Home & Garden

The Hansen home in Atascadero: Straw bale Tuscan

The architecture and décor in the Hansens’ great room was inspired by Tuscan design.
The architecture and décor in the Hansens’ great room was inspired by Tuscan design. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

When Jens Hansen was a high school sophomore, his father purchased a modest home on a five-acre colony lot by Atascadero Lake and moved the family from Oregon.

Today, when Jens wants to see the home of his youth, he can — from his bathroom window. The 1954-built home is a mere 100 feet away from the new custom home where Jens and his wife, Linda, reside.

After graduation from Atascadero High School, Jens attended Cal Poly as an electrical engineering student, then moved to Los Angeles for his first job. He married Linda, and the couple raised their three daughters in Southern California. After his parents died, Jens held onto the Atascadero home, maintaining the property and using it as a vacation home.

As the Hansens contemplated retirement, Jens from a career with Xerox and Linda as a high school teacher and administrator, they made plans to relocate to Atascadero. But the empty nesters knew the old house wouldn’t fit their needs.

“It was a drafty old thing,” said Jens. “We wanted something more modern, and we were interested in building something energy-efficient.”

Jens worked on the design of the 3,100-square foot, single-level house with architect Jennifer Rennick. Semmes & Co. was the builder. Designer Jan Kepler conceived the kitchen design and interior décor.

The couple admired the warmth and elegance of Tuscan design. This inspired features like the home’s red tile roof, stained concrete floor, graceful arched doorways and earthy color palette. Rennick elevated the design with refined elements such as walnut inlays in the dining room floor and a barrel-vault hallway ceiling, inset with skylights.

Both Rennick and Semmes & Co. specialize in green construction. To fulfill the Hansens’ desire for an energy-efficient home, Rennick suggested straw bale construction, where straw bales act as wall insulation within a wood frame. The house also has 17 solar roof panels, as well as the first permitted graywater system in the city of Atascadero, according to Semmes & Co. The system diverts used water from the washing machine and bathroom sinks for landscape irrigation.

Concrete floors, stained a warm coffee hue, remind the couple of hotels they have stayed at in Italy. Plus, they help to retain warmth in the winter and stay cool in the summer. The family makes do with fans through the scorching North County summers. And the entire house is heated with the wood-burning, stone-clad living room fireplace in the winter.

“It always stays very comfortable,” said Linda.

Straw bale walls are around 16 inches thick, which gives exterior walls a solid, massive feel. Wide windowsills are a striking feature in straw bale homes. The Hansens use theirs as display areas.

The couple frequently hosts out-of-town family and friends. In the kitchen, guests congregate around the center island, or at the table in their breakfast nook that seats six. Two double doors lead from the kitchen to the patio, which is equipped with a pool and spa, and an outdoor kitchen with two barbecues — one gas, and one a Santa Maria-style barbecue pit. Twenty-four guests can dine on the patio. For more formal occasions, the dining room seats eight.

The Hansens’ previous house was filled with Colonial-style furniture — a mismatch with their new Tuscan-inspired home. They purchased new furniture with an Italian feel, primarily from Fortini Home and Luna Rustica, including leather seating and tables crafted from salvaged woods. Their dining table, made from recycled cherry and walnut, was salvaged from Italian villas and chateaus, some dating to the 17th century.

To maintain a streamlined look, the couple had several pieces of built-in furniture installed, including their china hutch. A ravenous reader, Linda insisted on plenty of bookshelves. To keep them from encroaching on living space, the team installed several built-in bookcases set into niches in the hallway, living room and office. The shelves were built from 100-year-old Douglas fir, salvaged from San Luis Obispo’s Wineman Hotel.

The Hansens do not plan to move again, so they built their home with accessibility in mind. Everything is on one level. Doorways are wide and easy to maneuver through with a wheelchair or walker. And the master bathroom has a large, roll-in shower.

During construction, the Hansens lived in the older home, which now serves as a guest house. After moving into their new house in 2010, they made an easy transition from city life to a more rural existence. Today, Jens’ favorite pastimes include chopping wood or riding on his tractor.

“It feels wonderful to be here,” he said. “It feels like I’m home.”


BRING THE INDOORS OUT Carrying materials used inside the home to outdoor features creates flow and harmony between interior and exterior spaces. For example, the Hansens used the same Hi-Desert stone on their fireplace as they did on their outdoor barbecue area.

FIND A FAVORITE PIECE Start with one item that really speaks to you, be it a fabulous painting or a favorite piece of furniture. The Hansens began their interior design scheme by choosing their Italian-made dining table. Its style guided other choices in the space.

OLD WORLD INSPIRATION Although the Hansens have traveled in Italy, they found most of their inspiration closer to home. They toured local homes and also perused Tuscan Living magazine to solidify their Old World style.