Our new straw bale house plan features a balcony design on the west side of the building. The purpose of this balcony is two, if not three-fold. Not only is it a place to sit and watch the sunset, but it provides other more functional purposes, too. Here are some good tips about how to plan a successful balcony design for your new home. Take note!
The Six-Foot Balcony Design Rule
A Pattern Language (an excellent design book) states: “Balconies and porches which are less than six feet deep are hardly ever used.” Perhaps this is the first rule of good balcony design: do not skimp! The book continues to say: “…almost no balconies at all which are 3 or 4 feet deep manage to gather life in them or to get used. And almost no balconies which are more than six feet deep are not used.” If people cannot sit in a circle, and are only able to sit facing outwards, it makes for an unappealing social setting.
I’ll take their word for it. Having this parameter makes for a great starting point in your plan. We planned for our balcony to be exactly six feet deep.
Shelter Your Balcony
A balcony with little shade or privacy, exposed completely to the open is not an inviting setting. Think about how to best create privacy and protection. Consider recessing the balcony into the house itself, creating a partial enclosure. In our case, we did not recess the balcony, but the roof ovehangs the balcony completely. Since the balcony is one the west side of the house, this is especially important — if it is too hot, we’ll never want to use it! The roof also protects the wood deck from the elements.
The balcony railing will eventually feature climbing grape vines, providing further shade and protection, and appealing greenery.
Stacking Design Functions
Stacking functions is an important concept in permaculture design. We’re trying to take that approach in our house plan, too. Here’s our thinking — the balcony is one the west side of the house, not only for the evening view, but for the practical purpose of providing a very large overhang to protect the lower walls from driving rains. We have large storms from the west (horizontal rain once or twice a year is not uncommon), so a six foot balcony will keep most rain off the rest off the west side of the house. (And that means we might be able to get by with earthen plaster on our straw bale walls, instead of importing lime.)
Not only that, a balcony provides a partially sheltered space below. Our plan is to use this space as a work area, with a large work table for doing small carpentry tasks, and as a sheltered space to do our laundry by hand with a basin and wringer.
Again, grape vines climbing the two balcony posts will help shade the area.
I really love the image at the top of the post — it was a big inspiration for our own balcony design. Check out those great woven railings, and climbing roses! The balcony is well-sheltered, deep, and aesthetically pleasing.