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 V.15 No.4 | January 26 - February 1, 2006 

Book Review

Building Green

Econest: Creating Sustainable Sanctuaries of Clay, Straw and Timber

Paula Baker-Laporte and Robert Laporte
Gibbs-Smith
paper
$24.95

I admit it: I'm a home design book junkie. Such books appeal not only to my imagination but to my appetite for character and setting. Better still, every once in a while a home design book appears with ideas that mesh with my own home design vernacular: natural materials combined with uncluttered simplicity to create unexpected beauty. Paula Baker Laporte and Robert Laporte's Econest is just such a book.

The Tesuque-based Laportes have been on the cutting edge of green design for over 20 years, and their hard-won knowledge is put to good—and handsome—use here. Paula, an architect, is a certified Bau-biologist (translation: building biologist), specializing in non-toxic and sustainable design. Robert is widely considered one of the country's foremost authorities on earth, straw and timber-frame structures.

By definition, an econest utilizes pre-industrial building materials and technologies to create viable and sustainable homes. The early chapters of Econest provide detailed specs for these materials, including calculations for how many bales of straw and cubic yards of clay will be required per square foot and site-specific considerations such as adjusting for seasonal light, regional temperature and humidity fluctuations.

Like any home design book maven, I've got my own list of what I want (and don't want) in such a book. Econest covers all my bases: floor plans, site considerations, and gorgeous interior and exterior photos. There are also some welcome extras that I'll be adding to my must-have list: owner profiles, chemical reviews and other eco-considerations.

Take, for example, the Laporte's own home in Tesuque. It's the second house they built for themselves in the village—both are among the 10 featured here—and, as they are quick to point out, what they learned from the first they applied to the second: increasing the square footage for a more mainstream homeowner; adding a buffer between the master bedroom and the main living area; more storage; a laundry room; and finally, a separate guest house, all while still keeping the total living area under 2,000 square feet. The Laportes' commitment to using local materials is evident in such touches as the regionally grown aspen ceiling that graces the dining room and the local rock used in the gardens and footpaths. Renewable/recycled touches can be found inside and out, from the bamboo fencing to the everyday dishes fashioned from recycled glass on display on the kitchen's timber-frame open shelves.

A detailed resource section includes the New Mexico State guidelines for clay/straw construction (considered the benchmark for this relatively new style of homebuilding), a bibliography for further reading, lists of builders and architects familiar with clay/straw and timber-frame buildings, tool and material suppliers, and nontoxic building products and home furnishing suppliers.

Whether you covet an econest of your own or are ready to begin to build one, you'll find Econest a welcome addition to your library.


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