A tree collector & his wife share a fanciful retreat fit for a hobbitStory by Christy Heitger-Ewing | Photos by Greg Page Studios
In 2004, Matt and Mary Enderle built themselves a hobbit house – or at least that’s how their friends and family affectionately refer to the 900-square-foot structure. “People call it a hobbit house because of the curved entry doorframe,” says Mary. Her husband, Matt, is an artist who finds wooden treasures (i.e., cool, unique trees) and sets them aside for use in a later project. And Matt has had plenty of opportunity to collect the trees. He has worked in the custom-log industry for 35 years, and he and Mary now own Extreme Interiors International Log Home Builders. When Matt built this cabin, he went to his pole barn and retrieved the curvy log he’d been saving for years. He decided the crooked log, from northern Minnesota, would make the perfect whimsical entrance to their cabin. The rest of the cabin is made out of hand-hewn pine and Douglas fir logs. The large, flared corner posts are fashioned from white cedar trees. “I took a tree and quartered it. I made the corner square first, then cut a 90-degree notch into my vertical log and fit it around the square corner,” explains Matt. “I did that for all four exterior corners.” Although it’s a different concept for building a home, it’s these unusual style choices that make the cabin stand out. The simple life Located on Lake Minnewawa near McGregor, Minn., the Enderles’ cabin is compact but cost-effective. “This place is simple, affordable, and cheap to heat,” says Mary. “Plus, the size makes it more manageable to clean and maintain. It doesn’t take half a day to tidy up. All I need is an hour.” With just one bedroom and one bathroom, it would function wonderfully as a guest cabin. Well, at least that was the couple’s initial intention when building commenced. Their plan was to build this structure first and use it until they erected a larger home for their retirement. At that point, the smaller cabin would become guest quarters. Then came the recession, and plans changed. “When the economy tanked, we were left high and dry like everyone else,” says Matt. “We had to deal with what we had.” Not that they’re complaining. The cabin is fully equipped with modern conveniences, including furnace, in-floor heat, air conditioning, full-size washer and dryer, convection oven, dishwasher, and a 30-cubic-foot refrigerator/freezer. Living in Minnesota, the couple’s most beloved feature is the hydronic radiant floor-heating system.“It’s great to come in from four-wheeling or ice fishing and step onto a toasty, warm floor,” says Matt. Outside splendor When winter melts away and spring temperatures warm, the Enderles eagerly step out of their cozy quarters to inhale the fresh air and commune with nature. The couple’s go-to spots are their side-by-side patios near the cabin (see photo gallery below). The patios were added two years after initial construction on the property. “We spend a ton of time outside, and we got tired of sitting on the grass on the hillside,” says Matt. “So we got out the garden hoses and laid them on the ground to configure our desired patios.” Soon thereafter, excavation began. Next they added a bunch of rocks for the terraces. Then, with the help of a local contractor, Matt poured the stamped concrete.
Thank you, Mr. Porcupine When searching for trees to support the pergola on the patio near the cabin, Matt recalled two trees with matching curves that he had in storage. The trees owe their odd shapes to an industrious porcupine. “Porcupines sometimes will chew the tops off of pine trees. After the trees are chewed, they continue to grow over the years, but they form a slingshot shape and then curve back up like an hourglass,” explains Matt. Foresters have no use for such trees, but Matt turns deformed logs into art. A rock-solid entertainment venue In the summer, Mary and Matt regularly host happy hours on their spacious lakeside patio, inviting family, friends and neighbors to join them for drinks, snacks and marshmallow roasts. When the Enderles had rock delivered from the U.S. Steel mining pit in Virginia, Minn., to landscape their property, Matt asked the driver hauling the rock to pick out a huge flat rock that could be used for a table. The man brought back a slab that is 7 feet long and 6 inches thick (not pictured). “It’s definitely not going to blow away in a wind storm,” says Matt. When they’re not on the patio, Matt and Mary relax on their dock, take the neighbor kids tubing behind their pontoon boat, and go fishing for perch, walleye, bass and northern pike. “We don’t own any pets, but we spend a good deal of time chasing away deer who try to snack on our hostas!” says Mary. Raccoons, squirrels and otters also make regular appearances on the property. Although the Enderles happily cohabitate with wildlife, they could do without the relentless mosquitoes. “In the summer months, I stay outside until the bugs come out,” says Matt.
Handcrafted creations Matt’s handcrafted custom work runs throughout the cabin. For example, there is the entertainment stand in the family room, which is fashioned from a hollowed out cedar tree that Matt accented with diamond willow. (The TV components sit inside the tree, and the television sits above it on the wall.) Matt also crafted a king-size headboard and bed frame out of white cedar, juniper and diamond willow trees. Certainly the most prominent blend of master craftsmanship and artistic expression, however, is the 130-year-old log that lies sideways and runs along the family room wall. “It looks like a giant slingshot – again because of those porcupines!” says Matt. It seems wildlife really helped shape this beautiful cabin. Matt installed the mammoth log by himself. He started by hand-scribing it into the walls to provide a straight fit. Next he took measurements before special ordering a bank of four windows that would fit into the log itself. “It was a tough project because it involved cutting over my head,” says Matt. “Crooked logs are a challenge, because if you make the wrong cut, you’re in trouble.” Special place It’s really no surprise that the Enderles’ cabin is filled with homemade creations. Because, according to Mary, Matt is happiest when he’s engrossed in a hands-on project. “He’s always carving or building something,” says Mary. “And if he doesn’t have a project, he’ll create one.” Of course, the best creations at the cabin don’t involve tools. They are made in our hearts through cherished memories shared with family and friends. The Enderles know about these treasured creations firsthand. “We got married on this property before construction on the cabin even began,” says Mary. “So, needless to say, this place has been special to us right from the start.”