BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. – At 6 feet 1 inch, islander Chris Whited doesn’t look much like a Hobbit.
The cottage he’s building, on the other hand, would be right at home in Middle Earth. Its undulating roofline, slanted walls and rounded doorways call to mind fantasy realms and pipe-smoking little folk.
“The neighbors call it a Hobbit house, among other things,” Whited said.
In fact, the new 1,200-square-foot house already dwarfs two cottages the 59-year-old contractor has built on his property. A few years ago, Whited took a trip to Cannon Beach, Ore., and spotted a garden shed with an oddly sloped roof. When he got home, he decided to use the shed as a model for a fancy chicken coop. The result was a quaint henhouse with a curved roofline and neatly trimmed windows.
When he’d finished the coop, someone suggested he build a larger model for a children’s playhouse. So he did.
For a while, Whited kept the miniature cottages by the road next to a “for sale” sign. He received a lot of calls, he said, but as much as prospective buyers liked his handiwork, they weren’t enamored with his price. It took Whited about $2,000 in lumber and a month of work to construct one model.
Now, a flock of hens lives in the coop, a flock of grandchildren enjoys the playhouse, and Whited is busy re-creating the design on an adult-size scale. He plans to offer the new house as a vacation rental when he’s done.
Whited laid the foundation for the cottage a little more than a year ago and has worked on it in his spare time since. He sketched out the plans before he started, but realized the mishmash of curves and angles couldn’t easily be rendered on paper.
“A lot of it was learn-as-you-go,” he said.
He has pieced the house together well so far, though there have been challenges along the way. It took Whited two months last winter to lay the shingles on the bulging roof.
“It was like a three-dimensional puzzle up there,” he said.
He scrounged up some of his materials on Craigslist. Many of the shingles are old-growth cedar, left over from another builder’s project. He lined one wall with stones someone gathered years ago from the Dungeness River.
Whited’s latest addition to the house was a handmade, wooden water wheel, which he mounted to the side closest to the road. He plans to pipe water to the top of the wheel and install a little pond at its base. His wife thinks he’s nuts, he said, but he’s always had a soft spot for water wheels.
“I think it adds a little magic or charm to the place,” he said.
Inside, the cottage looks surprisingly normal. The interior walls are plumb, unlike their sloped exterior counterparts. Horizontal beams and tidy rows of vertical struts support the madly arching roofline. There’s a small garage, a living area, a bathroom and a bedroom. A covered porch looks out over the backyard.
The house will keep Whited busy through the fall and winter. He still needs to paint the board and batten siding, and finish the interior.
His work would probably go faster if he didn’t get so many visitors. By now, he is accustomed to strangers pulling into his driveway to pepper him with questions. He doesn’t mind, he said. It gives him a good excuse to take a break.
A few admirers have already asked Whited if he would build a Hobbit house for them.
“I tell them I should probably finish this one first,” he said.