Family build house of straw in 20-acre nature reserve

Kate Symonds, Seb Burns, Round the Woods, Norfolk

See the house that this family built: Kate Symonds, Seb Burns and their children, Dylan and Elliot at the roundhouse made of straw bales. - Credit: Supplied

A Norfolk couple have fulfilled a dream to hand-build a roundhouse from straw bales which they are now renting out.

Round the Woods Norfolk

How the roundhouse started with a simple wooden frame. - Credit: Supplied

Kate Symonds and Seb Burns left London to return to Norfolk where they had gone to school to set up a glamping site off Morton Lane at Weston Longville.

Round the Woods Norfolk

Putting in the straw bales as walls. - Credit: Supplied

Round the Woods Norfolk

The roundhouse takes shape with wood and straw. - Credit: Supplied

Round the Woods Norfolk

More straw for the walls. - Credit: Supplied

And combining their passion for nature and wanting to spend time with their sons Dylan and Elliott, they began on the project to build the roundhouse at Round the Woods.

Willow Roundhouse is made from natural materials including a wooden structure with straw bale walls coated in clay. A storm-felled oak tree, that almost crushed the build early in 2020, has been made into kitchen counters and a bench seat.

Round the Woods Norfolk

The roundhouse continues to take shape with the straw bales. - Credit: Supplied

Round the Woods Norfolk

Work starts on putting clay on the straw bale walls. - Credit: Supplied

After just completing the roundhouse which is 7m in diameter, the couple are renting it out for holidays from £365 for two nights. 

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“During our years living in London, we dreamt of building a straw bale home for ourselves somewhere in the countryside,” said Ms Symonds.

“In 2014, when our first son was a baby we felt the pull to leave a hectic and stressful life in London and move back to Norfolk. We’ve lived onsite since getting back to our roots and closer to nature.

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"We run a smallholding, home educate our boys and dedicate ourselves to sharing this beautiful place with our guests. We really love it here.

"Family is very important to us; we live in a house of three generations. Enjoying the benefits of being surrounded by nature, we knew we wanted to share this beautiful site with others."

Round the Woods Norfolk

The clay walls are finished and the roundhouse just needs completing. - Credit: Supplied

The couple created a glamping site with two yurts hosting guests since 2015 for six months a year.

They then decided to build the roundhouse "as a warm and cosy space for guests to enjoy crisp mornings, autumn sunrises, winter wild daffodils and spring bluebells".

Ms Symonds said: "This was the perfect opportunity for us to fulfil our dream and build a straw bale structure for guests to relax, feel inspired and connect with nature on their holidays," she said.

After much research and discussion, planning and designing, work on the sustainable roundhouse got under way at the end of 2017.

Round the Woods Norfolk

Inside the roundhouse. - Credit: Supplied

The basic wooden structure was created by Dylan Walker of the firm Built by Artizans but in October 2018, the build was handed over to the family along with numerous volunteers – to complete by hand. 

Ms Symonds said: “It was a great learning experience for our whole family, Seb was a teacher with very little DIY experience seven years ago and none of us had taken on a project of this scale before.

"We were eager to take on the challenge to handcraft as much of the building, furniture and details as we could, including making the wooden window frames and doors, the floor, and even the dining table and bedside tables are made from leftover materials from the frame construction.

"With the structure being round and crafted from all natural materials, nothing was straightforward but we're proud to have taken what looked like a beautiful bandstand-style construction, and turned it into comfortable and relaxing accommodation for our guests.”

Round the Woods Norfolk

Willow Roundhouse is finished. - Credit: Supplied

The family even sieved the clay for the plaster on the walls from the ground themselves. There’s a round ‘truth window’ embedded in the wall revealing a view to straw bales behind the clay.

Mr Burns spent the first lockdown creating a beautiful floor mural made from cut wooden rounds from trees on site.  

"Guests can enjoy wandering in the meadow, swinging from the giant tree swing, swaying in the hammock or reading a book in the window seat and spend their evenings stargazing through the two-metre circular skylight, toasting marshmallows around the campfire, or snuggled in front of the wood burner," he added.

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