When news of the highly anticipated film “The Hobbit” started to circulate, a small company in the rural Maine town of Unity began to see a bump in interest.
“We’ve already seen an uptick in our Facebook ‘like’ rate and our Web traffic, because I think people are doing more Web searches around the word ‘hobbit,’” said Melissa Pillsbury.
Pillsbury and her husband, Rocy, own Wooden Wonders, which makes whimsical buildings known as Hobbit Holes.
These hand-crafted buildings range from chicken coops that measure 10 square feet to cottages as big as 150 square feet. While sizes and designs vary, all feature distinctive curved roofs, circular doors and round windows.
These design details pay homage to the housing stock of the Shire, where the easy-going hobbits live in J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy novel “The Hobbit.” On Friday, the first film in “The Hobbit” trilogy opens in theaters nationwide.
“There’s certainly a sub-set of people who see them and get the Tolkien reference,” Pillsbury said. “But the design has much broader appeal than that. People say, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that.’“
Wooden Wonders also makes Hobbit Hole playhouses, sheds and saunas.
Prices range from $1,000 for a small chicken coop to $15,000 for the largest cottage, which can double as a guest house.
“We hope that this new fan base that will be created by the movie will be a boon for us in terms of kids wanting a Hobbit Hole,” said Pillsbury.
She handles marketing for the company, while Rocy handles the design and building.
“Rocy’s passion is the design process, and he really takes a lot of time and personal pride in good execution of an idea,” Pillsbury said. “He’s not happy unless it’s perfect.”
Wooden Wonders got its start in 2009, when Rocy created two prototype playhouses and displayed them at the Common Ground Country Fair. One was a castle; the other was a Hobbit Hole.
Children swarmed the Hobbit Hole, but Pillsbury said, “The thing that really struck us was that adults were really interested in engaging with us and asking questions about the Hobbit Hole much more than the other one.”
So the castle playhouse idea was retired, and the company boldly journeyed into the realm of Hobbit Hole construction.
In the past, the Hobbit Holes were all custom made. But now the company is working to standardize its designs in an effort to make construction more efficient and to simplify the buying process, particularly for online customers.
This winter, Wooden Wonders plans to expand a new playhouse line composed of panels that can be broken down for easy shipping. Pillsbury estimates the cost of the new playhouses will start at roughly $2,000 for the smallest option once it’s designed.
So far, most of the Hobbit Holes have been sold in Maine and New England, which is as far as the Pillsburys will go to deliver them. However, the chicken coops and playhouses can be shipped, and Wooden Wonders already has customers from as far away as Idaho.
All the Hobbit Holes that have been sold thus far have been installed above ground. Installing one underground would raise the cost and complexity of the project. But Pillsbury doesn’t rule out the possibility.
“That would be for the true enthusiastic fan who’s done well in life,” Pillsbury said. “We’d love to do something like that.”
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: