Monday, August 17, 2020 / by Sergey Korostensky
Thanks to a creative Calgary family who had a vision for their vacation home, J.R.R. Tolkien fans don't need to journey to Middle-earth to visit the Shire.
They only need to know where to look in the Alberta foothills.
An earthen home built into the hillside near Millarville, Alta., by Calgarians Rodney and Ouida Touche in 1971 is on the market for the first time since its construction.
It was designed by Bill Milne, the architect behind the Calgary Tower and the city's pathway system.
And if you ask many of the Millarville locals about a striking piece of real estate — the home with rounded walls and windows, hidden by its partially bermed construction — they will likely recognize the property they call the "Hobbit house."
As a child who spent summers there with her parents and siblings, Karen Lightstone did not understand the nickname.
As an adult who decided with her family to sell the house, it finally clicked.
"I have a copy of The Hobbit, and I pulled it out when we were to put it on the market," Lightstone said.
"And the whole opening paragraph of Chapter 1 talks about the round door opening to a long, tube-shaped hallway. The best rooms are on the left because that's where all the windows were. And I was like, 'Oh my Lord, this is exactly what they built.'"
Home hidden to keep from being 'eyesore' in landscape
The house was built by carving away half of a hill, Lightstone said, and pouring concrete between domes made of mesh and rebar.
Because the home is partially bermed, it's hard to see — a conscious decision, made to keep the home from ruining the sweeping landscape.
"My parents were trying to figure out where a good spot would be. They really didn't want it visible on the ridge. They didn't want any of the neighbours to be able to just see this house, because to them, that would be a bit of an eyesore," Lightstone said.
"I don't know how they came to decide exactly how it was going to be. But I do know — from doing some trips with my dad and from conversations he had — they were always interested in something unique like that."
Maintaining the appearance of the Foothills was not all that mattered to Rodney and Ouida Touche. The property also has a Nature Conservancy of Canada easement attached to it, in order to ensure that the land is kept safe.
"They're not trying to prohibit people from doing things, they're trying to preserve and save the land," Lightstone said.
"So a developer … couldn't buy it and put up a bunch of houses. The nature conservancy would be there in a heartbeat."
'Someone else should really be enjoying this'
The inside of the house is as unique as the exterior, Lightstone said.
Lights and bunk beds are built into the walls, the tiles in the kitchen floor are slightly curved so that they don't hurt bare feet and a fireplace can pivot from the living room to the master bedroom with the flick of a switch.
All in all, it can sleep eight — enough for big family gatherings.
But Lightstone's family is elsewhere now. She, herself, lives in New Brunswick.
And so, she said, they decided to let the property go. After nearly 50 years, someone else should get to experience the charms of the Hobbit house.
"We all love Alberta, but nobody is anywhere close," Lightstone said.
"We were talking about it, and the grandchildren are all scattered all over the place, and it's really not getting enough use. And so, we all decided that, you know what, someone else should really be enjoying this."