Beth & Bill’s Soulful Straw Bale Retreat

updated Dec 19, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Name: Beth Knox and Bill Hutchins
Location: Takoma Park, Maryland (just over the District line)
Size: 2,100 square feet — 4 bedrooms + basement apartment
Years lived in: 4 years, owned
Other occupants: Tenants in basement, 20-something children from time to time, a variety of guests (extended stay), currently a Congolese pastor seeking asylum.

Even from the end of the driveway, it’s clear that entering Bill and Beth’s Takoma Park home is bound to be a joyful and unique experience. Pavers crafted from salvaged counter-top remnants and artful tangles of native plants lead the way up to a lively, multi-shade exterior. With nearly every element created out of recycled materials, and cozy lounging nooks placed all around, theirs is a home that invites exploration and rejuvenation both indoors and out.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

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entrance to the original house (Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

I suppose that it should be no surprise that Beth and Bill’s home is bursting with creative inspiration given their line of work — Bill is the founder and principal architect for the green collaborative, Helicon Works, and Beth is the landscape designer and gardener for her company, Greener than Green Gardens, which is also part of the Helicon collaborative. However, the extent of their creative reinterpretation of reclaimed materials is astounding: a garden shed made from broken window shields, a railing sculpture crafted from salvaged steel, mosaics made up of counter-top remnants…and the list goes on!

In addition to all the recycled decorative elements, the actual structure of the home is a sight to behold as well. The home is situated in historic Takoma Park, and the front facade is in keeping with the surrounding bungalows. However, that’s where the similarities cease. The original house, built in 1920, has been mostly gutted and re-imagined, with its parts being reused in other spaces throughout the home, and is now one airy open space gallery where Bill and Beth meet with their clients and host community events such as local art openings. The old home opens into a straw bale walled addition that houses the living quarters and additional gathering spots. While there are many notable features, my favorite is the plethora of deep window seats filled with cozy cushions and flooded with natural light. Beth told me that Bill likes to say that “you need intimate spaces for intimacy,” and these inviting spots seem to be perfectly intimate places.

The outdoor spaces are equally as soothing and inspiring. Beth has spent the last few years restoring the yard to a natural state, complete with native and woodland plants, rain garden, dry well, bog garden, and retention pond. All elements, including a green roof, create a pleasing visual display with no negative environmental impact. Beth has also crafted an abundant edible garden in the fairly narrow strip of land on the side of their house. As we toured, she plucked delicious berries, herbs, and leafy greens for me to sample, making the tour that much more idyllic. It was hard to say good-bye, and even harder to pare down my pictures — so many beautiful images to share!

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Style: Alive.

Inspiration: Life’s teeming flow, and regenerative ebbs.

Favorite Element: Sensuality.

Biggest Challenge: Maintaining plaster job, as it was our first attempt.

What Friends Say: The most beautiful home they have been in.

Biggest Embarrassment: Failing plaster.

Proudest DIY: Collaborative aspect of its making.

Biggest Indulgence: Jelly Bean couch.

Best advice: Begin w/ a poetic impulse.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Resources of Note:

A bit of this, a bit of that. Most fixtures, wooden and steel elements are salvaged, and created by members of Bill’s holistic green building collaborative.


    • many walls are painted using a lazure technique



    • appliances: Kenmore
    • glass art is by a neighbor who is a glass artist
    • cabinet facades are recycled framing lumber


    • sofa: Normand Couture’s Jelly Bean
    • straw bale and plaster walls


    • walls: straw bale and plaster
    • ceiling: hemp fabric



    • most of the reclaimed furniture was crafted by Helicon collaborator, Brian Fireman



    • roof: reclaimed broken window shields
    • sides: slab pieces from fallen timber
(Image credit: Leah Moss)

Visit the Helicon Works website to see more of their projects and to learn more about their holistic building philosophy.

Thanks, Bill & Beth!

Images: Leah Moss

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