Using Permaculture to utilize vertical space in a straw bale cabin’s small kitchen

Guestpost by Sarah Rose Parker on Apr 4th

In my college years I spent a lot of time as a transient, living in less-than-ideal spaces. From my first shared dorm to my room at a housing cooperative to various tents and shacks along the way (including a barn and a remodeled tool shed), a theme I've found is that spaces lacking in square footage also tend to lack in planning. As a result, these spaces are frustrating to live in, and especially to share.

I also trained as a Landscape Architect and have a strong interest permaculture: a design philosophy based on the principles that drive and sustain ecological systems. in So when my partner, Tyler, and I were finishing our 450 square foot (41 square meter) straw bale cabin, we were determined to utilize our space efficiently. With my design skills and his building skills, we formed a powerhouse of effective design for the finishing stages of our tiny space.

While our place is essentially a studio with no interior walls and a loft for a bedroom, there are still obvious delineations between spatial uses. Above all, our kitchen stands out as the space where we exercise the most intention in our design. In 100 square feet, we utilized our minimal wall space to create vertical storage while still keeping everything we need close at hand.

Tyler built everything from scratch, enabling a simple yet highly customized construction. All of our design solutions would be easy to duplicate in most any kitchen, even one with more square footage.

Exhibit A: Drying Rack/Dish Cabinet Frankenshelf


Instead of storing our dishes in a conventional cabinet, we installed slats for shelves and nixed the doors. Dishes we use most often are washed, set on the slatted shelves to dry, and live there until we use them next. Below, placed fortuitously beside the woodstove, is a drying rack for dishes that live elsewhere. Nails attached sink-side are also handy for hanging a dishrag and bottle brushes. Down below are two shelves designed to fit banana boxes full of kindling and fire wood.

Exhibit B: Utensil Rack/Pot Rack/Inferno Counter


Beside our gas stove, where space is the tightest, we layered three stations vertically. Directly beside the stove is a countertop made of firebrick — the stovetop is smaller than most, so this space is valuable for placing hot pans and cooling baked goods. Up above is a copper bar with hanging hooks for utensil storage, and above that still more hooks for pots and pans. Everything is right beside the stove where it is needed, and can be found at a glance. Best of all, we don't end up with utensils all over the counter (a routine event with standard kitchen crocks) and there are no crowded drawers to root through.

Exhibit C: Spice Rack/Measuring Cup and Spoon Storage


We built two simple narrow shelves to store spices, condiments, tea, and coffee, and outfitted the bottom shelf with small hooks to store measuring cups and spoons. I hate sorting through a stack of measuring cups when I'm baking, and hanging everything keeps it all visible and easily within reach.

Permaculture found its way into our kitchen through integrated solutions to our limited space. Everything we have implemented serves more than one function, and as we designed our space we were careful to consider how we would be using it.