Cliffdome: The David B. South Family’s First Monolithic Dome Home

The Home up on the Cliff.

David B. and Judy Lynne South designed Cliffdome for their large family. David traveled during much of the construction and Judy handled the construction management.

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Room for Everyone.

Judy chose not to hide the second-story’s exposed beams and warm wood floor.

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Cliffdome is a large Monolithic Dome residence built in 1979 on the South Menan Butte near Menan, Idaho. It was the first Monolithic Dome home designed by and for Judy Lynne and David B. South’s family. They dubbed the house Cliffdome for its perch on a 30-foot cliff above the confluence of the north and south forks of the Snake River.

Cliffdome was built BIG because David wanted to show people that Monolithic Domes could be used for more than just storage buildings. Tours of the home were given up to four times a week to people from all over the world. The children became experts at throwing things under the beds and giving tours of their home.

The River Down Below.

The confluence of the north and south forks of the Snake River flows 30 feet below the construction site for Cliffdome. The second-hand Airform is ready to be inflated.

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The Monolithic Dome home is almost 8,000 square feet (743 m²) with 700 square feet (64 m²) of attic space. It includes eight bedrooms, four bathrooms and a full-sized volleyball court—upstairs. It is 75 feet (22.9 m) in diameter and 28 feet (8.5 m) tall. The specific size of the home was in part dictated by the Airform used in its construction.

Back in 1979, air-formed membranes were peeled from the dome after construction. This caused long-term problems, and now the Airform is left in place as single-ply roofing membranes. David had a 75-foot diameter pre-used Airform available, so he designed his large home to fit it.

Judy's Garden.

Judy’s indoor garden was famous for its dwarf banana tree—in 1983, it bore dozens of tiny bananas—and for the little pond she installed for their pet box turtle.

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The 4,400-square-foot (410.5 m²) bottom floor included a 1400-square-foot (130 m²) living room and an indoor “patio” of the same size. Back then, about 900 square feet (83.6 m²) of the patio was bare ground where Judy South created an indoor garden. Now, there’s no more indoor garden, but the primary bedroom suite, a library, a kitchen, a dining room, a utility room, and a large sewing room with lots of storage cabinets remain.

On the 3,000 square foot (278.7 m²) second floor, there are six bedrooms and a den. There is a bathroom in the first bedroom and a bathroom in the hall. David and Judy installed a vanity and sink in every bedroom, along with walk-in closets. The bedrooms formed a U-shape around a 30-foot (9 m) by 50-foot (15 m) “gym” with a basketball hoop and volleyball net. In the 1980s, the South kids were known to haul their large, rectangular trampoline upstairs to jump on during the frigid winter months.

Melinda Plays Basketball.

Melinda South playing basketball in 1980. The “gym” was where the family roller-skated, played racquetball, held volleyball tournaments and jumped on the trampoline.

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David believed in utilizing cutting-edge technology and encouraged his family to do so. He let his son Dave, who was 12 years old at the time, install a fancy intercom system. It only worked for a short time—maybe 20 minutes. Years later, the power supply nearly caused a fire.

Cliffdome was the first Monolithic Dome home to have metal cladding installed on the exterior.

There were many parties held at the home overlooking the Upper Snake River Valley—some legendary for the number of people who had to be rescued when their cars got stuck trying to drive over the butte in the snow. Each morning, the South kids ate their cereal while watching the sun rise over the Grand Tetons in the distance on the Wyoming-Idaho border. At times, up to 18 people were living there full-time. Piles of rollerskates always provided the right size for those who spent the time digging. The same went for snowsuits and boots.

Cliffdome was sold in 1992 when David and Judy moved to Italy, Texas.

The Primary Bedroom.

Judy and David B. South’s room on the first floor included an ensuite bath and an oversized walk-in closet.

Monolithic / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The South Menan Butte.

Cliffdome is perched on a 30-foot cliff above the Snake River in Menan, Idaho.

Monolithic / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0