Fit for a Hobbit

Cottages & Bungalows

Debra Prinzing

01 February 2009

In 1937, a Britist author named J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a children's story about the fantasy world of a three-foot-six-inch tall hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. The Hobbit tells of Bilbo’s adventures as he journeys through Middle-earth with a band of 13 dwarves and one wizard on a quest to discover and protect a magical ring. A perennial favorite with youngsters and grownups alike, Tolkien’s epic begins in a faraway land called The Shire, the description of which resembles a rustic hamlet in the English countryside. Bilbo resides in a luxurious hobbit hole called Bag End, a storybook abode complete with a round, hobbit-sized door. The story of Bilbo the hobbit might easily be dismissed as the stuff of legend and lore but for the vivid imagination of one Tolkien devotee, his creative architect and a cadre of talented artisans. For while most of us would read The Hobbit and picture Bag End in our mind’s eye (or more recently, rent DVDs of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and see the filmmakers’ depiction), a passionate Tolkien follower living in Pennsylvania turned fantasy into reality in his own backyard.

Designed by Peter Archer of Archer & Buchanan of West Chester, Pennsylvania, the 600 sf stone cottage evokes mystery, magic and flights of the imagination. Its owner, an avid collector of Tolkien memorabilia, fancied a cottagelike hideaway to house his assortment of manuscripts, early editions, original drawings, figures and other Lord of the Rings artifacts. He calls it the Hobbit House. “He called and said, ‘I’d really like to create a separate building where I can keep and display these items, to be in solitude and be contemplative about them,’” Archer says. In essence, he wanted a private museum. Constructed of native Pennsylvania stone, including rocks reused from portions of 18th century fieldstone walls, the diminutive cottage has a timeless, otherworldly quality. If you’ve read any of Tolkien’s tales, you can easily picture Mr. Bilbo Baggins throwing open this circular wooden door and stepping out for a stroll.

Reading the Landscape

During the eight-month design process, Archer and his client evaluated the site, making careful decisions about the structure’s architectural proportions, use of materials and craftsmanship. In the end, Archer says, the Hobbit House pays homage to the fantasy world of hobbits and their comrades, but there is nothing theatrical about it. “I designed it based on the writings and concepts that we interpreted from Tolkien, but we didn’t want to make it look like something out of Hollywood,” he says.

In selecting a gently contoured patch of historic Pennsylvania farmland now encircled by deciduous forest, Archer and his client took advantage of the site’s most evocative feature: a fieldstone wall dating to the 1700s. “The stone wall runs downhill and disappears into the woods,” the architect says. “Knowing that it was the original farm wall and having the idea of building into the hillside allowed us to make the structure look like it has been here forever.” The sloping terrain embraces the finished building, lending to the setting a sense of protection. “It was sited out of necessity because of the lay of the land; we feel a sense of history—of the house belonging to the earth,” he says.

This building’s front façade and adjacent terraces are built into sections of the dry-laid stonework. As the land descends, so does the structure’s slanted shed roof, which nearly touches the ground along the south side (the eave of the roof is merely 42 inches above ground, giving the sense that Hobbit House is growing out of the soil).

The primary entrance is a round Spanish cedar door, which measures four feet in diameter and three inches thick. It opens on a single pivot hinge. A symmetrical wood roof extends overhead, supported by corbel brackets mounted on stone walls. To the left of the door, a trio of diamond-paned casement windows is set into a curved stone arch. Clay roofing tiles, cut and mounted into a sliver pattern, fill the space above the windows. This Old World detail appears elsewhere, including the perimeter of the round door. 

Grand Gesture, Small Scale

Each feature of Hobbit House was designed to delight the eye and honor age-old crafts of masonry, ironworking and carpentry. Archer drew from memories of living in England for two years and touring its rural villages dotted with charming cottages. He borrowed elements of Storybook-style architecture to design the amiable windows, fanciful curved rooflines and interior accents, including a massive stucco fireplace that dominates the main reception area.

