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Building Hobbit Hollow

After nearly 7 months of hard work Hobbit Hollow is complete. Our original idea to construct a Hobbit inspired riverside cottage has become a reality! Although it came with some interesting engineering challenges and many hours of hard work. With the exception of concrete for the foundation and some lumber for framing, everything (including the brick) was either upcycled, recycled, or gathered on the farm.

The excavation started in February 2018. The sand excavated from the river bank was used for making the cement reducing the need to import sand.

Excavated earth that couldn’t be used for building was used to create a level grass area next to the Hollow as a private lawn under the forest trees for relaxing on hot summer days.

Taking advantage of the drought and the Botrivier having dried up, we built a weir the floor cemented in and rock walls built offering a unique natural pool to swim in when the river is flowing

By March the weir had been fully bricked in with natural stone gathered from the excavation. We had also built a staircase with waddle and cement that leads from the upper farm down the embankment to the cottage.

Whilst the excavated sand is used to make cement, there isn’t enough so some more is needed. With the ongoing drought, the main dam next door has mostly dried up exposing endless amounts of high quality building sand also known as silt. All you need is a trailer and a spade.

Imagination is more important than talent as they say. So imagining how people will interact in the new cottage and how spaces will be used is vital prior to starting a build. Here some friends are trying out the new “cottage”, sitting in the second bedroom and sitting on the toilet.

We slightly underestimated how much digging would need to take place. Next time round I will hire an excavator as this took us 3 months of hard labour to remove the sand, sand that caved in, trees and tree roots. You can see the earth in the top layers, and sand below.

It took us most of August to lay the brick. There is plastic sheeting behind the double brick wall to prevent water ingress. I placed another sheet of plastic in front of this, and then another layer of face brick, so 2 layers of plastic and 3 brick thickness wall.

Every second layer of bricks has brick to force the layers together and every other layer has a strand of barbed wire from an old fence installed to help hold it all together. Similar to rebar in a modern building.

The stoep stacking doors are lined up to check the width and the door frames are installed. The lumber and raw wood came from poplar tree trees removed from the site during the excavation, ensuring their immortality.

It took us most of August to lay the brick. There is plastic sheeting behind the double brick wall to prevent water ingress. I placed another sheet of plastic in front of this, and then another layer of face brick, so 2 layers of plastic and 3 brick thickness wall.

Every second layer of bricks has brick to force the layers together and every other layer has a strand of barbed wire from an old fence installed to help hold it all together. Similar to rebar in a modern building.

The stoep stacking doors are lined up to check the width and the door frames are installed. The lumber and raw wood came from poplar tree trees removed from the site during the excavation, ensuring their immortality.

I completed this stained glass window for the hollow during a very difficult time working in the city. The message: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold it would be a merrier world” has special meaning to me.

We finished the cottage walls by September and were ready for the roof. At this stage the cottage was still going to be double story, with lounge and kitchen downstairs and bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. The full sized window in the middle was to have been at the base of the stairs.

But with the completion of the walls I realized the second story would have stuck out too high above the upper farm and wouldn’t have been much of an underground hobbit house (which was the aesthetic I was going for.)

Lesson learnt: triple check my measurements!

With most of the roof on and the grass on the “beach” starting to grow, Hobbit Hollow is starting to look more like a cottage and less like a building site – however the inside and finishes will still take some time.

The next steps were to hang the doors, plaster the bedroom, finish bricking in the stairs and the braai area next to the main entrance, and begin waterproofing the roof for it’s sod finishing.

The roof was sealed then covered with bidam, a felt like cloth used for landscaping. The bidam was painted with a waterproof paint and then topsoil spread evenly across. This was followed by the sod we had cut earlier in the year and watered.

By the beginning of November I was able to finish the roof and moved inside to the finishings. As you’ll see below… the results were pretty fantastic!

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