Thursday, June 13, 2013

Day 32 - Visiting a Hobbit House

I have never visited a "Hobbit House." By that, I mean I have never visited a house dug into the earth and wreathed with natural growth à la J.R.R. Tolkien's Shire of Lord of the Rings fame. When I learned a home constructed in this manner existed in Madison, I made a visit to the location a high priority early in my "I have never..." journey. After all, the opportunity to see an actual, lived in "Hobbit House" is not easy to come by and, as a Lord of the Things fan, it is something that appeals directly to my interests. With knowledge the natural beauty that comes with Spring was likely to provide the ideal environment to view the home, Rachael and I made plans to follow through on this entry on the "I have never..." list. As a result, we made a trip to the near Westside of Madison this evening to see a "Hobbit House" for the very first time.

On our ride over Rachael and I discussed the approximate location of the house and tossed around the idea of knocking on the door when we arrived. Although we were both hesitant to do so, I ultimately convinced Rachael to let me make the most of the experience by seeing if I could talk to the owner. By the time we came to an agreement on the matter we had already arrived to the neighborhood in which the home was located. With a little direction from Rachael, I turned onto a quiet blacktop road off of University Avenue and began searching for the house. We weaved up and down several city streets searching for the home, until we came upon it much by accident.

A smile crossed my face as I craned my neck to follow the house through the driver's side window and slowly pulled my car over to the curb. "This is so cool!" I said with excitement, placing the car in park and grabbing my camera. "Should I come with you?" Rachael asked, still uncertain about knocking on the door. I confirmed she should before we both exited the vehicle and crossed the street to the driveway of the "Hobbit House." Without delay, I walked up to the door and stretched out my arm to ring the doorbell. "What if they're eating dinner?" Rachael said in a state of hesitation as my finger struck the doorbell. "It will be OK. I'll just apologize and we can go home."

The front of the house
Just as I finished my sentence the lock on the interior door of the house clicked and the door slowly swung open to reveal a petite woman with short salt and pepper hair. She stood on the other side of the metal screen door and glanced at the two of us through the glasses resting on the bridge of her nose. I quickly introduced myself, offering my name and providing a brief explanation of why I was unexpectedly interrupting her evening. After giving a short background on the challenge and the curiosity that brought me to her door, the woman smiled politely and offered to give some history on the house. She explained the home was designed and built in the mid-1980s by a local architect named Jerry Klodt, who, inspired by the environmental movement of the late-1960s and 1970s, decided to build a home blended into the terrain. Continuing, she told us about the construction of the home, giving us a detailed explanation of the prestressed concrete form that gave the home its curved shape and served as the base for the rooftop terrace. Amazed by the level of detail she was providing, I listened to the woman intently as my eyes shifted to observe the features she was discussing.

Eventually, the woman exited the front door to escape the sound of a ringing phone and happily responded to my questions about the greenery lining the roof. She explained the various types of plant life that covered the surface since she acquired the home and gave us a breakdown of her plans to replant the rooftop as a result of the drought of 2012. The woman's kindness and willingness to discuss the house with us was apparent as Rachael and I listened on, engaged by her every word. After providing some more background on her plans, the woman invited us to her backyard to see an example of the gardening work she intended to do on the roof this summer. I agreed with an obvious level of enthusiasm before Rachael and I made out way to the backyard to hear more about the home.

The side view
The three of us walked from one garden to the next as the woman explained the various types of plants that would soon cover the rooftop. We traced our way around the brick patio resting outside the home's back door trading questions and answers about the "Hobbit House" standing before us. Eventually, we paused in the middle of the patio to hear about the interior layout of the home's five distinct levels. I listened on in amazement at the woman's description of the unique piece of architecture that may soon appear in the National Register of Historic Places. I stood looking up at the house before me, coming to terms with the experience I was gaining from what I thought would be a simple excursion to an uncommon home.  "This is so cool..." I said as Rachael and I absorbed the details of the home. I glanced back at the woman who stood smiling at my remark, before looking back at the home once more. Suddenly, I realized I had never asked for the name of the woman who had just spent 30 minutes of her time courteously accommodating my curiosity. "I'm sorry, I don't think I caught your name," I said with a hint of embarrassment in my voice. "Mary Lee" the woman replied with a warm smile before rounding out our formal introduction with a confirmation of our names and a handshake.

The backyard... the lowest levels of the house go deeper into the ground

I thanked Mary Lee for her hospitality and her openness to the idea of entertaining two random people that came knocking on her door. Explaining her love for the home, Mary Lee stated she was happy to spend the time giving us some history on her unique residence. Sensing our conversation was coming to an end, I asked Mary Lee if I could take some pictures of the home's exterior. Without hesitating Mary Lee said, "Oh, of course!" before offering to let us see the interior of the house when I was finished. I happily accepted the invitation, letting Mary Lee know I would only take a few minutes. She nodded her head and advised me she would meet us at the front door when I was finished.

The Hobbit House LFL
I snapped a few pictures before I gave a light knock on the front door. As expected, Mary Lee answered and invited us in to follow through on her offer of a tour. She walked us through each level of the house, pointing out the designs of the rooms as they arced along the curved concrete ceiling directly over our heads. I took note of the surprisingly spacious interior as it wound its way down into the ground beneath us. Looking around the house, it was apparent the home was unique in every way, down to the flow and structure of each room it contained. Mary Lee, Rachael, and I chatted for a brief period about the home's set up, with me outwardly expressing my desire to live in such a unique place. As an added bonus, we also came across a near-finished Little Free Library Mary Lee's children had made her for Christmas. Only missing a post upon which it could rest, the Little Free Library was a spitting image of Mary Lee's home, complete with a curved roof covered in green felt. It was clear this home, and all of its uncommon characteristics, were loved.

Smiling, I expressed my gratitude for Mary Lee's time and hospitality as Rachael and I made our way to the front door. Still heartened by the experience, we thanked her once more as we exited to the front walk. Mary Lee said goodbye as she slowly closed the front door. Taking a few more glances at the house, we walked to the car and got in to start our ride home.

Today's "I have never..." experience was unexpected in many ways. While I knew I would see a "Hobbit House" for the first time, I never expected to meet such a welcoming, kind person in my effort to learn more about the house. It is obvious Mary Lee cares very deeply about her home and is more than willing to entertain the curiosities of those who share an interest in the unique piece of architecture. Anyone willing to take time our of her night to talk to complete strangers that randomly appeared at her front door is a special person that deserves recognition. While I don't know if Mary Lee will read this, I want to thank her again for the insight, history, and kindness she showed us tonight. She made an otherwise semi-ordinary experience into one that will be hard to forget.


  1. I love this one. I found myself smiling the entire time I was reading it thinking about Mary Lee's kindness. It is great to hear about people like her living among us. Thanx Caleb!

    1. I couldn't agree more. Having only made her acquaintance, it was obvious to me she is a special person that cares very deeply about her home and the memories she has made therein. I the biggest takeway from the day was that the "Hobbit House" is a beautiful home owned by a wonderful person. This was a great experience!

  2. Actually, it's not just the structure of the house that made this interesting. The memories shared to you are also factors. It feels great when somebody welcomes you to their house and shares the stories hidden in its four corners. I do hope I can visit the Hobbit House, too. Or maybe, own one someday. :)

    Calvin Mordarski @


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