Paula and Robert Laporte design and build beautiful homes and readers of the LocalsGuide now have a special invitation to see for themselves what an EcoNest® home feels like in person. Whether you’re thinking of building a new home, wanting to learn more about natural building, or just hoping to find ways to add beauty into your own space, you are invited to attend the EcoNest® open house on May 19th.
The Open house will be May 19th between 1 and 4pm at their new home located at 1131 Paradise Lane in Ashland, Oregon.
(Please park below or drive very slowly up the street in deference to their neighbors).
This is a brief interview we did with Paula and Robert around the workshops, books, and services they provide to our community. After you read this interview mark the date on your calendar and then go talk with Paula and Robert to hear the rest of the story.
Paula & Robert, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. You have over twenty years of experience in natural building. Can you tell us how you came to your work and where you trained?
We came to Natural building as a way of life through separate paths. Robert began handcrafting log homes in 1978,the year that Paula Graduated from Architecture school. He then moved on to timber-framing and then went to Germany in search of a more ecological and crafted way to build the enclosure around the timber-frame. It was in Germany that he learned the light clay straw technique that he has continued to evolve and teach over the past 20 years. Paula is an architect whose first-hand experience of Environmental Illness lead her to research healthier ways to build. She studied the German philosophy and science of healthy building known as Bau-biologie, which considers nature to be the gold standard for a healthy environment. She then sought out ways to build healthy homes using the principles of Bau-Biologie and discovered Robert’s work. His system of natural building quickly became the central focus of her architectural work too.
Over the years of doing the work that you have done, how has the climate changed to embrace the type of building that you are doing?
In general, with ever-increasing public awareness about the urgency to build more ecologically, natural building is making great headway in main stream construction.
We have now done building projects in 17 States and 4 Canadian Provinces. Our building track record, work on various building codes, and conscious ambassadorship has helped to win a wider acceptance of this technique amongst building officials. We were thrilled when the Oregon Reach Code created a section for Light Clay Straw and this has paved the way for standard permitting throughout the entire State.
To-date four light clay straw buildings have been permitted in Jackson County and the city of Ashland.
Tell us about the name EcoNest® and how birds play a large role for the inspiration behind your work?
Humans are the only creatures who build homes that are far bigger than they need, that consume the earth’s resources at an unsustainable rate and that are making themselves sick as a result of the toxins that they embed in their homes.
There’s a lot we could learn from birds and the way they build their nests. They build durable structures of local natural materials. These structures last for several generations and when their useful life is over the nests decompose to become the fertile soil for the next generation of nest building materials. No mold, no waste, no toxins, no homelessness, all are skilled builders, they sing while they work.
Robert, will you discuss some of your philosophy behind building a healthy building culture. Anyone can strap on a nail gun and head for the home depot. What are your thoughts around creating what you have called a “Building Culture”?
Our opportunity today in North America is to revive the forgotten craft of building enduring shelter. A building culture begins with building a builder who aspires to a lifelong path of learning and refinement. The role of a craftsman is to be of service to their community. What could be more noble work than creating the physical fabric of that community? True craftsmanship cultivates body, mind and soul.
Education has played a large role in popularizing the EcoNest concept. Can you share a little bit about this process?
Education is at the heart of everything we do. Our ultimate goal is to change the way that people think about their home, their health, natural building and to bring dignity and honor to the role of the craftsman. We envision a housing paradigm that is very different than the status quo and so we have our work cut out for us. It is really important that these don’t remain ideas in the abstract and that is why we invite people into our home and we invite people into the building process. It is so that people can have that visceral experience that is unique to a well-designed natural building that is created consciously by the hands of craftsmen and women who take pride in their work. Although this was once the norm it is not the new status quo yet.
Paula you have also written a book called the Econest Cookbook. How do food and natural building go together?
Attending a workshop is not just about building. It’s about building the builder. While Robert does the lion’s share of the hands on training I get to play with my favorite hobby which is making nourishing foods. The cookbook came about because students asked me for recipes. It is designed to help future nest builders in planning meals for their own workshop events. At a workshop there are always food restrictions to contend with so most of the recipes are vegan and many are gluten-free.
If one values locally grown organic foods, lovingly prepared, then the health and ecological value of a natural, locally sourced home, that is lovingly crafted, should be a familiar concept.
What might you say to someone whose bottom line is how big a house can I get for how little cost per square foot?
The first thing that we have to tell many folks is that hand crafting a home out of natural materials is not the cheapest way to go…conventional construction is. Next comes the discussion about what you get for what you pay. What is the cost to your health? What is the cost to the environment? Finally there is a win/win discussion about painless trade-offs. Do you really need 2,500 sq. ft. or 5,000 sq. ft. to fulfill your housing needs? Let us show you how you can build a well-designed home that is much smaller and cozier that will fit your budget, be good for the environment, nurture your health, be extremely comfortable, fill your life with beauty and serenity and leave a legacy for your grandchildren.
What types of careers exist in natural building and how might someone work their way through your training process into creating their own beautiful EcoNest® for either themselves or their own clientele?
We get calls from all over from people asking us to come and build their homes. Given the time it takes this is not practical. So instead of turning people down we developed a training program and we invite future owner/builders, professional builders aspiring builders and the curious for training. Our 16 day Intensive is designed to give a professional builder the experience he/she needs to build using these techniques. Our longer programs like the new boot camp is designed to help aspiring builders advance their skills. Our one day seminars and four-day clay straw workshops are for folks who want to learn the basics and interview the materials. We are also slowly growing an affiliate program where qualified builders, who have trained with us and proven skill and knowledge, are identified on our website. We imagine a day to come where, any EcoNest owner-to-be would have several qualified builders in their area to choose from.
Besides offering training and custom design we have developed a series of stock plans that owner/builders or affiliate builders who have trained with us, can purchase .
People travel from all around the world to attend your workshops. What opportunities exist locally for our community to take advantage of?
We are thrilled to make Ashland Oregon our new home. We have been embraced by this community and feel very blessed. As you may have gathered by now we are enthusiastic about the work we do and want to share it with this community. Whether that means hosting you at an open house, teaching a session at your kid’s school, embracing you as one of our students or having the privilege of helping you to create your own nest…we look forward to the opportunity.
How has the creation of beautiful spaces changed how you both see and interact in the world?
Our home should embrace us, nurture us. It should be a sanctuary of peace and tranquility that charges our batteries every day for the challenges we all face. Our enthusiasm comes from experiencing life in a meaningful home and it is this experience that is the wellspring for our life’s work.
What do you hope to see twenty years from now?
We hope to see natural building be an accessible, and understood mainstream offering and enough respected and dedicated crafts people to fill the demand.
When I first saw the photographs of an EcoNest space I must admit I felt an immediate connection to the space and it went something like this.
“I want to live there!”
If you were drawn to a photograph then we urge you to come and experience the real deal. We will look forward to seeing you at the open house on May 19! The beauty of a natural home is not just visual. It is sensual and involves touch, smell and sound as well. Creating a home from scratch is a huge undertaking, a privilege that is, for most, a once-in-a lifetime adventure. If we can inspire you to move forward on your dream that would really make us happy.
How can our readers see and learn more about what you are doing?
We have a great website designed by Chee Studio here in Ashland. It is chalk full of information about our technique, photos of finished homes, videos of the process and descriptions and calendar of our upcoming workshops and seminars. Feel free to call us at 541.488.9508
Any last notes to our community and the LocalsGuide readers?
You don’t need to leave nature behind as you walk through your front door. If you are interested in what we are doing please don’t be shy. Call us up and let’s talk.