When she first began the project in 2004, her friends and family were confused. Why leave a comfortable expat lifestyle to return to your homeland and build a glorified hut? But Ileana was tired of working in an office, and wanted to spend more time out in nature. Building a cob house seemed like the perfect solution to her.
When the villagers heard that a lady from Canada wanted to build a house in their community, they expected a fancy, modern building. When the workers she hired realised that she wanted a cob structure, they abandoned the project.
“They have worked with plasterboard and concrete, and I asked them to work with clay again,” Ileana said. “For them, it was like going back in time.”
World over, building with cob was a common construction technique in the 13th century. The oldest cob structures still standing are in the UK, New Zealand, the Arabian peninsula, and Burkina. Like many traditional practices, it lost steam during the industrial revolution. Slowly, people began to replace natural materials with modern and easily manufactured ones.
Modern doesn’t always mean better in the long run. The chemicals in the walls caused allergies and other health problems for residents. Tired of this phenomenon, many people decided to turn to natural building materials and revive ancient building practices.
In 2004, when she began building Casa Verde cottage, Ileana wanted to change the way Romanian people saw clay and cob houses. Instead of dusty, shabby structures, she wanted to show them that these buildings could be safe, durable, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing.
As the trend of natural and sustainable buildings began to gain traction in countries like the U.S, the east also experienced a resurgence. Casa Verde cottage was featured on a website that celebrated natural buildings. Almost overnight, the number of people interested in Ileana’s work shot up. English volunteers showed up to learn how to work with cob. More people became interested in her project. To introduce more people to the concepts she was so passionate about, Ileana began to organise summer camps onsite. The first participants were IT employees, tired of computers, and wanting to spend some time in nature.
These days, she guides attendees on a variety of topics including soil, design, building materials, natural paints, and more. They work together to craft cob walls, and create different plasters (clay-sand, clay-sand-lime, or sand-lime). They’re eager to learn from the mistakes she’s made along the way, and understand how she’s gone about fixing them.