Our judges were impressed with the look of this whimsical home, deeming it the most successfully designed straw-bale project they had ever seen. They also liked the way its design blurs the lines between modern and traditional with a touch of the unexpected. β€œIt looked like they were trying to have fun,” said one judge.

Warm, well-worn materials that add even more character and up the sustainability quotient include floors made of repurposed high school gym bleachers, recycled stone flooring, and bookshelves and trim fashioned from reclaimed lumber. The main stair is composed of salvaged bridge trestles.

Other features include toilets that reuse water from a tank-mounted handwashing sink, a central fresh air chimney with motorized windows, geothermal heating and cooling, and a multi-level green roof. The house sits on a brownfield site in the Kane Commons community, which includes 12 living units surrounding a shared courtyard and driveway.