Deacon Vale Farm Guest House
Former Chef Don and Shanti McDougall, together with their partners the Abbotts, own a beautiful certified organic farm on Mayne Island, British Columbia. Their enterprise seeks to grow the best produce possible on their small family farm. They decided to build a cob house on their farm which would house their guests in luxury.
All of the stones for the guest house foundation were gathered by hand and tractor, and the clay, hay and logs are from their farmland. The structure has a living roof which is part of the hill on the house’s north side. They built a split rail fence to keep their cows from roaming onto their delicious roof. Sandstone was used to build the guest house window sills and shelves. A detailed relief sculpture of a tree is situated near the front entrance, and it bears a leaf for each person who helped to construct the house during the first summer of the project. The exterior walls are deep green. The living room sofa is constructed of cob and is built into the wall. A cedar nurse tree forms the frame for the entrance foyer. There is a cob construction dining booth adjacent to the kitchen area. Beautiful Saltillo tiles were used throughout as flooring. The roof is timber poles and boards, with skylights included for plenty of sunlight. The bedroom includes a Japanese soaker tub built into the south wall.
8. Austin Texas Straw Clay House
The 832 square foot house was built by Austin senior systems analyst for the University of Texas, Gary Zuker. He built his own home out of pure economics. He couldn’t afford to have his home built, so he used common sense to build it himself, resourcing books about architecture from the university. He spent a fair amount on timber, and created the roof with scissor trusses on the recommendation of an architect friend. He wanted to have a maintenance free home, and finally the old world style of stone appealed to him. He spoke with an indigenous building expert, where he learned how to build with mud and straw. Batches of straw are covered with clay mud which is mixed until it becomes a form of clay. Then, the clay is thrown onto forms for the walls. The walls are gradually built from the bottom up, and the forms removed. The straw clay dries hard as concrete. It took him “millions of hours” and he started completely without building plans. He used curved logs to build the curved front door. He used logs from the oldest log cabin in Austin to build the fireplace and exterior porch. The home is filled with reclaimed building supplies. Exquisite details include the hammered copper coverings he added to traditional white, basic appliances. The house cost $25,000 to build, and an additional $15,000 was required for its septic system and a well. He built the entire home by hand, contriving what he needed as the interior emerged.
9. Broadgreen House
This historic cob house was built in New Zealand in 1855 for one of the earliest settlers of Nelson. The Colonial Victorian residence contains eleven rooms and is an excellent example of a family home of the period. The home’s kitchen has lovely brown and black tiled floors, and white cob walls, with the huge fireplace typically needed for cooking and heating. The exterior is white cob with traditional bay windows flanking the entrance and high peaked gabled roofline. The house is a National Historic Landmark, and available for guided tours.
10. Laughing House, Oregon
Ianto and Linda’s cob home in Oregon is an exquisite example of artistry and ecology. The home exemplifies their version of living naturally, surrounded by beauty, using ancient construction techniques to build modern living quarters. They call their home Laughing House, and it is filled with spaces designed with whimsical patterns and unexpected artistry.
They made their home with cob, which is a mixture of straw, mud, earth or and sometimes extra clay and sand. Ianto and Linda made their home with cob they mixed together by hand and foot, trampling their cob into mud strong enough to build into a structure.
Ianto was trained as an architect, but he became quickly bored with the process of creating traditional buildings which are flat and rectilinear. He had a strong interest, however, in buildings which are connected to land.
Ianto and Linda formed the Cob Cottage Company, focusing on creating buildings which people make from mud. He calls them estatic houses. They began by developing small houses which could be built in a year, and then added on over time.
Laughing House is filled with curved walls, rounded windows, flowing countertops and reclaimed materials. The kitchen has earthen tiles and rich wood cabinets. The dining room has composite stone and sand flooring with lovely farmhouse dining set and a huge window wall which fills the space with natural light. The bathroom tub has a glorious mosaic tile surround, and the home’s exterior has two colors of mud, a welcoming kitchen window surrounded by floral motifs, and a roof with sun lights and dirt growing ferns in a happy riot of greenery.
Ianto makes arrangements for building his homes on other people’s land. He pays the landowner as agreed upon. He owns his own home, but doesn’t believe in owning the land. He maintains a blissful mentality,having gained his unique personal freedom through building with mud.