The House that Lois Built

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At an age when most people are at least thinking about retiring, 72-year-old Lois Lewis decided to take on the biggest project of her life.

‘I needed to do something I’d never done, and I needed a real change from what I was doing,’ Lewis recalls in the Summer Solstice 2000 issue of Crone Chronicles, a magazine celebrating the power of aging. After reading an article in her local newspaper, the former teacher signed up for a homebuilding workshop conducted by Becky Bee. The workshop was held at Bee’s Earthworks studio, about an hour from Lewis’ southern Oregon home. Under Bee’s tutelage, Lewis learned to build basic structures out of cob, a durable combination of clay, sand, and straw traditionally used in English villages.

Inspired by the workshop, Lewis decided to buy some land and build her own cob house. She found a pretty, hilly plot surrounded by orchards that she now shares with her daughter and grandchildren. Lewis, whose husband died several years ago, designed her own house, with curvy walls and ornamental windows made of recycled glass bottles. She has done almost all the construction work herself. Friends, children, and grandchildren helped her on a few of the larger pieces and she hired a professional to install a simple (and affordable) wood and asphalt-shingle roof. Lewis estimates the 900-square-foot house will cost $20,000.

It took four years of work before Lewis was finally able to move in to her house. Construction is still nowhere near completed. For now she’s doing without a bathroom and a kitchen, for instance, making do with an outdoor composting toilet, and taking her meals at her daughter’s nearby house. ‘I am still working that out in my mind,’ Lewis says. ‘I’m slow-poking.’

But for Lewis, slow-poking is the whole point. Building this house is a true labor of love, a once-in-a-lifetime effort designed to keep her interested and excited through her golden ‘crone years.’ There’s no rush getting the house finished, Lewis explains. She’s got all the time in the world. ‘On rainy days I don’t go out and work,’ she says. ‘I do something inside. Sticking your nose to just one thing deadens the spirit.

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