Féile Butler and Colin Ritchie



Colin and Féile believe that a lot can be learned from the wisdom of the old days, particularly with an eye on minimal waste and harnessing the best of your local natural environment.  They wanted to prove that a contemporary, comfortable home could be built using ancient building materials and methods. Most of these materials can be sourced locally.
Colin and Féile also wanted to have as little embodied energy in their house as possible.  More than half the house is built from soil from the site; combined with straw, it is known as cob. It took 120 litres of diesel to mix the cob in a pit with a digger bucket. That was all that was required to turn that soil into a finished building material, enough for a 130m² house. No other processing was involved and no transportation was necessary – virtually zero embodied energy.
 The rest of the house is built largely from salvaged materials. All of the structural timbers, all of the slates, all of the render carrier boards, all of the stone, all of the floorboards, about 50% of the insulation and many of the fittings (including baths, basins and radiators) were salvaged. Natural materials were used, including wood-fibre insulation, straw-bale insulation, LECA insulation (lightweight expanded clay aggregate), hemp-lime render, home-made earth plasters, lime mortar, limewashes, silicate paints and a mud ground floor.


New-Build: Hybrid House Cob Walls and Timber Frame with Straw Bale Infill Walls


Building an unusual house sparked a lot of interest in the local community. The house is quite famous now and has been written about locally and nationally. The offers of help and encouragement from the community were a very welcome and unexpected side-effect of the project.  It also launched Colin and Féile’s natural building business, Mud and Wood.


Cob walls, made from sub-soil on site
Timber frame walls made from 100% reclaimed timber
All structural timber roof and floor members made from 100% reclaimed timber
Salvaged materials throughout
Natural materials throughout
Milled windfall trees for all interior finished carpentry
Rainwater harvesting
Low-flow showers
Grass roof
Passive solar gain combined with thermal store
Triple glazing on north and northwest elevations
No fridge – ventilated cold store built into north wall


Colin, a carpenter, and Féile, an architect, designed and built the house themselves. Activities in the house track the sun and make the most of the views of the mountains in the south, the fairy hill to the southwest and the sea views to the northwest.
Cob is a wonderfully sculptural material. Many of the lights are moulded out of the walls themselves. Bookshelves are sculpted out of or carved into the walls, by Colin and Féile’s own hands.
All of the timber in the house came from windfall trees from a local woodland. Colin milled and seasoned all the timber himself. The kitchen, stairs, beds, window seats, doors and benches are all made from natural edge wood. Colin can tell you where each piece originally stood in the forest.


Féile Butler


Colin Ritchie and Féile Bultler


Stone and lime foundations
Cob walls
Timber frame walls with straw-bale infill
Mud floor with drainage stone and natural insulation below
Earth plaster
Hemp-lime render
Wood fibre insulation
Salvaged slate


Evacuated tube solar water panels
10kW stove – burn off-cuts from Colin’s work


Rainwater harvesting


Very low water toilets


Stone and cob walls – ongoing project
Veggie garden to be resurrected
Polytunnel to be installed


Colin and Féile established Mud and Wood (www.mudandwood.com) in 2011. They offer courses and workshops, consultancy, architectural services, and building and repair services for natural builders. Their courses, run from the Mud and Wood House, have proven to be very popular. They are passionate about promoting building using locally-sourced, low-impact building materials.

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