By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Laguna Beach is known for its unique homes, but the Laguna Canyon home of Kris Spitaleri stands out because its walls are built with straw bales as environmentally sustainable insulation.
The 2,000-square-foot home is as much a piece of art as it is a dwelling, with an undulating roof that mimics the Canyon’s topography and a 6,000-pound tree trunk in the middle of the living room that holds up the second floor.
Spitaleri has been building the house himself over the last 10 years—with occasional help from numerous volunteers—but slowed down in recent months to care for his elderly mother. The scaffolding around the building’s exterior, missing windows, and tarps on the roof have generated complaints from neighbors to city hall about the uncompleted work. Spitaleri received an abatement order from Laguna Beach to either complete the work or tear the home down.
“I understand the neighbors and I don’t fault them at all,” Spitaleri said.
After Spitaleri explained his circumstances to city staffers, they paused issuing him fines of $100 per day for not completing the work while they try to negotiate a solution. The home is apparently safe from meeting a bulldozer for now, although the Municipal Code allows the city to demolish a structure if a property owner fails to complete construction.
Spitaleri envisions the home as a residence for artists to live and work at a time when many are feeling the financial pinch to move out of Laguna Beach because of rising rents. He also sees it as a model for how society can build homes in a way that is more mindful of wasted construction materials.
Over 90 percent of the lumber, window frames, wiring, and other materials in the home were either donated or scavenged from sources that would otherwise be sent to a landfill. The second story of the home is built with wood scavenged from the former roof of Coast Hardware. A couple of years ago, Spitaleri acquired the straw bales from a pumpkin patch that were used to build a Halloween maze.
“It’s actually shocking to think about the waste we have in this country,” Spitaleri said.
Spitaleri’s preference for reusing items and environmental consciousness stems from his childhood, when his family would rescue injured domestic and wild animals. He built enclosures for the animals out of items he could scavenge because he didn’t have money to buy material from the hardware store.
He now takes tremendous pride in how he’s limited the home’s impact on nature. He moved and replanted what he thought was a bush to make way for the home’s foundation but later learned that it was a pomegranate tree. He also likes to point out a hummingbird nest built on the power cord of a lighting fixture inside the home.
Penelope Milne, president of Laguna Beach Canyon Alliance of Neighborhoods Defense Organization, said the straw bale house has become a gathering place for canyon residents who hosted an Oktoberfest fundraiser this year. Spitaleri also invites classes of children to tour the home to learn about art, architecture, and sustainable living.
“The heart of the Canyon is reflected in this project,” Milne said. “It’s a very Laguna project and hopefully others can see that.”
Spitaleri is inviting community members, whether or not they have construction skills, to help finish building the home. Volunteers were vital in getting the home to its current state, but more are needed if it’s ever going to get finished, Spitaleri said.
Those interested in volunteering can contact Milne at [email protected] or call Spitaleri at 949-246-5289.