As you may or may not know, I still don’t have a bathroom. Winter is well and truly here. The rain has been falling nonstop and the temperatures likewise. Happily I have a few friends who generously open their hearts and homes to me in times of trouble. This time they also opened their bathroom. And what a bathroom it is!
You may remember the stone, mud and horse haven created by Sophie and Hakan in Spain. Sophie has long been building with mud, and is by now a very experienced (and bold) mud artist. We’ve been fortunate enough to follow her cob bathroom’s progression for the past year in our lovely Mud Facebook Group. Everything about it is completely original, from the way it was made, to the shape, and definitely where she installed it. Because normally when we talk about adding unusual bathrooms, they’re being constructed outside.
How did she make it?
Originally there was a stairwell where the bathroom is now, and Sophie had experimented with a cob banister there. So first, Hakan and Sophie ditched the stairs, and boarded up the hole. Sophie then used the banister as the beginning of the wall for the toilet area.
Next Sophie did something quite unusual. She decided to continue building using a method which was halfway between wattle-and-daub, and pure cob. Normally with wattle-and-daub you create a lath out of willow or hazel, and then plaster over it. What Sophie used were dried fern stalks. These are just sturdy enough to hold the cob in place as it dries, but flexible enough to create a more free-form shape.
This method worked fine until she reached the top of the bathroom. Sophie had a dream of curving the walls in, like a cave. This is quite a tough angle for cob, because the wet clay, straw, and sand mixture is heavy and can pull inwards or fall off. Indeed this happened a few times, but in the spirit of any decent creator, Sophie simply kept at. Ultimately, it was a case of applying the cob little by little, until it dried enough to hold its shape.
How to screw in attachments?
Once the gorgeous cave-like structure was solid and dry, Sophie and Hakan turned to the interior. One ventricle of the cave is where the toilet and sink were installed. I asked Hakan how he attached things like water pipes. “Normally you have some pieces of wood, or a wooden frame embedded in the cob, and that gives you something to screw attachments to.”
The challenge of the shower room
The shower posed more of an issue. Because this was an interior bathroom, and they were basically constructing upon a wooden floor, Sophie and Hakan thought plenty about how they would waterproof the shower tray. They attempted tadelakt on the floor in the first instance, but it failed. So eventually they found a non-permeable ‘eco’-grout and used it to cement these tiles in place. The result is stunning, as you can see. The walls, however, are all lime rendered on the interior, and I can personally attest that it worked wonderfully, keeping the water out of the cob while retaining permeability*.
There are a number of lovely, original features in this bathroom. The door frames are divine, made from foraged wood and tapered to create these wonderful cave openings. Hakan handmade the toilet door to fit neatly into one side. On the other side is a shower curtain. Now, I’m not normally a fan of shower curtains, but this one works so beautifully I became quite enamoured with it. Sophie had posted in our group a while back about her battles with the curtain rail, which she and Hakan eventually made by bending an iron rail. But the result is a beautiful wooden arch in which the curtain sits (but doesn’t bother you while you shower).
I also adored the glass windows (made from glass plates Sophie found at the local pound/dollar store). They illuminated the toilet space and formed eyelets onto the roof joists.
How much did it cost?
Sophie and Hakan’s builds are always dirt cheap, mostly because they do nearly everything themselves. The cost of the shower room was about 150 euros, and the toilet was 250 Euros (most of that went on the sink, taps and toilet). Remember that mud and foraging are free.
Things to take away from this build:
1. While there are plenty of tried-and-true techniques out there, there are potentially many other ways to use mud to build. If you’re of the pioneering mindset and don’t mind things going wrong, it’s wonderful to experiment.
2. Cob needs to be applied in thinner layers when the force of gravity is against it. You can still create gravity-defying shapes, but you need to work slowly, allowing each layer to dry before adding the next.
3. Lime plaster can indeed work on the inside of cob to create a solid, semi-waterproof coating. This success may be climate-dependent, as in a drier or changeable climates where the mud is liable to expand and shrink, the plaster could potentially crack. But Sophie’s was perfect.
4. Sometimes you have to compromise and use an unnatural material. I must admit, for my part I’m more bothered about sustainability than natural purism, so if you have to use a tiny bit of cement or plastic somewhere to waterproof something, so be it. The eco-grout Sophie used for the tiles was Fugabella, which while not entirely natural, is a more sustainable range of low carbon, part-recycled cements.
How to make earth plaster http://www.themudhome.com/earth-plaster.html
Natural or sustainable building?
The Eco-spec on Fugabella
About Sophie and Hakan ***
Sophie and Hakan met in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, but that's another story:) They lead a life of adventure and are also both professional photographers. You can see more of their work and inspiring lifestyle on Facebook. (Sophie on FB) (Hakan on FB). Their gorgeous outdoors-inspired photography is available on Stocksy @https://www.stocksy.com/hakanandsophie
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