A sod-covered semi-circle home tucked into a small ridge northeast of Millarville is on the market for the first time since its construction almost half a century ago.
Dubbed the “Hobbit House,” the late Rodney and Ouida Touche’s weekend retreat and its surrounding 160 acres is up for grabs for $1.4 million.
The couple’s youngest of four children, Karen Lightstone, said the house was a weekend destination for the family and a getaway from city life.
“We used to go all the time in the summer, and in the winter we sometimes snowshoed in,” she said. “We would go out on weekends and stay overnight. I remember going out one time with my parents in the winter time and there were Skidoo tracks that went up the back of the hill and landed about 15 feet out the front. I remember saying to my mom, ‘Whoever was on that Skidoo probably looked back and thought, Holy Cow I just jumped a house.’”
Decades later, Rodney and Ouida have passed away and Lightstone and her siblings, who live thousands of kilometres from the property, made the difficult decision this year to put the property up for sale.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t make sense practically to keep it when we all live so far away,” she said. “My brother-in-law lives in Texas, my sister in Rhode Island, my brother in B.C. and me in Nova Scotia.”
Established as R&O Farm Limited, the property is just down the road from the Leighton Art Centre.
“That place was my parents’ passion,” said Lightstone. “My parents went all the time, right up until my dad died (in 2017). It was a great oasis for my parents.”
The Touches had the structure designed by Calgary architect Bill Milne with help from Ontario sculptor Donald Wallace and Italian bricklayer Giovanni Bennachio, who had built an elaborate patio with a curved brick wall in the family's backyard in Calgary.
Lightstone was 10 years old that summer of 1971 when the house was built of rebar and concrete.
“My brother and I had to tie the rebar together on every single joint in the cages that were built,” she said. “We got half a penny for bending the wire and pushing it through each joint. My father got students from the University of Calgary to come out and make some money to do the same thing. We spent the summer doing that.”
When it was time for the concrete truck to back onto the hill, Lightstone remembers how nervous everyone was.
“We had no idea what was going to happen,” she said. “You have wire domes forming different rooms. Then you have to pour concrete over them. The moment of truth was were these cages going to hold.”
The structure held, and by the end of the summer it was complete.
The 'buried' house, which faces south, is 50 feet wide with eight-foot tall windows. The dining room, living room and bedroom face the front.
“It’s a really cool-looking structure,” said Lightstone. “It’s really neat when you come up from the north side and are standing on a hill and have no idea you’re standing on a house.”
The floor plan is created in a semi-circle so the rooms are curved with domed ceilings up to 10-feet tall. At the back of the home is a recessed area with four bunk beds, one for each child, as well as the bathroom and furnace room.
“It’s very well designed and it’s very functional – they pretty much thought of everything,” Lightstone said. “My mother was an art consultant and she had an incredible eye.”
The doors, which are rounded on top, are made from two-inch thick pine. The cupboards, tables, shelves and built-in benches in the dining room are also made of pine, Lightstone said.
“The house is very well thought out and uses the space very well,” she said. “Corner cabinets are tucked in the kitchen for storage and the sofas in the living room are built-in.”
One of the building's most unique features is the fireplace, which was constructed using a rear axle and hub from a car and was placed on a revolving iron plate to rotate between the living room and bedroom.
The lighting is recessed into the concrete walls, giving a natural glow, Lightstone said.
“It’s a very energy efficient house,” she said. “It’s cool in the summer and the sun heats it up in the winter because it’s much lower in the sky.”
The Touches also had a tennis court built on the property.
“We played a lot of tennis,” Lightstone recalls. “I played tennis competitively as a junior until I went away to university.”
After the children grew up and moved away, the Touches continued to escape to the "Hobbit House" and often left the front door open for their friends to stay.
“It was definitely well used, particularly in the summer months,” Lightstone said. “It’s a little harder to get to in the winter. You have to park at the bottom and hoof it. It’s probably a good kilometre.”
In 2006, the Touches registered the property with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. The lien allows for a 4,000 square-foot home and 1,000 square-foot outbuilding to be built on two acres of land on the south side of the property along the ridge.
“I don’t think the house is the selling point, the property itself is,” admitted Lightstone. “The property is absolutely stunning and the view of the mountains is just incredible.”
After the Touches both passed away, the property was cared for by a farm manager.
Since it listed in mid-June, Michael Kingston of CIR Realty said more than 20 groups have visited it.
“I’ve had so many people interested because they heard about it for years,” he said. “There’s lots of interest, but also many details to review as part of the Nature Conservancy of Canada agreement.”
Sir Rodney Touche was born in London, England, and met Ouida MacLellan while working for the London Evening Standard. MacLellan was a Canadian staff writer at the time.
The couple moved to Canada in 1956 and had four children. Rodney wrote reports on the oil industry for an investment group and was resident general manager of the Village Lake Louise site for the 1988 Olympic ski event.
Ouida owned an arts consulting firm and was president of the Calgary Region Arts Foundation. She passed away in 2009.