As a resident of South Brooklyn, “Brownstone Brooklyn,” I don’t get to see much variation when it comes to the exteriors of residential buildings on a day to day basis (although there are some exceptions).
In a city like Asheville, North Carolina, where the housing stock is more diverse and less rooted in architectural styles of the mid to late 1800’s, it still doesn’t take much to stop traffic. Case in point is writer Nan Chase’s remarkable bungalow that looks like a relic but was actually completed just last year. What makes Chase’s home stand apart is the fact that it’s covered in poplar bark shingles instead of more conventional wood, stone, or brick. Chase herself says her "funny-looking" home looks a bit like a “square tree.”
Writing for the Christian Science Monitor, Chase, co-author of Bark House Style, explains the eco-benefits of living in a home clad with such an unlikely — although historically popular — material. For one, the bark covering her home is salvaged from timber operations; it would have otherwise been mulched, burned, or abandoned. The shingles are also chemical-free, long lasting (75 years or more sans maintenance), don’t require paint or stain, and offer superb insulation that keeps utility bills low year-round.
Bark shingles sound like the eco-ideal cladding material, right? So why don’t we see more bark covered homes? For one, there’s the matter of aesthetics — not everyone wants an old-timey-looking abode that stops traffic and bewilders squirrels. And two, bark can be prohibitively more pricey up-front (the savings come later thanks to zero maintenance obligations) than other materials; it can cost twice as much as traditional cedar siding.
Chase has found the energy-related perks of living in a bark-covered house to be nothing but advantageous. Her bills don’t exceed $100 a month, even in the winter, and she rarely uses the AC. And the thick bark keeps noise pollution at a minimum, giving the home’s interior a tranquil vibe.
Read Chase’s full article here for more ins and outs of building with poplar bark shingles. It’s certainly a unique, rustic alternative that’s caught my attention. What do you think? Would you pay more up-front in exchange for such a durable, insulating material? Have you seen any recently built homes clad with bark around your town? 

Photos: Nan Chase

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Barking up the right tree
Asheville, N.C.-based writer Nan Chase describes living in a fabulous, efficient and salvaged bark shingle-clad bungalow to the Christian Science Monitor.