I have little doubt that almost every theme park guest who has gazed at any of the the Disney castles has wished they could spend a night inside. (I know this is possible for a lucky few.) Those who have visited Hobbiton in New Zealand have undoubtably wished they could overnight in one of the cozy underground abodes. At our house we are no different. Since we are in the business of designing and creating themed experiences we started thinking about creating a little inn with those kinds of experiences.
It all started when Peter (my son) and Hailey got married. They wished to stay in a castle on their honeymoon. They had to go to Europe for the opportunity. A year later they visited Hobbiton in New Zealand but there was no chance they could stay there as it is an exterior movie set with no interiors on site.
Hailey wondered aloud about the posibility to build a castle or Hobbit hole. When they returned the subject came up often during coffee breaks in the shop. We knew we had the ability to build such structures. As a lark we began to do some scribbles in our sketch books. The dream was quantified and we ran the numbers. We should have known better. It wasn’t long until things began to get a little more serious. The property next to ours became available and was snatched up in an instant. Then began the real process of drawing up our ideas in scale, figuring out what was allowed and what would fit on the property. We involved professionals, such as draftsmen, planners, and engineers of all sorts, carefully guided by our small experienced team. Building plans were drawn, a scale model was built and the laborious process of rezoning and permitting was begun. It was almost a year before we got the green light to actually begin construction. The approved plan called for three themed suites of approximately 600 square feet, each with a private 600 square foot garden attached. The back half of the property would be reserved for Peter and Hailey’s future house.
The first order of business was to do the underground infrastructure. Thousands of cubic yards of soil were moved and replaced with even more blasted and crushed rock. All of this was carefully placed and packed under the engineer’s watchful eye. Electrical, water, sewage, storm drains, and communication conduits were meticulously laid and marked according to plans. Then the construction crews began their work, tying copious amounts of rebar, pouring footings, walls, suspended slabs and floors.
While the contractors did their initial work we began prefabricating the themed components in our shop next door. We need our pieces to be ready at the perfect time to be lifted into position as the supporting work was complete. The contractors stuck to the straight and level components while our crew tackled the tricky (and fun) themed pieces. These included the ship’s hull, the towers, cone roofs and a myriad of other smaller bits. As much of the construction and almost all of the building materials and supplies as possible were sourced in our local area. A local cabinet maker laminated the solid wood doors and mouldings. The windows were fabricated by a local manufacturer to our unique specifications. And of course everything we built was required to meet or exceed the local building codes. No less than seven engineers checked the work regularly.
We were well into the second year before the contractors finished the foundations, walls and sealed the roof. We had a bare bones building in place with a few key themed pieces attached which we had prefabricated and lifted into place as the building went up. Our work was really just beginning.
This of course is not our only project. Our clients always come first. We fit this personal project into our slower times. It is a labour of love. We work on the exterior in the warmer months and when it gets colder we shift to the interior. And we continue to prefabricate as much as possible in our workshop as well.
Almost three years have passed since we began getting serious about this dream. The exterior of the Hazelnut Inn is now substantially complete with most of the sculpting done and ready for paint when spring finally arrives. The inside of the North Star suite is about two thirds complete. The Under Hill suite is looking good from the outside with the interior largely blocked in. Sculpting the interior will commence late this summer. The Copper Crown will be complete on the exterior this year with interior work to begin there after the North star welcomes its first guest.sometime in early 2022.
The model we built was to the scale of one inch equals one foot in real life. It was small enough to easily cart around but large enough to incorporate plenty of exquisite details. At first glance there appears to be only two buildings with green space between them. This was intentional to separate the distinctive styles of the Copper Crown and the North Star suites. The Under Hill suite was intentionally designed to act as the transition point between the two taller buildings.
It was very exciting to see the construction go vertical after all of the time spent planning. At this stage of the project the clever use of various elevations became readily apparent. Prefabrication of key components is much more economical when we can do it in our studio in controlled working conditions. We can work on the pieces flat eliminating the need for scaffolding. The pieces are then transported to the worksite and lifted into place quickly and efficiently. The construction crews filled in the conventional construction around the prefabricated elements. Once they were done our talented crew would transform this straight and level into the themed inn we desired.
We created some large pieces in our shop, especially in the cooler winter months when working on site was not feasible. Hidden structural lift points were built in from the start to make installation easy.
The Under Hill was obviously inspired by the wonderful abodes of Hobbiton but with the inspiration in hand we went in our own creative direction. The 600 square foot garden blends into the front of the underground suite. Once the soils are placed and the flora planted this will be a lush paradise.
The exterior of the Hazelnut Inn is now substantially complete. Work was halted as winter set in but as the weather warms in spring we will be busy adding the last of the details and lots of colour at last.
Mundane but still public service areas received the same attention to detail. Behind these doors is the maintenance area that housed the laundry and other support services. Guests will not not be allowed to venture there. It will hide in plain view.
Each suite’s private six hundred square foot garden is hidden behind tall walls. Entrance is garnered though a magical door. Suite numbers would not suffice. Each of the three suites is named to suit its theme.
The Copper Crown castle suite is rumoured to be the domain of dragon riders. The garden door certainly speaks loudly of this proud heritage. Hand crafted from heavy welded steel it begs for a selfie before guests even enter.
Hazelnut Inn is looking more complete each day, especially from the road.
Inside various areas are complete. The sleeping area of the North Star suite is located inside the ship’s stern that is hung from the tower. The unique space looks wonderful already but will look much grander when the furniture is installed along with luscious draperies and other details.
Work continues on these exciting interiors. We’ll post some followup articles as things proceed. Stay tuned…