Indoors, the central room and library together measure 14 by 28 feet. Timber framing and beams, arches, rafters and trusses of Douglas fir lend a cathedral-like presence to the space. “It’s teeny, but it’s a wonderful size for one person,” Archer says. The smooth stucco fireplace is embellished with random shards of roofing tiles, fashioned to suggest that an unskilled farmer had built it from materials that were on hand. “There is an undulation to the stucco trowelwork that looks as if it had been done over a very rough wall with tools of yesteryear,” he explains. “There is naïve logic to the design.”

The simple fireplace mantel, mounted like a shelf on stone corbels, is made from flat, local fieldstone; a larger flagstone forms the organic hearth and fits snugly into the semi-distressed white-pine flooring. Restored 1920s Gothic-style lighting lends character to the space. Nearby, an arched opening leads to the intimate library where scholarly endeavors are fostered. Built-in bookcases and a desk furnish the space. 

A short flight of five steps leads to a sunken gallery/reading room. Used for reading and contemplation, the 8- by 14-foot space is dominated by a fanciful mahogany window. The round center window measures about four feet in diameter; Art Nouveau inspired side panels span the niche above a cozy bench. The owner calls this artful piece “the butterfly window.” When the two halfcircle panes open outward from the center hinges, they resemble the wings of a butterfly. Hand-forged iron strap-hinges and latches embellish the detailed design.

 Archer praises the craftsmanship of each artisan who helped to create Hobbit House. “Everyone who worked on this project loved working on it,” he says. “From the timber framers and stone masons to the ironworkers and general contractor, everyone gave it their heart and soul.” It’s a home worthy of a famous hobbit who would rather be left alone to light his pipe and sit by the fireside to while away the hours - until the next adventure begins. There’s a little bit of Bilbo in all of us, and this magical Hobbit House will transport you to Bag End, even if only in your imagination.

