Here’s a quick hack for turning a thrift shop shelf into a mini hobbit house in your garden. Add some miniature plants and wee furnishings and the hobbits (or chipmunks) will be ready to move in.
For expert advice on selecting small-scale living plants, see Best Plants for Miniature Gardens.
Make Room for the Hobbits
If you have any little hillside or change of grade in your garden with a foot or two of height, you’ve got the right layout for a hobbit house property.
If you’re an avid Hobbit fan, there are many helpful details for designing a hobbit house in the Tolkien book as well as the films (of course). Personally, I prefer to simply work with materials I can find in my garden art supplies and local thrift shops and go from there.
I figured out a few things as I created this hobbit house (*face palm moments*) so I’ll share my tips so you can avoid a few possible problems.
Doors are Key
This whole thing started when I was looking through a thrift shop and saw this junky little knick-knack cabinet. I thought the doors would be perfect on a mini garden gate or fairy house. Which, of course, morphed into creating a little hobbit-style house.
There are a lot of these little cabinets out there in the world and you can probably find many different styles if you’re willing to root through second-hand shops and yard sales. Or you may even have one hanging around the house.
Alternately, if you have the tools available, you could easily make a cool door (or set of doors) from wood. In the original story, hobbit houses had round doors, but that’s not easy to find. Adding some mini hardware like a lion’s head door knocker, ornate hinges, and a door handle, can be completely charming. I often find old kitchen door and drawer hardware that is perfect for projects like this.
From Thrift Shop to Garden
I’ll walk you through how I made this hobbit house and share some lessons learned along the way.
Here’s the cabinet I started with. They seem to have many different regional names. We might call it a spice cabinet or knick-knack shelf. They are also called curio cabinets. Again, the doors are important part, not the shelves.
I was so mesmerized by the metal insets in the doors which mimicked wrought iron garden gates, that I didn’t really think to question the stability and durability of the whole structure. Red flag, red flag!
Initially, I imagined turning the doors into hobbit house doors and using the little drawers as window boxes.
But…as soon as I started to get the cabinet ready for sanding and priming, I realized how flimsy the whole thing was.
If you’re picking a thrift shop cabinet, be sure to check how it’s made. Lightweight wood with glued joints may work fine indoors but it is not going to hold up in the garden. I ended up having to reinforce the whole thing with staples (electric staple guns are fabulous) and adhesive—all so I could use those silly bits of metalwork!
Build Your Hobbit House
There’s two main options for building the house. The most common way is simply to have the façade of a house tucked into a little hillside with the illusion of a house inside. For this option, you would just need the two side wings you see in the next image along with the doors and doorframe.
I had an old painted chalkboard from a preschool and cut out two matching wall shapes with the jigsaw.
I also cut out window holes which I didn’t actually need because I later thought of an easier solution.
Because I wanted my hobbit house to have an actual living space inside, I also constructed a basic box from 5 pieces of scrap lumber and attached it behind the thrift shop cabinet. The cabinet came with a flimsy backboard which was easy enough to pull off (since the entire cabinet was far too easy to pull apart!).
I also cut off the shelves with the jigsaw (or more accurately, started to use the jigsaw and then realized I could pull them off with my fingers).
If you sincerely wish to attract Hobbits without frustrating them, you pretty much have to build the whole thing including the room. It’s really fun to have the doors open to an actual room inside.
Here’s one other dumb mistake I made. When I built the room box, I made it to fit the entire back of the cabinet (minus the decorative top part with the curves). What I didn’t realize was, this would make the inside floor lower down than the doors (and garden soil). So, when I first installed the hobbit house and we had a big rain storm right on cue, we had our first hobbit flood.
I didn’t want to go to the trouble of rebuilding the box to the right size so instead I reinstalled the hobbit house a few inches higher in the garden and added a step to the door. Our garden soil is pure sand and drains very quickly so it would be unheard of to ever have more than an inch of water on the ground even during the most ferocious storm (knock wood), so this should be fine now.
Add a Skylight
One additional feature is the skylight. I wanted some light to shine into the house from overhead so I cut out a hole in the roof of the box and inserted a 3″ baby food jar. I added silicone sealant (I always use GE Silicone Sealant II for gutters and flashing-clear drying) around the lip of the jar to prevent rain from dripping down. I didn’t get a good photo of it but it’s a cute touch for adding light to the inside of the house.
