Our Buildings !

Strawbale Studio

Here are some of our buildings and structures !  More to come.

The Strawbale Studio was the first natural building structure on this land and was the beginning of what now is the Strawbale Studio Natural Building Program.   Started in the fall of 1996 with the excavation of the foundation, this structure was envisioned by Fran Lee, its original owner, Deanne Bednar who had just returned from a 3 week natural building course by the Cob Cottage Co. on the west coast, and Carolyn Koch of Rochester, MI.  Together this core team, later joined by Gregie Mathews, helped in the early years of its construction, joined by many, many volunteers.  Additionally experts such as Master Thatcher Flemming Abrahamsson of Denmark, and local Stone Mason, John Eisley assisted us in the basic learning of skills.  A crew of stick framers were hired to put up the round timber frame.



The Spiral Chamber is an enchanting “wattle & daub” structure, made of small diameter poles and sticks, woven together like a basket, and covered with “cob”, a clay/sand/straw mix. This technique is very traditional and ancient…a very simple and basic way to create a shelter. The ridge of the thatched roof was created on-site with the long-distance advice of thatcher William Cahill.  As always, the structure was built by many hands, including home-schoolers and intern !







The Kensington Kids Cottage – at Kensington Metropark Farm Center was finished in 2006.  This hybrid structure is a childrens’ classroom and playhouse that became the center of a “destination area” which includes picnic tables, a big oak tree, stone labyrinth, reading station, wooden tractor to climb on and more.  It is made almost entirely of natural materials from the farm and region: strawbales, earth, timbers, thatch, stones.  This structure models several wall techniques including strawbale, wattle & daub and Compressed Earth Blocks…all surfaces covered by a unifying earth plaster made of local subsoil.




This is a picture of the Kids Cottage under construction, showing the thatched roof and local fieldstone foundation and earthen plasters over strawbale and compressed earth blocks.
View a short  video  of the Kensington Kid’s Cottage taken by the Oakland Press, interviewing Carol Fink from the Kensington Metropark Farm Center. An article on the Kid’s Cottage in the Oakland Press May 19, 2008.

Kensington Kids Cottage teaches “Green Lessons”  Oakland Press Article


The Hobbit Sauna & its adjoining Hobbitdition (Hobaddition) incorporate a Living Roof, Strawbale & Cob Walls, round poles and dimensional lumber from a local sawyer, plus a Cob Garden Wall with a Living Roof, Cob bench and arched gateway. The Living Roof is alive with many types of Seedum plants from the land, along with moss and strawberries and other things that have planted themselves. This magical structure also has a ladder made of round timber and rope that leads up to a loft over the sauna room. Under the sheltering overhang there is a Rumford Fireplace sculpted into the earthen garden wall, ready to provide a warm fire on cool evenings.


The Identity Cabin (that has changed purpose many times, and yet to be formally “named”) is a hybrid building that is comfortable to hang out in…featuring a sheltering roof and benches, with screens when needed to be separate from the mosquitoes! It has walls of strawbale and also “light clay straw” covered by earthen plasters.  The metal roof slanting to the west creates a lively sound when it rains, and the living roof on the east is like a little garden just outside the loft.  Crawl through a door from the loft onto the roof for a great view of the Faux Fall  (recirculating waterfall), the Hobbit Sauna and the Strawbale Studio.



The Green Roof Wood Shelter is a lush carpet of green in warm weather.  Its round pole frame and living roof keeps wood dry for the Rocket Stove and wood stoves. Greg Brazel designed the structure and built the frame using notching, wooden pins and lashing.  Others helped by creating the living roof made with a pond liner covered with local bio-mass – composted manure from the neighbors horses, old hay and such, with local plants such as wild geranium and fern.




The Thatched Roof Wood Shelter has an A-frame of round poles. It has the feeling of an ancient survival structure.  It’s thatched roof has a special “Oak and Oat” ridge application learned “long-distance” from Flemming in Denmark. Tyler Schaeffer and Abby helped rethatch and ridge this structure.





The Oxford Kids Cottage is a thatched strawbale structure with a rocket stove, heated benches and a loft, all designed in a diminutive way for wee folks. The enchanting arched wooden door was built by Gene Velenni, who will also be making windows to match.  The east wall is stone on the interior and exterior, insulated with perlite to keep in the heat from the rocket stove and to be safe. Note the Oak and Oat Ridge, which was also put on the Thatched Wood Shelter.




