Posted by: Daryl & Wendy Ashby | January 2, 2013

Bilbo Baggins at Home

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Worlds away from the Shire, a stone cottage tucked into the Pennsylvania countryside would make Bilbo Baggins feel like he was back home with his Hobbit friends in Middle-earth.

Nestled in a part of Chester County dotted with picturesque barns and rolling fields surprisingly close to Philadelphia, this Hobbit house belongs to a lifelong fan of author J.R.R. Tolkien who wanted a worthy — and private — repository for the rare books and Tolkien-inspired memorabilia he has collected in 30 years of travel in the U.S. and abroad.

The 600-square-foot building is a short walk from his main house, on a flat stone path and through an English-style garden.

“We wanted a single structure, a relaxing place that was diminutive in scale, for the owner to come and hang out and just be in solitude with his collection,” said architect Peter Archer, speaking on the owner’s behalf.

Hundreds of houses inspired by Tolkien’s books have been built in the U.S. and abroad. But Archer said, “This isn’t something that you can recreate on a suburban cul-de-sac; it was made for this specific location and it wouldn’t work anywhere else.”

Archer worked with a team of craftsmen to create the fantastical abode. They used stones taken from a long-collapsed section of an 18th-century low wall running through the centre of the 16-acre property. Built up against a stone retaining wall of the same vintage, the Hobbit house looks like an original feature of the property.

“We weren’t going to do a Hollywood interpretation. We wanted it to be timeless,” Archer said. “It was built in 2004 but looking at it, you could think it was from 1904, or 1604.”

The 1.4-metre diameter Spanish cedar door — naturally with a knob right in the centre just as Tolkien described — opens with a single hand-forged iron hinge. Several craftsmen said they couldn’t hang the 68-kilogram door on one hinge but a Maryland blacksmith “succeeded on the first try,” Archer said.

A Delaware cabinet-maker built the mahogany windows, including the large arched “butterfly window” — its Art Nouveau-ish flourishes inspired by Tolkien’s own drawings. The name comes from the window’s appearance when open, with the two halves pushed outward from a centre hinge. The roof is covered with clay tiles handmade in France.

Inside the small dwelling are curved arches and rafters of Douglas fir, a fireplace finished in stucco and accented with thin slices of clay tile, and plenty of shelves and ledges for the owner’s library and displays of Hobbit figurines, Gandalf’s staff, hooded capes, chess sets, chalices — and of course, the One Ring. The rustic structure cleverly hides its thoroughly modern heating, cooling, electrical and security systems.

While a country drive to see the cottage after catching the newly released Peter Jackson film The Hobbit might be a nice outing, no one would find it.

Concerned that his rural tranquility could turn into an unwanted tourist attraction, the owner has taken steps to ensure it remains under the radar. He does not want the location of the site revealed, and used a pseudonym the rare time he gave an interview, on-camera last year.

You can pay a virtual visit to the Hobbit house at bit.ly/QVenU0.

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