Unfurl Strawbale House

Site: Buffalo Addition“Telescope” House”
Address: 623 Tatonka St Buffalo, NY
Area: 3,012 sf indoors, 349 sf outdoors
Year Built: 1933
Occupancy Type: R-2

Project Introduction

A growing family, two parents, two children, and one grandparent, have transplanted to Buffalo, NY from NYC. Their 1930s home has been transformed into a passive solar, locally sourced reclaimed wood and strawbale home. The addition of two small greenhouses, a sauna, rocket mass heater seating, wood-fired heated floors, and built-in storage allows the family to take care of their mind, body and spitit.

The use of reclaimed wood walls as more than partitions, but as sources of heat gain, heat capture, and storage makes for a more livable and valuable home.

Passive solar design allows the family to use less energyfor conventional heating and makes use of the material and site orientation of the home. As the sun’s rays come through the greenhouse, the heat is retained in the thermal mass, straw wall.


The concept was inspired by telescope homes in Buffalo, NY that arose out of a combination of narrow lots, growing families, and limited resources. The result: houses with rear additions that incrementally reduced in scale. They could seemingly collapse into themselves, like a telescope. For this addition, the home expands as part of a spiral, unfurling both on the exterior, and interior, like a fernhead.

The first east facing section highlights, from right to left; the vaulted ceiling in the entryway, under stair storage for entertaining, the dining room fireplace with underfloor flue to create radiant heat, the elevator with special access to the grandfather’s suite, and throughout the home, the large amount of bult-in wall storage, leaving the family’s space feeling clutter free.

The second east facing section highlights, from right to left; the upstairs sauna, greenhouse (and bathroom) suite that heat the upstairs office and kid’s room, the grandfather’s greenhouse that heats his bedroom, and the back patio for entertaining, close to the guest bathroom.


local NY strawbales
natural lime plaster
local blue limestone
reclaimed wood


Walls being either for temperature regulation or storage, they are always more than simple partitions. These walls stagger the storage between both sides. If one side is solid wood panel with insulation, the other side is storage.

A family of five needs many places for storage. Besides the personal lockers by the back door, there are even under-sofa drawers. Four per section of this custom sofa made of reclaimed wood and Knoll upholstery.

Texture is important both on an architectural and interior level. Smooth wooden floors and fine linen combined with antique tapered legs, accent textured textiles and a recycled wood wool acoustic panels.

Modern fixtures and modern farmhouse furnishings were paired with the natural fibers and materials to give the family their desired city feeling, while remaining true to their more rural location.