A Boat Launch, on the swamp, was created in May 2017 by the visionary and enthusiastic intern, complete with a bench where they learned to make a stone foundation, a sculpted cob bench top protected with lime plaster.  The bench overlooks a stone fire circle and beyond it, the sunset over the swamp, and on spring evenings, the frog songs sing forth.


The Kids’ Treehouse, a simple structure built 3 feet off the ground around a tree is in the Fairy Forest area, which is on its way to becoming a childrens adventure play area. I can imagine a Wood xylophone, climbing post, balance log, maybe a labyrinth or a little “lean-to” tree fort of sticks, to be build and re-built.

The Stone  Kiva is in process…a pit formed from our extraction of field stone for the Strawbale Studio foundation.  What was once a mound of stones is now a recessed bowl with stones moved into position to create a seating circle around a fire pit.  It is hidden in the woods like a jungle city covered with vines.

The Sun Earth Oven has received a new shed roof made of notched round poles covered with metal panels. Many folks have had happy pizza meals from this earth oven !  It is located by the bonfire circle where folks hang out and play music during the Full Moon Potlucks. Nearby is a Fruit Agro-Forest based on Permaculture ideas.  We can walk down the path, and harvest berries in season: goose berries, black current and, in time, hazel nuts.

Other fire devices are the “Totem” Rocket Mass Heater in the Red Shed Pole Barn, the Outdoor Rocket Cooker, Solar Oven, Hay Box Insulative Cooker.



The Outdoor Rocket Stove Cooker is very handy and useful.  Located outside the kitchen on the porch area, it was constructed in one day in a workshop, and fires up quickly and easily.  We keep a plywood sheet over the top of the stove and the feed tube, so the rain doesn’t erode the earthen mortar which holds the bricks together.  This stove is insulated with perlite and wood ash, so it burns very efficiently and cleanly !





Foraging is very valued, with over 125 plants identified on the land for food, medicine, cording, dyes, other. During warm weather we soak Shitake Mushroom-inoculated logs so that they will “fruit”. In the spring wild mushroom can be found: Chicken of the Woods, Dryads Saddle, and sometimes Morel and Coral Mushroom. In the woods Wild garlic chive grow in the spring and sometimes the fall, and many other plants offer nutrition:  ox eye daisy, stinging nettle, dandelion, and so many more.






The Intern Cabin was constructed near the pipeline.  It had strawbale walls, a thatched roof and cob garden wall with an archway and a living roof.  It was de-constructed due to rennovation being done on the pipeline.






A Coppice Forest Garden was planted by volunteers from the S. E. Michigan Permaculture Mixer in 2015, and about 75 % of the trees are alive and growing:  hazel, black locust, chestnut, service berry, willow, flowering plum.  Most of these are designed to be cut back and used for building materials as is done in Europe to provide long-lasting sources of usefully sized wood.

Other small gardens are on the land where kale, garlic, tomatoes, beans and such are grown.  Experiments have been made growing in straw bales and hay bales.


A Hugel Kulture was made behind the Hobbit Sauna.  It is a mound made of sticks and logs and bio-mass materials which create high nutrition and water retention.
On this 50 acres, old apple trees abound, and there are other plants such as Service Berry, blackberry, raspberry (black & red).  Perrenials such as Jerusulum Artichoke grow enthusiastically, and the elderberry, paw paw and Siberian Pine are growing slowly. The Greenhouse produces awesome winter-long greens when planted in the fall with freeze-hardy plants like kale and arugula.

The Herb Spiral outside the kitchen door makes foraging easy.

Habitat:  thatched roof reed are habitat for solitary bees, the bat box and bluebird box (not installed).    Paths and lanes wind through the woods, bog, fields.

A Boat Launch, on the swamp, was created in May 2017 by the visionary and enthusiastic intern, complete with a bench where they learned to make a stone foundation, a sculpted cob bench top protected with lime plaster.  The bench overlooks a stone fire circle and beyond it, the sunset over the swamp, and on spring evenings, the frog songs sing forth.





The Rocket Stove Mass Heater in the Red Shed has a theme of sculpted animals.  Warm in the winter when firing and cool in the summer due to its thermal mass, this device is a favorite of all ages !