Houzz Pro Spotlight: How Rural Regulations Can Enrich Your Country Estate

A West Chester architect shares design opportunities - 27 March 2017

Archer & Buchanan Projects Win National Awards

AIA Philadelphia - 25 November 2013

50 Years of Stuckeman Works

Archer & Buchanan Architecture Feature - 1 May 2013

AIA Small Projects Structure Winner

Architectural Products
 - 1 July 2008

Please Vote for ABA's Cor-Ten Cattails

Architizer - 3 March 2015

Far from the Shire, a Hobbit House in PA

Associated Press - 12 December 2012

Far from the Shire, a Hobbit house in PA Country

Associated Press Video - 12 December 2012

Digital Underground

Bucks Life - 1 September 2013

On the drawing board

Building Design + Construction - 1 July 2013

Historic Stonework Defines New Residential Design

Building Stone Magazine - 28 June 2017

Estates of Excellence

Chester County Town & Country Living - 1 October 2001

Bucolic Beauty, Classic Charm

Chester County Town & Country Living
 - 1 June 2005

Preserving Land and History

Chester County Town & Country Living
 - 1 April 2005

An Epic in the Making

Chester County Town & Country 
Living - 23 October 2008

Unique Homes - A House fit for a Hobbit

CNN Money - 28 November 2011

Vision Becomes Reality for Tolkien Collector

Collector’s News - 1 October 2006

Fit for a Hobbit

Cottages & Bungalows - 1 February 2009

Arts & Crafts Inspiration

County Lines - 1 February 2010

71st Tour of Tours

County Lines - 1 September 2011

Home of the Month

County Lines - 1 March 2013

All Around Farm

County Lines - 1 February 2013

73rd Tour of Tours

County Lines - 1 September 2013

Kimberton Sanctuary

County Lines - 1 September 2012

72nd Tour of Tours

County Lines - 1 September 2012

Preserving & Celebrating History

County Lines Magazine - 31 January 2017

Mercer Hill Farm

Covertside - 1 December 2007

Ground broken for Lenfest Center

Daily Local News - 24 May 2012

The return of an old favorite is brewing in Greenville

Delaware Community News - 16 August 2009

Lenfest Center at the ChesLen Preserve dedication planned

Delaware County News Network - 1 June 2013

Archer & Buchanan's Cattail Fence Wins Design Award - 20 September 2012

Soundproof Theater Fits Country Lifestyle

Electronic House
 - 1 May 2008

Adirondack, Shingle Style

Fine Homebuilding - 1 April 2005

Sounds as Good as it Looks

Fine Homebuilding - 1 March 2005

A cottage fit for a hobbit

Fine Homebuilding - 1 May 2007

Arts & Crafts and Automobiles

Fine Homebuilding Magazine - 1 March 2017

Mud Room's the Name, Organizing's the Aim

Fine Homebuilding Magazine - 24 September 2015

Swarthmore's New Greenhouse

Garden Design - 24 February 2010

On the Fence

Gardening Australia Magazine - 1 June 2015

Scott's new Wister Center receives Green Building of America Award

Greater Philadelphia Gardens - 20 August 2009

Old-fashioned Entertainment

HD Living - 1 January 2008

"Home Sweet Home" in a Barn

HGTV - 23 February 2017

5 Houses Where You Can Pretend to Be a Hobbit

HGTV Front Door - 9 December 2013

Can't go wrong with...

HGTV Magazine - 1 April 2013

Converting an Old Horse Barn in Pennsylvania

Hooked on Houses - 5 September 2013

15 Dream Closets to Admire

Houzz - 23 January 2017

25 Most Bookmarked Houzz Tours of 2012 - 1 January 2013

25 Dream Homes to Satisfy Your Soul - 17 June 2012

Help Your Stair Landing Take Off - 6 June 2012

4 Hobbit Houses Bring Charm to the Landscape - 1 December 2012

Renovation Detail: The Transom Window - 3 May 2012

Fall in Love with Lacquer - 7 January 2016

Staircase Landings Worth a Linger - 10 November 2012

Groom your Rooms with Kentucky Derby Decor - 29 April 2012

14 Gardens Straight out of Fairy Tales - 31 January 2015

8 Fireplaces to Feed Your Kitchen's Style - 21 January 2013

Sample Bright Color in the Kitchen - 27 February 2012

9 Ways to Boost Winter Curb Appeal - 28 November 2013

Beauty Goes Beyond the Eye of the Beholder - 28 August 2013

Academy Attic Hearth Uncovered

Lower Merion Historical Society Milestones - 1 April 2009

Archer & Buchanan Architecture, Ltd.

