'Our house will nurture us'

Architect Paula Baker-Laporte always asks people to pause and think about the most soulful place that they have ever stayed.

"People have never, ever said they loved a house because it had two dishwashers and a giant master bedroom. It's always about contact with nature," Baker-Laporte said.

Baker-Laporte and her builder husband, Robert Laporte, have fully incorporated nature into their home on Paradise Lane in Ashland.

Built with clay and straw walls, naturally finished wood flooring, no wasted space and a skylight paired with Japanese rice paper to diffuse the sun's rays, the house is a model for the sustainable construction the couple promotes through their internationally known business EcoNest.

More than 1,000 people from America, Canada, Latin America and Europe have flocked to EcoNest workshops to learn the hands-on skills needed to build homes in harmony with nature.

Buckhorn Springs Retreat Center, a wooded retreat with natural mineral springs southeast of Ashland, will host a series of EcoNest workshops in September and October.

"The bottom line is that nature is the gold standard for human health," Baker-Laporte said. "To the extent that we follow nature's rules in our home, our house will nurture us."

Early in her career as an architect, Baker-Laporte worked in New Mexico, where she gained experience designing multi-million dollar homes made with adobe.

She was still using many conventional materials for her home designs.

But a stay in a new mobile home, where Baker-Laporte was exposed to high concentrations of formaldehyde, triggered a chemical sensitivity.

She began having reactions at job sites and realized that many conventional building materials were not only bad for her, but bad for her clients.

"In the beginning, I thought, 'I'll do healthy building and conventional housing.' No one ever said, 'I'll take the toxic one.' They do ask how much more it will cost," Baker-Laporte said.

Building by EcoNest principles does cost more, with costs dependent on the building site and many other factors, she acknowledged.

But Baker-Laporte said she walks clients through the trade-offs they can make in order to have a healthy, natural home.

For example, clients may think they want a 2,500 square foot home, but she shows them how they can live comfortably in a well-designed 1,500- to 1,700-square-foot natural home.

Formal dining rooms, hallways and grand entryways usually represent wasted space, she said.

Adding outdoor room is one of the cheapest ways to expand a client's living space, Baker-Laporte said.

In her home, Baker-Laporte designed storage drawers beneath a long, cushioned window seat that stretches below a bank of windows.

The open-concept living room feels like two spaces, with the skylight and rice-paper ceiling above the living room area, and a lower wood ceiling above a dining table and chairs.

Wood and natural plaster on the indoor walls bring nature's hues into the home.

Underfoot, wooden flooring with a natural finish provides a soft, smooth surface.

In the main bedroom, the floor is made of troweled earth finished with oil and waxes, creating a cool surface even in summer.

Baker-Laporte said the home's interior temperature never rises above 84 degrees, allowing her to forego air conditioning. Carefully placed windows and sliding glass doors create cross-ventilation, with a gentle breeze passing through the house, while also illuminating the house.

"Not having to turn on lights in the day is one of my design principles," Baker-Laporte said.

The house has served as a training ground for people interested in natural building techniques.

Baker-Laporte said she and her husband are looking forward to partnering with the Buckhorn Springs Retreat Center for the fall workshops, where there will be ample room for participants to practice building techniques.

With 46 years of building experience under his belt, Bruce Sargent — who runs the retreat center with his wife Leslie Sargent — said he believes that straw and clay wall buildings are far superior to buildings made with other methods.

The first project for workshop students this fall will be the hands-on construction of a nature viewing structure, which will be sited to provide exceptional viewing, along with solitude, Bruce Sargent said.

Discounts are available on workshop, lodging and dining prices for the first workshop, he said.

Different workshops will cover the full EcoNest building process, timber framing, planning a natural home, clay and straw wall construction, natural plasters for indoor walls and roof construction.

To view a schedule of workshops and for price and registration information, visit www.econesthomes.com/natural-building-workshops/calendar/.

For more information on EcoNest, visit www.econesthomes.com/ or call 541-488-9508.

For more information on Buckhorn Springs Retreat Center, visit buckhornsprings.org or call 541-488-2200.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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