Faculty Guest Blogger: John Meza
John Meza: In 2008, it started out as a root cellar, but somewhere along the line it turned in to a Hobbit Hole.
A root cellar is a structure, usually underground or partially underground, used for storage of vegetables, fruits, nuts, or other foods. Its name reflects the traditional focus on root crops stored in an underground cellar, which is still often true, although a wide variety of foods can potentially be stored, for weeks to months. Root cellaring has been vitally important in various eras and places for winter food supply. Although present-day food distribution systems and refrigeration have rendered root cellars unnecessary for many people, they remain important for many people who value self-sufficiency, whether by economic necessity or by choice and for personal satisfaction. Thus they are popular among diverse audiences, including gardeners, organic farmers, DIY fans, homesteaders, subsistence farmers, and enthusiasts of local food, and traditional culture.
I always wanted to build a stone structure, so I built one. With no prior experience with stone cutting or mixing mortar, I taught myself the basics and learned as I progressed. My 95 year old neighbor Ray lent me his backhoe to get started digging the hole for the foundation. There were some initial setbacks with flooding and drainage issues, but that is part of the learning process. The development of my masonry technique is evidenced in the progression of courses in the interior stonewalls. The lower courses are rustic and unrefined and as the wall gains height the courses become more dressed and ordered. I also experimented with constructing an interior arch and a centerpiece stone shaped like the state of Pennsylvania that was inlayed in the back wall. The walls are 14 inches thick.
As I have experience as a house framer, I felt more confident with the woodworking aspects of the construction. The roof was designed as an arch for headroom, strength, to allow for drainage of the greenery cover, and to harmonize with the surrounding contours of the land. I built the roof in sections in my garage and fastened them together onsite. The roof is protected with weather guard and plastic sheeting that makes it waterproof. To help blend in with the surroundings, I filled the roof box with mushroom soil and planted grass and wildflowers.
The front door is designed as a “Dutch” door to provide some ventilation and lighting options. The floor is a custom mosaic of repurposed brick, some new bricks and bluestone cut-off pieces. As of this date, I still need to finish the shutters for the window and add stained glass windows on the front and back gable walls.