The Story So Far

2005

Autumn

We buy the land: two acres of pasture in a tiny village with five inhabitants, a ruined chapel and a Zen view of the ocean.

2006

Winter

Research and decide on cob as a building technique. Design Snail Cabin as a learning project and temporary accommodation. Plant fast-growing (“nurse”) trees to begin the process of converting the land into an edible “food forest”.

Spring

Create access road and bring water on-site. Organise ten-day cob workshop, during which 20 people build about half of the cabin’s cob wall. We continue building with friends, family and volunteers.

Summer

We finish the wall, but work is held up while we wait for delivery of the green oak for the roof.

Autumn

Build reciprocal frame roof and cover with insulation and roof membrane. The cabin is protected for the winter, but damp and unfinished.

2007

Winter

Start plastering cabin interior and exterior. Begin closing in the space adjoining it, starting with a straw-bale north wall, to form a kitchen/workshop area.

Spring

Plumbing and electricity in the cabin. Finish plastering cabin interior.

Summer

Finish plastering cabin exterior and lay cob floor. The cabin is habitable at last.

Autumn

Earth moving: build terrace and retaining wall for the main house. Close in south and west walls of workshop.

2008

Winter

Install wood stove in the cabin, replacing smoky fireplace. Create raised beds for vegetable garden. Lay out perimeter of main house.

Spring

Build chambers for composting toilet adjoining cabin. Gigantic, hundred-year-old reclaimed pine beams turn up out of the blue. We modify the design of the main house accordingly.

Summer

Foundation work for the main house, held up by transport strike, finally begins. We lay gravel trench, pour concrete ring beam and begin building stemwall. Design, build and install main gates for the land. Build roof extension for bathroom adjoining cabin. Start building cob columns for south facade of main house.

Autumn

Begin construction of ill-fated straw-bale wall and cob arch for main house, and pour concrete ring beam at upper-floor level. Lay stone patio for cabin. Finish composting toilet. It starts pouring with rain.

2009

Winter

Install the upper floor beams of the main house and cover it in plastic for the winter. It keeps on pouring with rain. After experimenting with different cob-mixing techniques, we discover the rotavator, which transforms our way of working.

Spring

Build bottle walls, shower and washbasin for cabin bathroom. Demolish cob arch and replace with oak pillars and lintel. Add cob buttresses to reinforce structure. Plaster outside and inside of straw bale wall. Mix and lay cob sub-floor in main house. Two ducks and a drake arrive as gift from a neighbour.

Summer

One of the ducks hatches nine ducklings. We lay recycled formwork boards for the upper floor of the main house. Another lorry-load of straw bales is delivered. We build the straw-bale wall of the upper story and the roof of the main house, and heave sighs of relief.

Autumn

Start plastering the upper story walls with cob. Abrazo House hosts its first “official” educational field trip: 20 Master’s students in Health, Ecology and Sustainability from the University of Deusto. Shortly after this, our fears are confirmed: the straw bales in the wall of the lower story have suffered major water damage and begun to lose structural strength. We support the second story on jacks and weigh our options.

2010

Winter

We start tearing down the wall and rebuilding it with solid cob instead of straw bale: slower to build but giving greater security in the end. As an antidote to this slogging hard work, we start on a new, fun project: a permanentplayhouse, built using left-over materials from the main house.

Spring

With a group of friends, we build the playhouse structure (straw bale walls and an experimental “post-industrial Navajo”-style roof) in one day. Later we plaster the walls and cover the roof with plastic. We continue demolishing the main house wall and rebuilding it in three sections. The ducks (now reduced in number) all disappear one weekend; we suspect a fox.

Summer

We finish rebuilding the third and final section of the main house’s cob wall. It has been an expensive mistake in terms of time, though not in money – the old, damaged wall was either reused or composted! We continue plastering the upper story with cob and begin the finish plaster (lime and sand) on the lower story.

Autumn

We start a project to monitor the thermal performance of the cabin. Diverse people – from friends’ children to another group of Master’s students – get stuck into plastering the playhouse and the main house.

2011

Winter

A new addition to the cabin – a pergola to turn the patio into an all-weather outdoor space. Work on electricity in the main house, and final plastering of the playhouse. Clear brambles and make new vegetable beds in the garden. Create a filtration system for the pond. Take delivery of some chickens, who will live in a newly built chicken tractor and help to rotavate and fertilise the garden.

Spring

Continue applying cob to the main house, inside and out. Finish the interior of the playhouse. Begin designing a new project to build two more ecological houses for permanent residents, on another plot of land (full of gigantic brambles) in the same village.

Summer

Finish the cob in the big house and start applying gypsum plaster to the interior.

Autumn

Build interior partitions. Finish the roof edge with aluminium panels. Start installing windows to make the house weather-tight, and finish plastering the interior.

2012

Winter

Interior work: partition walls, plumbing, the floor upstairs, plumbing, electricity.

Spring

Rendering the exterior with lime/sand. Enlarge the patio and improve the ramp leading up to it. Start making the upstairs habitable with partitions, shelves and furnishings; lay the floor downstairs and install the front door: the house is finally closed in.

Summer

Continue fixing up the house interior. We spend our first night in the house, install the solar hot water system, and test it with some nice hot baths.

Autumn

Continue rendering the exterior, furnishing up the house inside including the kitchen, install wood stove for heating and hot water, and lay the patio.

2013

Winter

Settling into our new home. Test the heating and hot water system – it works! Finish the kitchen and continue furnishing the interior of the main house.

Spring

Move chicken run and convert the land they have cleared and fertilized into a new veggie garden. Start plastering the exterior of the main house.

Summer

Continue expanding the veggie garden and clear a lot of brambles from the forest garden. Renovate the cabin for use as guest accommodation.

Autumn

Paint the outside of the house, and continue working in the garden. Build a greenhouse.

2014

Winter

Writing articles about the house…

Spring

…working on plans for two new houses in the same village…

Summer

…experimenting with (among other things) beehives, stoves and snails….

Autumn

…facilitating our friends and neighbours’ cob cabin…

2015

Winter

An exceptionally hard winter leads to damage to the house’s exterior plaster. We go skiing to our friends’ house, who are snowed in for a week…

Spring

Fixing the exterior plaster, laying out the patio in front of the main house, and building a cob oven…

Summer

Setting up a slackline circuit in the garden, experimenting with biochar, and helping friends design their straw bale retreat…

Autumn

New neighbours bring with them the art of silk acrobatics…