The Peace of Art Café Cordwood Building Project

Reader Contribution by Kimanna Cellura-Shields
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For several years I researched different forms of alternative building, everything from adobe then straw bale to Earth ships. All seemed like they had some great benefits with lots of possibilities and personality. Being an artist, I was looking for a style of building that was unique and where I could let my creative inner child come out to play! When I got my hands on Rob Roy’s “Cordwood” book, I think I may have heard the Angels sing! I had to wait about 10 more years before the opportunity came, which was an addition to our organic grocery store. The building was an old adobe, built in the late 1930s. It was vintage but sound, and it needed to be as our plans included attaching a three wall cordwood addition directly to it.

When word arrived that the building codes were about to get tougher, it was just the motivation that I needed to head to town where I paid a whopping $50 for a building permit. With a pad of graph paper, a ruler, a few sharp pencils and of course Rob’s book, I sat down and began to design our future café. No, I’m not an architect, just an artist. Mind you, I didn’t want a huge building because restaurants are a lot of work, I’ve done it before, (ran one not built it). So originally 25 feet wide by 40 feet long seemed to be perfect. I hired a friend, John, to do most of the actual building and another friend, Jeff, when he was available. My main job was to design this addition and put in the walls when the time came, which also meant collecting as many bottles as we could possibly get our hands on! Local bars and second hand stores were another great source when I was looking for unique glass. This was also a sweet opportunity for friends to get involved and a great way to recycle glass; we have some very special bottles planted in these walls! 

First we started with the foundation. We thought it best to work around the existing plumbing; in particular the outside clean out, thinking it would involve more work than we had the time for. However, to do this meant we had to narrow the width by 5 feet. In the end, we have really missed that 5 feet, which would have added another 200 square feet to the project! Next time I will most definitely go through the trouble of moving the plumbing if need be. Live and learn! 

We decided that 16-inch walls would be a good thickness and have an R factor of about 24-26. As luck would have it, two beer bottles together was 16 inches inches. The local lumber mill in town was able to plain down some large logs 16 inches wide for the framing and headers. We kept the bark on the outside because it gave it an organic, rustic look.

Cottonwood was one of the recommended woods in Rob’s book and that just happens to grow along the beautiful Rio Grande River here in Del Norte. We were able to harvest as much standing dead cottonwood as was needed to complete the (cordwood) project, thanks to a few wonderful rancher friends that were happy to get it removed. Gotta love those win-win situations!

We went to work scavenging as much used lumber as we could for the interior dividing walls and window bucks. John took down an old barn and used most of that for the 16 window frames. A light sanding really brought out the beauty of the wood and cleaned it up but kept its aged appeal. I did some bartering with another friend that had some beautiful 8-inch oak planks stacked in his yard.    

I was a bit concerned about the cordwood interior for a café. I knew that we would need to trowel the walls very smooth so that they would be scrubable. (This worked out just perfect!) A very cool thing happened while I was putting in the walls. Almost every day a different friend would appear and offer to help, sure made the day go by quicker and a lot more fun too. After the crew would leave, I’d be out there with spot lights until anywhere from midnight until 2:00 a.m. Woman on a mission! It was always such a visual treat to walk in to the room the next morning and see the light cascading through the bottles in the walls. My brother, who was also helping with the project, thought we should have called it the “Kaleidoscope Café,” which also would have been a good name. Just about every time someone would walk into the space it seemed they would say, “What a piece of art!” That is how the café got its name “Peace of Art Café.” It did take us approximately 13 months to complete this addition, winter here in Colorado of course has a way of slowing up building projects.

By the way, two years after the café was built we wanted to build a simple courtyard for the Café. The price now, which had to include a “Structural Engineers” stamp of approval for the safety of the plans, was now closer to $2,000. Timing is everything! Eventually, we did work out a compromise. More on the café and courtyard in future articles!

Thanks for reading!

KimAnna Cellura-Shields
Organic Peddler & Peace of Art Café
14475 W. Hwy 160
Del Norte, Co.81132