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Thatching Research: Deanne Bednar's Strawbale Studio

by Tara

The second stop on our roadtrip to Vermont is to see a woman named Deanne, a natural builder, and the illustrator for several cob-related books such as The Hand-Sculpted House and The Cobber's Companion. Her land is home to the Strawbale Studio, a natural building school in rural Michigan. We've been eagerly anticipating our visit for one primary reason: there are several thatched roofs on the property.

Driving down a rural dirt road in eastern Michigan, with crimson and fuchsia leaves contrasting overhead against a brilliant blue sky, we're smiling broadly, thinking of our land, and wondering how colorful it will be. As we pull into Deanne's driveway, we excitedly talk about the fact that we'll see our own woodland drive in just a few days!

Parking Sign at Strawbale Studio

After exploring on our own for a few minutes, Deanne greets us warmly and leads us around the property, showing us the many projects she has in the works. It's exciting to see her solar panels, her earthen oven, and several of the smaller structures on her land, including a fantastical spiral-shaped cob outhouse with a thatched roof, and a tiny timberframe/strawbale/thatched roof house that's about half the size of ours.

Tyler & Deanne Earthen Oven Solar Panels in the Woods Thatch Roof Bathroom Kitty in Timber Frame Loft Timber Frame, Thatch Roof Loft

Finally, we come to the strawbale studio. It's always so inspiring to visit unconventional homes, to be inside them, and to mentally catalog as many little details as we can. This is no exception—we come away from the experience brimming with ideas for our own cottage. We love the stone stem wall, the wide windows, the thatched roof (of course), and the old wooden front door, especially.

Strawbale Cottage w/ Thatch Roof Tyler in Strawbale Cottage Strawbale Cottage Tyler Playing Guitar in Strawbale Cottage Thatch Roof and Strawbale Cottage

With the tour of the grounds complete, Deanne takes some time to show us her collection of thatching and natural building books. Meanwhile, we snap countless pictures and take copious notes, trying to capture all of the valuable information she is generously providing. It's a little daunting; we have a lot to learn about the art of thatching before we can build our own roof.

Flowers in the Window Thatch and Thatching Thatching: A Handbook Thatch

Before we take to the road once more, Deanne gives us a quick thatching demonstration. It isn't nearly in-depth enough for us to grasp the new skill (thatchers study for decades to become experts at their craft), but it does whet our appetites to learn more. As we work, we are distracted slightly by an adorable little woodland mouse, who bravely pays us a visit.

Deanne Demonstrating Thatching Deanne Demonstrating Thatching Deanne & Tyler Thatching Mouse on Thatch Frame Mouse on Thatch Frame Mouse on Thatch Frame

After expressing our sincere thanks to Deanne and her resident intern Mariek, we leave the Strawbale Studio with plans to keep in touch. We'll be returning to Michigan in January or February to learn more, specifically about collecting the phragmites reeds we'll be using on our roof. We may also enlist Deanne's help to do a thatching workshop on our land, come summertime. We'll see!

Thatch Roof Closeup