cabinet backingPerhaps the easiest way to deal with cabinetry in a straw bale home is to exclude upper cabinets from the design. By utilizing a pantry for the majority of your kitchen storage needs, you can simplify the construction process. The good news is that if you cannot design the kitchen to avoid the use of upper cabinets, their inclusion is not as hard as it once was. All you will have to do is provide nailing backers in the bales on which to hang the cabinets. I use horizontal sections of either 2×4 or 2×6, let in to the bales, as my backing, I place backing at the top of the base cabinets, as well as the top and bottom of upper cabinets. This provides for a very strong cabinet installation.

Bale walls are not known for their flatness. In fact, they are somewhat treasured for their natural undulations. That said, the cabinet and counter sub-contractors will want to install against a flat, straight and square surface. This is what ensures a solid and secure fit and allows them to feel confident in warrantying their work. Without a flat and straight wall to install against, you run the risk of water infiltration between the wall and counter which, of course, is a risk for the longevity of the bales. Having a gap between the wall and counter doesn’t look very good either and it is difficult to cover with a standard backsplash. It’s worth mentioning that in addition to improving the quality of the job, creating a flat, straight and square wall also makes the installation faster and thus less expensive. So feel free to leave your walls wavy throughout the house as long as you spend extra attention on making sure they are flat behind the counters and cabinets.

Arch into HallA great advantage to straw bale construction is the thickness of the walls and when it comes to cabinetry, it’s actually possible to recess the cabinets or shelves into the bales walls to creates extra storage space without sticking the cabinets further out into the room as shown in the image to the right. This creates a clean finish to cabinets or shelves. In fact, you can set the cabinets back even further into the bales such that the face frames end up flush with the plane of the wall. This works well in Japanese style architecture and creates a clean line for any set of cabinets or shelves.

Be careful to retain enough insulation behind the cabinets so that you don’t ruin the thermal envelope of the structure. When placing a full set of cabinets flush with the face of the bales, you may be better off using a framed wall section behind the cabinets with standard insulation. Once plastered, you won’t be able to tell the difference and the installation will be much more simple. Because the vast majority of the bales will be removed in this area anyway (to insert the cabinets) it’s easiest to simple frame it out. It is also a good idea to recess refrigerators into the bales because they are often deeper than the cabinets around them.  By recessing it into the wall, you can line the face of the refrigerator up with the face of the cabinets, once again for a cleaner look.

Tomorrow we will look at special considerations when building round straw bale walls.

Happy Baling!

Andrew Morrison