Prime, Paint, and Seal
After building the basic structure, I sanded and primed the entire thing, inside and outside, with a good exterior primer. That first flood kind of messed up my nice white-washed interior but I figured it was going to get a bit gritty anyways with the open doors, so c’est la vie.
If you want your hobbit house to last for many years, do take the time to prime, paint, and seal (several times) the whole thing. The more moisture the wood is exposed to, the more rapid the rot cycle will be. ‘Rot cycle’ sounds like a very funky style of bicycle! lol.
Besides reinforcing any loose joints, the final prep step is to paint your hobbit house. I have the worst time choosing colours. There are just too many options! But eventually frugal thinking takes over and I just use whatever paint I have on hand. You may want to browse images online and get inspiration from there.
I actually first painted the doors in bright red but, once I saw them in the garden, they just stuck out too much for my taste. I wanted the hobbit house to be noticeable at a distance but not so much that it poked me in the eye each time I looked that way. And I don’t want hobbits showing up from miles around trying to crash the party. So, I went over the red with blue and like the current shabby chic effect.
Setting Up a Mini Hobbit House
Here’s the hobbit house in the garden. It’s embedded into the hill of dirt in from of my yard waste pile. To place it, I simply dug out a space the shape of the structure, set it down, and then packed garden soil all around it.
I intend to grow a creeping thyme all over and around it but for now there is mulch.
You’ll notice a scrap of wood for the doorstep: that was the late addition after housewarming flood. I also want to add a stone pathway but I’m waiting until I find the right flat stones.
The skylight jar is visible in this photo just beyond the toad on the top. See it?
Hobbit House Windows
Initially I planned to have a larger inside space that would be visible through the windows. Then I realized I did not have enough scrap lumber so I made the house box smaller and created faux windows instead.
These windows are dollar store shadow boxes. I made little curtains from some scrap lace table runners and secured them in place inside the shadow boxes with pieces of wood dowel (for curtain rods that no one will ever see) and some silicone sealant.
Once the sealant was dry and the curtains were secure, I attached shadow box windows to the wood front of the hobbit house with more silicone sealant. It’s my go-to adhesive for everything in the garden because the seal does not give up even through wild winters and hot summers.
Here’s a closer look at the windows.
The purple flowers are Snowstorm Blue Bubbles by Proven Winners. It’s a very pretty, dainty annual that likes either full or part sun.
The yellow flowers are Golddust by Proven Winners. It’s a very charming full-sun annual. Both plants are quite perfect for this sort of project.
Inside the Hobbit House
Although they’re a bit rickety, I am quite pleased with the doors that started this whole shebang. We have a chipmunk that has lived in our patio area for a few years ago and he’s kind of neurotic but also very snoopy. My big idea is to stash some of his favourite treats in the house and rig up my birdcam to see if I can photograph him in there. I don’t know why I find this so amusing but I do. I will be sure to post the shot here if I get it. Though, with my luck, some big fat squirrel will come in instead and tear up the joint. I once had a squirrel take off with a baby mitten I dropped and I still hold a grudge about that one.
The furnishings are pretty simple. I made the little tufted pillow and did some very basic embroidery stiches on a scrap of cotton quilt batting for the rug. I got the twig sofa at a thrift shop many years ago. One day I may whip up a little portrait of the chipmunk to hang on the wall, if he abides by my plan to get photos of him in the hobbit house.
Miniature Plants for a Hobbit House Garden
Here’s a tip for using miniature plants. If you’re using any tender ones that are long-lasting but not suitable for your growing zone (beyond summer), keep them in their little pots. I’ve got a few at the hobbit house that are for zones 7 and higher (my garden is zone 6ish), so I’ve buried the pots in the ground and I’ll pull them out when the weather starts to cool and bring them indoors.
- Snowstorm Blue Bubbles (annual)
- Golddust (annual)
- Golden Japanese Stonecrop | Sedum makinoi ‘Ogon’ (zone 9)
- Belle’s Pink Cranesbill | Erodium var ‘Pink’ (zone 7)
- Bernard’s Elfin Herb | Cuphea hyssopifolia (zone 5)
- Harrison’s Blue Star Creeper | Isotoma fluviatilis (zone 5)
plus some creeping sedum groundcover from my garden.
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing how I made this little hobbit house. If you make one for your garden, I’d love to it.
If you’re not sure how to get started with a fairy or miniature garden, this post on creating a theme is really helpful.