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

Guest post by Sarah Rose Parker

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.

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

  1. Love it. When we moved into our current apartment we sacrificed counter space and shelving for the washer and dryer. With the help of a couple shelves, a mini fridge, and a kitchen cart, our kitchen looks spacious and organized. I love seeing what other people do to solve their kitchen dilemmas.

  2. Love it! That being said I always laugh at the definition of tiny outside of NYC. Will def be using some of the great ‘think vertical tips’

    • Ditto. (Except I’m not in NYC, still an urban area.) Our kitchen is roughly 36 square feet, most of which is cupboard space. I couldn’t help thinking with 100 square feet to work with we could have a really nice layout too.

      That said there are some great ideas here for any size of kitchen, like hanging cooking equipment below shelves.

      Also I love the windows in that first photo, and all the wood.

      • Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest anything like that. Just that it was strange to me that what another person considers tiny is big to me. I hadn’t made the connection with urban/other areas at first so it was also interesting to see an explaination put to it.

        And I did mean it when I said I love the look of their kitchen. It’s the kind of place I’d love to live – lots of windows, lots of wood and rounded corners.

        • It reminds me of an issue of Sunset magazine that boasted design tips for “small bathrooms.” As our old house had one bathroom that was literally the size of a closet, my mom was very excited! Well, their definition of small was *very* different from ours… 😉

  3. Pretty and functional! makes me want to reorganise the shelves in my kitchen, at the moment they’re filled with “decorative” not-really-used stuff… but perhaps switching them out for actual useful stuff would help! Though that being said, one of the downsides of vertical storage? being a short-arse! i highly recommend having step-ladder storage in the kitchen as well!

    • I keep a pair of .99cent store tongs on the lowest shelf in my kitchen so I can use it to reach the stuff that is higher up (the first time people see me doing this, I always get laughed at…) let’s here it for shirt chicks! LoL

  4. Are there more photos of the cabin around? And what exactly is a straw bale cabin, anyway? I LOVE this and I really would like to incorporate a lot of this stuff into our kitchen when we move.

  5. I can’t even begin to explain how much I love straw bale houses. We’ll build one someday when we decide where we want to settle down. I love how open and functional this is.

  6. Oh GAWD my dream house. I love it so much. It’s my dream to live in a strawbale/rammed earth/tire/adobe house. Yours is gorgeous. Thanks you so much for sharing.

  7. This kitchen design reminds me a lot of the kitchen remodel my parents did – our kitchen was slightly bigger than this, but we had space for utensils and pots/pans to hang, as well as hanging measuring utensils in the pantry (formerly the nook where the washer and dryer were in our 1960s prefab).

  8. Wow, what an amazing house! So personal and thoughtful — and inspirational. One quick question — is there a mat or anything under the drying/dish storage rack? I love the idea but I’d be nervous about damaging the cabinet over time. I’m really interested in things that do multiple jobs at once, so I really like your storage/dry rack idea.

    • Everything drains onto a drain shelf that Tyler made out of Sycamore. It’s tolerant of the moisture, slopes toward the sink, and we have it coated with a food safe beeswax seal to protect the wood.

      • I’ve recently come across your post while searching for information on sustainable dish drying racks. I’m really interested in how the cupboard rack works. Does it have any kind of opening at the bottom of the drain shelf to let water run back into the sink? It’s a brilliant idea!

  9. Could you share the plans for this straw bale home? Just wondering the exact dimensions and where the bathroom is, etc? Looking to build a small straw bale cabin and really like what you’ve built! Nice job!

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