Santa Rosa brothers build their very own Hobbit house during quarantine
Of all the pandemic projects undertaken by kids under quarantine, the “Cobthedral” that three Santa Rosa boys built using dirt dug from their own property has to be one of the coolest.
The round hut looks like a Hobbit house, with glass block and stained-glass windows, handy niches for storing stuff and a living roof with succulents growing out of it.
It playfully got its name because of its churchlike qualities. But it’s built to be the ultimate boy’s hideout, perfect for play, practicing on musical instruments or working on projects.
And while they don’t have to travel to Middle Earth to get there, they certainly could pretend they slipped into some crack in the earth or wormhole and landed on a far-off planet or hidden world of dragons and sorcerers.
Oliver Armstrong, 12, and twin brothers Alex and Galen Armstrong, 9, spent the last three months constructing their playhouse literally from the ground up.
They dug the heavy clay soil, leaving a hole 5 feet deep to play in. They built the 125-square-foot cottage out of natural or reclaimed materials; primarily old packing pallets and a wet earthen material called cob.
It was all under the direction of Miguel Elliott, an expert in building ovens, benches, walls and other structures out of cob, an ancient building material that is a mixture of subsoil, water, an organic material like straw and sand if needed.
He calls his tiny houses “cobins,” and they have a multitude of uses in a home landscape, such as an art or writing studio, man cave, she shed or dog house. They are small enough to not require a building permit, although Elliott does have professionally engineered plans to build a larger, habitable accessory dwelling unit out of cob.
Transforming a ‘dead spot’
Elliott, fancifully known as Sir Cobalot, has been building cob structures for years, often overseeing them as group or community projects. But the “Palletable Cobin” is one of his newer ventures and poses intriguing possibilities for homeowners looking for a little extra living space.
For Veronika Vuksich and Renee Armstrong, both physicians, it proved to be a great learning project for their three boys, who came home excited after Elliott visited The Sebastopol Charter School they attend to talk about building with cob. The boys already had been working on their backyard hole for several years and had a pile of dirt ready for a project.
“It wasn’t like I was looking for something for them to do. We had no idea how long this shelter period would be,” Vuksich said. “But it just became this wonderful opportunity, the silver lining.”
They had a perfect location.
“All we had here was a bunch of weeds and some logs,” Vuksich said. “We called it Flintstone furniture. We roasted some marshmallows there twice in the last 10 years. It was sort of a dead spot.”
Elliott started by bringing in a load of gravel to level the space and create a building mound. Then they put in four-by-four posts 40-inches apart, the width of the pallets. They placed the pallets and stuffed them with straw for insulation. The next step was framing the shelves and windows. Then they covered the structure with a wet, mudlike cob mixture. And what kid doesn’t like to play with mud?