The creations of natural-materials builder Brett LeCompte of Dolores are featured in the 2017 architecture book, Small Homes: The Right Size by Lloyd Kahn.
Several pages display LeCompte’s straw-bale home on Granath Mesa and two Hobbit houses he built in Montezuma County.
When local fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit asked him to build a circular Hobbit house in McElmo Canyon, he took on the challenge.
For practice, LeCompte built one on his property as a play house for his kids. There, he gained experience with techniques using cordwood, adobe, cob, circular roofs and earthen plaster.
All materials for the projects were sourced locally, including ponderosa pine and aspen from mills and forests, along with driftwood and stones that he collected here and there.
“Building with natural materials is healthier and cuts down on the carbon footprint of transportation,” LeCompte said.
For Marian and David Howarth’s 900-square-foot Hobbit guest house, he used cordwood walls, cob masonry and a circular roof using local ponderosa pines. The house is half underground, and its earthen roof was planted with native vegetation.
The cordwood uses short pieces of debarked tree that are laid crosswise to build a wall. Cob masonry is a type of free-form adobe that uses a mixture of clay, sand and straw.
“The roof is a reciprocal log rafter style, where each beam is holding up the one next to it,” LeCompte said. “A circular door was added in the style of Hobbit homes, and there is a waterfall.”
Local stone mason Brad Wright designed the patio and landscaping. He replicated a circular painting designed by Marian onto the Hobbit house’s masonry floor, which has lines mirroring the ceiling’s circular beam pattern. On Summer Solstice, the beam of light coming through the skylight lines up with the painting on the floor. A rocket mass heater that doubles as a long bench was also installed.
Kahn’s book says “The Howarth’s Hobbit House has to be one of the most creative and unusual structures in Southwest Colorado.”
For LeCompte, owner of Swallows Nest Natural Building, making the cut for a Kahn book was a longtime dream.
“Kahn’s first book, Shelter, in 1973, was considered the bible on alternative building,” LeCompte said. “His books are my favorites, and it has been on my bucket list to make it into one.”