Luxury Home Quarterly - 1 April 2011

Mod Men

Main Line - 1 October 2009

A Celebration of Preservation

Main Line Suburban Life
 - 1 September 2010

Element of Surprise

Main Line Today - 22 January 2010

Going to The Whip

Main Line Today - 1 March 2008

Custom Cozy

Main Line Today - 1 December 2003

Peeling Back the Layers

Main Line Today - 1 December 2003

Country Living

Main Line Today - 25 January 2011

A Newtown Square Home with German Inspiration

Main Line Today - 5 February 2016

Handmade Marvel

Main Line Today - 1 December 2006

Homage to Okie

Main Line Today - 14 January 2009

Artsy Elegance

Main Line Today - 1 June 2008

101 Reasons to Love the Main Line and Western Suburbs

Main Line Today Magazine - 1 March 2015

Music Recording, Down on the Farm

Mix - 1 August 2002

The New Hampshire House

Montco Homes, Gardens, & Lifestyle - 1 November 2016

Take a Tour of the Lenfest Center…

Natural Lands Spring/Summer 2013 - 1 June 2013

Chester Co. Hobbit House Belongs to Lifelong Tolkien Fan

NBC 10 Philadelphia - 14 December 2012

Okie Inspired

New Old House - 1 April 2009

Starry Night Farm

New Old House - 1 January 2008

Small Comfort

Period Homes - 1 July 2007

Built to Last

Period Homes - 1 January 2007

Pure and Simple

Period Homes - 1 November 2009

Fluid Forms

Period Homes - 1 September 2006

Equestrian Lifestyle

Period Homes - 1 May 2013

Palladio Through the Years

Period Homes - 1 January 2011

A Place in the Sun

Period Homes
 - 1 March 2006

Stable R&R

Period Homes
 - 1 July 2005

Great Expectations

Philadelphia - 1 June 2009

Making New Look Old

Philadelphia Business Journal - 8 June 2007

Finding an Architect

Philadelphia Home & Garden - 1 January 2007

Cool Rooms

Philadelphia Home & Garden 
 - 1 October 2003

Safe Harbor

Philadelphia Home & Garden 
 - 1 June 2006

A Newfangled, Old-Fashioned Mash Up

Philadelphia Inquirer - 6 July 2013

Decorator unleashes the potential of her own home

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 July 2011

Born to Love Barns

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 June 2011

Come Along To See Their Party Barns

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 May 2014

Jawdropper of the Week: Nirvana in Devon for $8M

Philadelphia Magazine - 9 February 2017

The Stunning New Farmhouse on Historic Ardrossan Estate


Back to the barn

Philadelphia Style - 1 November 2007

Archer & Buchanan Names New Senior Associate

Press Release - 1 August 2012

New Life for Water Works Building

Press Release - 1 November 2011

Archer & Buchanan Receives Best of Houzz 2014 Award

Press Release - 4 February 2014

Archer & Buchanan Receives 2014 Palladio Award

Press Release - 10 March 2014

Archer & Buchanan Bring on New Principal

Press Release - 1 June 2012

Architectural Portfolio "Outstanding Designs"

Press Release - 1 November 2008

Christian Activities Building

Press Release - 1 May 2009

Wister Center Wins GOLD

Press Release - 1 November 2010

Archer & Buchanan’s Land Preserve Wins Design Award

Press Release - 23 September 2013

Archer & Buchanan Student Activities Center Opens

Press Release - 1 October 2012

Archer & Buchanan Projects Win National Awards

Press Release - 1 November 2013

Archer & Buchanan Architecture Wins First Outstanding Firm Award

Society of American Registered Architects, Pennsylvania Council honors firm and new project - 30 November 2015

Remaking History

Suburban Life - 1 March 2012

Big Building Projects at Grove City College

The Business Journal - 9 February 2011

Down on the Farm

The Hunt - 1 April 2008

The Custom Home - Five Trends to Watch

The Hunt - 1 December 2012

Giving Antique Objects a Second Chance

The Hunt Magazine - 19 January 2017

The Custom Home: Five Trends to Watch

The Hunt Magazine - 1 December 2013

Hillandale Farm Provides an Oasis for Empty Nesters

The Hunt Magazine - 12 August 2016

Lenfest Center Opens at the ChesLen Preserve

The Hunt Magazine - 22 July 2013

Modernizing an 18th Century Farmhouse

The Hunt Magazine - 20 June 2017

A Barn For all Reasons-- Especially Parties

The Hunt Magazine - 4 May 2016

Hillandale Farm Provides an Oasis for Empty Nesters

The Hunt Magazine - 12 August 2016

The Wister Education Center and Greenhouse

The Journal of Green Building - 1 April 2010

Pet Projects

The Philadelphia Inquirer - 11 December 2015

A 'modest proposal' could save Eastern's log cabin

The Suburban and Wayne Times - 13 March 2008

Stars Align to Spotlight Preserve’s Latest Addition

The Unionville Times - 18 June 2013

Complementing History

Traditional Building Magazine - 23 June 2014

Planting Ideas

Traditional Building
 - 1 October 2010

All-Around Adaption

Untacked Magazine - 4 May 2015

Happy Days

Veranda - 1 January 2013

Loading tweets...