Our bodies and minds are constantly in communication with our surrounding environment so what we surround ourselves with is of the utmost importance. We believe that building in partnership with nature is a noble career and the workshops are about passing this skill set on. I love sharing the joy and personal growth that comes from building with clay, straw, and timber. These materials draw the best out in the builder. At an EcoNest workshop, we are building the builder.
Since we last spoke, you and Paula have been hard at work creating new workshops, products and promoting your new book, The EcoNest Home.
We have steadily worked to evolve the EcoNest home and make it available to more people. By training and supporting professional builders and working to change building codes at local, state, and federal levels, we are ensuring that building natural, healthy homes is achievable for more and more homeowners. More people are realizing health is the most precious thing we have and a healthy home is crucial to our well-being – the healthier we become, the happier and more fulfilled we are. Our newest book, The EcoNest Home, is a great reference for walking the builder through the process, and although it doesn’t replace the experience of a workshop, it is a great supplement. Our architecture firm continues to develop our stock plan collection of simple homes for people who can’t afford or don’t need a custom-designed EcoNest and continues to design custom homes, and consult on the health aspects of building all over North America and beyond. Our growth, like our buildings, has been an organic process.
While many of our readers will be familiar with your work, many will not. I am wondering if you could please share a little bit about the principles and methodology behind the work that both you and Paula do.
Both Paula and I are students and teachers of Building Biology, a design and building philosophy and science that originated in Germany. When people realized that their post-war homes, laden with new petroleum-based chemicals, were making them sick, Building Biology began to study the complex relationships between human health, the built environment, and planetary ecology. Dr. Anton Schneider, whom Robert met in Germany, distilled the science and its findings in one sentence. He said: “To the degree that unprocessed natural materials are used to build your home, to that degree will you succeed in making it healthy.” To that end the EcoNest home follows the principles of Building Biology to create healthy and ecologically sound homes. A handcrafted timber frame built with mortise and tenon joinery provides the bones while twenty tons of natural clay and straw create the flesh for a 12” thick wall system of an EcoNest. The walls are finished with hand-plastered clay and lime to create a beautiful skin. At least 90% of an EcoNest home is created with unadulterated natural materials.
EcoNest is now entering its 25th year of working in this field. Would you please give us a full overview of the services you provide?
Education through seminars and hands-on workshops
Healthy Home Consulting
An Affiliate Program which supports builders trained in the EcoNest process
The calm, peaceful, and secure feeling an EcoNest provides is its own ambassador. There is nothing comparable to the feeling one experiences on entering a well-crafted and designed natural, healthy home. Every EcoNest built proves that we can build with nature and live luxuriously without sacrificing quality of life or convenience. Because very few homes are built this way, we open our home to visitors so we can share our passion. Once again we invite LocalsGuide readers, interested or curious, to give us a call to schedule a visit.
Paula, I hear that you offer a seminar called “Homing In on Your Nesting Instincts.” This sounds interesting.
The “Homing In” Seminar came about when I realized how helpful it would be as a preparatory class for anyone wishing to build a home or a backyard studio, or to build-on or remodel their existing home. For most this is a once-in-a-life opportunity, and with some coaching, they can get the most out of this great adventure. We spend a cozy day together, inside an EcoNest, and examine dreams and practicalities. We explore what it means to create beauty, health, and ecology in a home and focus on what is unique and important to each attendee that will dictate their choices and the design and feel of the future spaces. Attendees learn about the Building Biology criteria for creating space that is deeply nurturing to the health of the occupants.
Another exciting opportunity that I know you both are pleased to announce is that you will be holding one of this year’s workshops right here in Southern Oregon. This is a rare opportunity for interested individuals since many of your workshops are normally located out of state.
Yes! We love the idea of a summer at home! We are hoping that this will be the future of our work. It seems to be a trend that our own work is moving closer to the West Coast while our Affiliate Program is growing to cover the rest of the U.S. and Canada.
Robert, your workshops are reported to be practical, fun and inspiring. Please talk about your philosophy of loving what you do while working in this powerful medium that collaborates with nature.
Building shelter is primordial. The quest to create is in our DNA. Building your own home, your own shelter, has been a rite of passage since the beginning of time. This came true for me when I built my first handcrafted log home in 1980. That experience planted me firmly on my feet and gave me a sense of purpose and freedom like no other experience. Home. My whole life has been about finding my way and helping others find their way home – to be free and know we belong on this planet. With every project and workshop, EcoNest students and I are finding our way home together . . . one nest at a time.
It’s all treasure. When you take a tree and craft it into a post in your home, orienting that post just as it grew in the forest (not upside down – imagine standing on your head for 200 years!) you bring the forest home. That extraordinary feeling and beauty that captures you in the forest now is alive in your home. The experience for the builder is sublime. We, too, are being “carved” or crafted by the materials and gracefully revealing our own beauty. What we create is a reflection of what we are. Here is Nature’s invitation to be all you can be. Wood and clay work harmoniously together to create a building and a builder simultaneously.
Practically speaking, the workshop does teach us many skills that are very useful. Please tell us about some of your upcoming workshops and skills that will be learned.
Our workshops are set up as a series of tasks that come together to create the shell of an EcoNest. Each task can be taken as a stand-alone workshop, such as Timber Framing or Straw Clay Wall Construction, or comprehensively in our 6-week Boot Camp or 3-week Intensive programs.
Setting yourself up for success is the biggest skill we cultivate in our apprentices and students. There are three aspects to every task: set-up, execution, clean-up. The proverb, “well begun is half done” is a key component of our training.
This is why the entire first day of the timber frame workshop is devoted to sharpening the chisel. Sharpening your chisel sharpens your mind, from this focused stillness skillful action comes with ease. Work flows . . . satisfaction grows. Knowledge leads to action, which leads to achievement and results in fulfillment.
You both are always receiving great feedback from around the world for what you do. Would you please share some recent testimonials or comments you have received?
“Beyond all the technical instruction we received, what struck me was the mindful way Robert started the workshop with a day of chisel sharpening, really focusing on the necessary preparation that carried us through the whole week.” – Jason
“Working with Robert Laporte, hearing about his experiences, learning from his wisdom, and witnessing the care and passion he puts into building someone’s home has left me inspired and optimistic about a future in natural building.” – Chelsea
“Essential to the workshop is the creation of a social environment among the students, so the workshop sails through a tapestry of community-based effort.” – Ivan
“Although I’ve learned a lot of technical, hard skills this week, the way Robert approaches building – at an almost meditative state – is where I’ve learned the most.” – Christopher
“My biggest takeaway from this workshop has been discovering the craftsmanship that is required to do something as intimate and precise as timber framing.” – Tom
“Robert has a very inspirational and motivational way of teaching. He makes you aware of the materials and that the materials are going to teach you. You have to touch and listen to the materials . . . the clay, the straw, the lime . . . it’s working with passion and your heart.” – Felipe
“Paula is an incredible wealth of knowledge and extremely dedicated to promoting healthy living through her architecture, and Robert is a very thoughtful master craftsman who teaches in a gentle way to those that want to learn.” – Daniel
” l felt very privileged to be working outdoors in the woods of Ontario with a group of diverse people committed to healthy, sustainable, conscious living. The Timber Frame workshop was like a moving meditation, enlivening the senses with the sounds, feeling of textures, working with the weight of the tools and the wood with focus and Intention.” – Celia
Once again, thank you for your time in doing this interview with me today. Are there any last thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?