SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The long-awaited prequel to the Lord of the Rings films is finally in movie theaters. Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is based on the J.R.R. Tolkien classic about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins. But Peter Crimmins, of member station WHYY, reports the Hobbit might be a lot closer than Middle Earth.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)
PETER CRIMMINS, BYLINE: This could be one of the misty forests of Middle Earth the way thick fog swirls around the trunks of knotty trees. Actually, this is rural Chester County, about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
PETER ARCHER: This farmland's from the 18th century.
CRIMMINS: That's architect Peter Archer walking around a tiny picture book stone cottage with only 600 square feet. He designed it at the request of Vince Donovan, a lifelong fan of "The Lord of the Rings." But the architect is not.
ARCHER: Like, I hadn't even read the book. But we, as we were doing this, went through a lot of the illustrations that Tolkien had prepared, just for inspiration.
CRIMMINS: So, the cottage is set into a hill behind an old stone wall. The roof is shaped in whimsical curves covered with clay tile. The showpiece is a distinctive round door, hobbit-sized, pivoting on a single, wrought-iron hinge. But the cottage is not completely up to hobbit code.
ARCHER: It's not an underground structure by any stretch of the imagination, but it is built into the grade. It was like, OK, we'll do a round door, but other than that, I didn't want to be cartoonish in any way. I wanted to make something that's very handmade, a combination of stone, timber; find the craftsmen and let the craftsmen use their skills.
CRIMMINS: Very small door, isn't it?
ARCHER: There is a man door, as required by code.
CRIMMINS: That would be man code. The cottage was made to house owner Vince Donovan's collection amassed over 40 years of all things hobbit - pipes, swords, hundreds of figurines and books, lots of Tolkien novels, from dime-store paperback editions to gilt-edged box sets. It's cozy, it's quirky and it's completely handmade. The walls were set by a stonemason who collected rocks from the 12-acre site. The timber arches supporting the roof were steamed and bent into a half-circle, then put into place with wooden pegs. And the massive iron hinge that supports the round door, made from 200 pounds of mahogany was made by Matt Harris, a blacksmith from Maryland. He is a big fan of "The Hobbit."
MATT HARRIS: This project was a lot of fun. Normally, you know, I'm contacted to build things like gates and railings for residents that are normal, if you will. This work was a little bit more fanciful, kind of childlike, in keeping with the books and movies.
CRIMMINS: Architect Peter Archer says the craftsmen went beyond what they were paid to do.
ARCHER: Everyone got it. They were asking questions: Well, can we do this? Can we step it up to this level? A lot of these things they were doing without asking for money to do it. It was amazing how they put their efforts into this project.
CRIMMINS: The house can be fanciful because it doesn't have to be practical. The $150,000 cottage has no bathroom, no kitchen, no bedroom, no plumbing. The only thing to do in here is imagine. Like Bilbo Baggins, the house is quiet and modest; and is its owner, who declined to be interviewed for this story. But he'll soon have some competition for attention. Archer is now working on a similar building for another client, but instead of 600 square feet, it's going to be 5,000 square feet.
ARCHER: Someone had seen this and wanted to build a proper house, and it's under construction in Tasmania, the other side of the world, as we speak.
CRIMMINS: There are other hobbit houses in the world, some built more faithfully to J.R.R. Tolkien's description, but few were made for the sole purpose of sitting comfortably and thinking about great adventures, like a hobbit should. For NPR News, I'm Peter Crimmins.
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