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Family compound of streetcars, cob huts, treehouse & barrel

Over a decade ago, Claudine Désirée was raising 3 young boys alone in a one bedroom home built from old streetcars (from 1920s Santa Cruz). At first, the boys slept in the bedroom and she slept in the living room, but as her boys grew they needed more space.

For Désirée, learning to build with cob (at a natural building workshop) was the answer to the family’s shortage of square footage. “I fell in love with cob because I don’t have the patience to ‘everything has to be like this and the rules and at this angle and we have to measure it and the codes’. I’m more into let’s just do it”.

First, Désirée built an 80-square-foot cob shelter as a bedroom for one of her sons in an unused corner of the backyard. Later, she built a larger bedroom for herself in another corner. Both structures cost more in time than the minimal materials cost. “I have two beautiful studios.. each one cost 500 dollars or something to build and if they were built with conventional materials they would have cost 5 thousand or 10 thousand”.

Another workshop- this one focused on treehouse building- provided the start for a bedroom in an Oak tree for her eldest son. A carpenter helped finish it off as a fully-enclosed room that he called the Lorax Lodge.

When her son moved out, she started renting it out as a vacation rental on Airbnb. It brought in $11,000 in annual income, until she applied for a parking permit for one longer-term renter and “stupidly”, as she explains, wrote that she was renting out the treehouse. The city sent her a notice that she was violating codes and she was forced to alter the treehouse so it can’t be lived in, as well as pay a fine and the hotel taxes for using it as a rental.

Now that her kids are grown Désirée is selling her urban homestead– all the structures plus chickens, fruit trees, and a recycled barrel sauna- so she can travel the world and help others build with cob and create eco-villages.