Sasha’s Earthen Dome House in the High Desert

Reader Contribution by Lloyd Kahn and Shelter Publications
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The following is an excerpt from Lloyd Kahn’s Small Homes: The Right Size (Shelter Publications, 2017), available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store. In one of 65 small home profiles, Sasha Rabin recounts her journey to this unique home after starting her natural-building career in 2002. She has taught extensively through organizations that she co-founded, including Seven Generations Natural Builders and Vertical Clay.

I grew up in Bolinas, down the road from Lloyd Kahn and Shelter Publications. My early years were surrounded by many of the wildly creative buildings that fill the pages of Shelter.

I started building with earth in 2002 with an internship at the Cob Cottage Company in Oregon, and have been creating structures with various modalities of earthen building and teaching workshops on these techniques ever since.

I fell in love with both the creative process of hand-sculpting shelters to live in, and as well as seeing people leave workshops with deep inspiration after gaining skills to build their own homes.

When I started this building, I wanted to make the building process fun. I invited five friends to come work with me for a month, and we got the basic framework up, and we did indeed have a lot of fun! Although I have been the main builder (working on and off between other projects finishing it), I have received a huge amount of help from all the community members I live with.

There are about 20 of us living in this beautiful canyon in the high desert of Southern California, and I am deeply grateful for all their help. Although the material cost of this style building is relatively low, it took a lot of labor. It almost necessitates community support, which results in beautiful community-building.

We host a lot of workshops, classes, and school groups, which has led to groups of college kids from Minnesota helping with the floor, people from an outdoor school in Washington helping with the plaster, and my Dad coming down and building the cupola on top of the dome, to mention a few. I would guess that close to 100 people have put their hands on this building.

This structure — with a floor area of 500 square feet (46 square meters) — is built of a combination of earthen building techniques, all of which utilize different combinations of clay soil and sand harvested from the land, and straw. The building is made of cob, earth bag, light straw clay, and adobe. The floors are made of earth, sealed with linseed oil and beeswax. The house is heated with a rocket stove that is also built out of cob. The roof is a sealed lime.

Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including Home WorkTiny HomesTiny Homes on the MoveShelter II , Builders of the Pacific Coast, and The Septic System Owner’s Manual (All available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blogTwitter, and Facebook, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


Building on the enormous success of his original Shelter book, Lloyd Kahn continues his odyssey of finding and exploring the most magnificent and unusual handbuilt houses in existence. Among the intriguing domiciles described in Home Work are a Japanese-style stilt house accessible only by a cable across a river; a stone house in a South African valley whose roof serves as a baboon trampoline; and a bottle house in the Nevada desert.

More than 1,500 photos illustrate various innovative architectural styles and natural building materials that have gained popularity in the last two decades, such as cob, papercrete, bamboo, adobe, strawbale, timber framing and earthbags. If you love fine, fun and/or funky buildings, you will want to own this splendid book.

Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

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