It's not unusual for homeowners to have a room, or even a small outbuilding, dedicated to a hobby or interest. But Pennsylvania architect Peter Archer and his clients, a Chester County couple with grown children, took that idea way beyond the norm.
The husband is a serious collector of J.R.R. Tolkien books, manuscripts and artifacts, and wanted to create a small cottage to house and protect his collection—a cottage that would bring to life the hobbit dwellings in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. "He had been collecting since the early 1970s and had simply run out of space in the house. A good bit of his collection was in boxes stored around the house," Archer says.
Although Archer wasn't especially well versed in Tolkien's background and work, he quickly brought himself up to speed. "Upon starting the project I read the book The Hobbit and watched the Lord of the Rings movies, but more importantly, looked at the range of writings by Tolkien, including amazing sketches he had done to illustrate his work," he says. "I remember at the start saying that we would be happy to design the structure but were not going to do a Hollywood interpretation."
Pennsylvania architect Mark Avellino collaborated with Archer to bring the plan to life. He "worked closely with me to interpret Tolkien and create the beautiful details that make this such a special building," Archer says. "Also, there were a host of builders and landscape people who put their hearts and souls into the making of what has been coined a 'Hobbit House.'"
Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: A couple lives in the main house, a short walk from the cottage.
Location: Chester County, Pennsylvania
Size: 600 square feet
That's interesting: The design of a distinctive "butterfly" window stemmed from Tolkien's own sketches. The semicircular halves of the window open from a center hinge.
An 18th-century stacked stone wall on the property made this site, a short walk from the main house, a natural choice for the Hobbit House. From the beginning, Archer envisioned a structure built to look as though it had risen from the wall. "Other materials were selected for their colors and textures, timelessness and compatibility with the stone," Archer says.
A stone path leads from the main house to the cottage's front entrance.
The cottage—seen here from the rear garden—is stepped downward to follow the grade of the land, enhancing the impression of having grown organically out of the old stone wall.
"The location ultimately selected was perfect in that the original stone wall had become a retaining wall at that point, with a change in grade of about 4 feet," Archer says. "This allowed the building to have a more human scale at the front, while on the side and back the roof sits at about 4 feet above, giving an amazing scale, almost a miniature and certainly appropriate to a hobbit."
The 54-inch round hobbit door, a detail straight from Tolkien's text, was custom crafted of Spanish cedar. Although a number of professionals insisted there was no way to create a hinge that would work with the door's perimeter, a Maryland blacksmith was able to forge a single-pivot model that met the challenge.
Exterior doors and windows: David Thorngate, New Castle, Delaware; ironwork: Michael Coldren, North East, Maryland
Handmade French clay tiles give the roof a distinctive profile.
Tiles: Northern Roof, Montreal
Archer's team paid careful attention to the stonework throughout the cottage and grounds to ensure that it would feel appropriate to the original 18th-century wall.
A low, whimsical stone bridge arches over a drainage ditch. "Once the building was designed, the clients fell in love with it and wanted to go further and create walls and gardens befitting a hobbit, but set in rural Chester County, Pennsylvania," Archer says.
Custom light fixtures in the reception area lend period flavor; textured stucco inlaid with slivers of roof tile cloaks the fireplace. An arch and rafters made from Douglas fir define the ceiling and add to the air of exquisite craftsmanship.
Timber framing: Summerbeam Woodworking, Oxford, Pennsylvania; interior and exterior millwork: French Creek Woodworking, Elverson, Pennsylvania; lighting: Vintage Lighting, Malvern, Pennsylvania
Framed with timber arches, the library area forms the heart of the cottage. It provides the owner with a quiet spot to read, reflect and study, surrounded by the Tolkien works and mementos he so dearly loves.
The cottage's distinctive butterfly window, made from mahogany and so named because it looks like the wings of a butterfly when open, stemmed from Tolkien's sketches, as well as his descriptions of hobbits preferring windows that showcase views of the woods. The semicircular halves of the window open from a center hinge.
As with the door, blacksmith Coldren created custom iron hinges for the butterfly window.
An eyebrow roof accommodates the curve of the window.
In the English country tradition, the cottage's mahogany windows have diamond-shaped muntins. Shards of roof tile, set into stucco in a diagonal pattern, arch overhead.