LORANE — Frodo Baggins would feel at home in this house.
Baggins, one of the main characters in “The Lord of the Rings,” would appreciate the eight round rooms with domed ceilings and walls made to look like stone. Some of the walls contain fanciful sculpted concrete art, including a crossed swords Celtic knot, bas relief images of trees and protruding faux tree branches. One room has a sculpted skylight with six teardrop-shaped openings.
But the house is in Lorane, 22 miles south of Eugene, not Middle Earth, where Baggins and other Hobbits lived.
And the house is for sale, with the owner looking for a real-world buyer.
The buyer would have an epic home improvement project on their hands. Once buried mostly underground, the all-concrete building has had a history of water seepage. The structure is unfinished, with electric wiring sticking out of the walls and missing skylights that let rain fall inside. The house has running water and electricity, but it doesn’t have a furnace, light fixtures, cabinets, floor coverings, kitchen appliances and other customary features.
“It has a long ways to go,” owner Nolan Scheid said. “This is not your standard paint-it-and-be-done kind of house.”
Scheid is asking $175,000 for the 1,826-square-foot, three-bedroom home. The buyer would have to pay cash because mortgages are unavailable for unfinished homes. Also, the house is so unusual that it’s impossible to compare it to other homes for a property appraisal, another mortgage requirement.
The Lane County Assessor’s Office estimates the market value of the property at $145,411.
The house is among Lane County’s relatively small stock of unconventional homes that include A frames, geodesic dome homes, houses built to resemble castles and underground homes.
“There are all kinds of houses that are hidden little gems in Lane County,” said Scheid’s Realtor, Amy Dean.
She said she has received many calls about the house since she listed it on Sept. 7.
“A lot of people are intrigued by it and say, ‘Tell me more,’?” Dean said. “And other Realtors have said, ‘Oh, my goodness, what have you listed?’?”
The home’s history
In spite of its uncommon appearance and rough condition, Scheid said he thinks he can sell it.
“I don’t know where the buyer will come from, but when the right person sees it, they will know that they have no choice,” he said. “This is what they are going to have to buy.”
The house, on slightly less than an acre, is in the middle of unincorporated Lorane, near the now-closed Lorane Elementary School, Lorane Christian Church and Lorane Fire Station.
Scheid, 52, and his family have never lived in the 29-year-old house. He purchased it out of foreclosure 13 years ago for $35,657, according to Lane County property records.
Scheid and his family live in their own uncommon house, southwest of Eugene off Gimpl Hill Road.
“Our home is a castle made out of domes and arches,” he said. “It’s like this (the Lorane house), but it’s finished and on a much grander scale, over 4,000 square feet.”
Scheid said he owns Toolcrete, a maker of stucco and mortar sprayers, which employs his family and two others next to his home.
The Lorane house was built in 1988 by Bob Adams, who was then the pastor of Lorane Christian Church, and his wife, Vicki.
Bob Adams said he did most of the construction himself. The house cost about $40,000 to build, said Adams, who now lives with his wife in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Designed by Eugene architect Richard Britz, all but the front of the concrete structure was covered with plastic sheeting and buried with soil as a way to retain heat during the winter and to keep it cool during the summer.
Building code required the home to have a heat source, so Adams installed electric baseboard heaters. The house also had a wood stove. The electric heaters weren’t needed because the interior temperature remained 68 degrees, no matter the season, Adams said.
“You could live in that house, in that Lane County climate, and not burn a watt of electricity, as far as heating is concerned,” he said.
Even though most of the house was underground, the 6-foot-diameter domed skylights let in plenty of light, he said.
The walls of the round rooms were covered with plaster and painted, while the floor was covered with refinished wood from a gymnasium, carpeting and vinyl.
Lorane-area resident and historian Pat Edwards recalled that residents were curious about the house as it was being built. The roof resembled a “bald man’s pate, sitting partially above ground level,” she said. “Everyone was interested in watching it develop, and most of us were wondering about how anyone could live there in comfort.”
The Adamses opened their newly completed house to the community for a tour, Edwards said.
“I can remember that stepping through that front door for the first time how wonderfully light and airy it seemed,” she said. “It was really astonishing. The temperature was comfortable, too, even though, if I remember correctly, the day was cool.”
But the Adamses and their two young sons lived in the house for only a year because Bob Adams took a job at a church in another community.
The couple rented the house, which eventually developed a leak in the roof, Adams said.
He said he removed earth from the roof and placed another layer of waterproof sheeting over the plastic barrier and recovered the roof with soil.
“We corrected the (leak),” Adams said.
The Adamses sold the property in 1992 for $67,400, according to Lane County property records.
Adams said that his former neighbors told him that subsequent owners let the home fall into disrepair. Scotch broom was allowed to grow on the roof, he said, with the roots breaking the barrier, causing more leaks.
Edwards, who has written two books about the history of Lorane, including “From Sawdust and Cider to Wine,” said “the earthen roof was dug up and removed and that bald pate was exposed in an effort to correct the problem. Tarps were thrown over it to cover the leaks, and soon it was foreclosed on and stood empty and abandoned for some time.”
“It had become, quite frankly, an eyesore to many in the community,” she said.
A labor of love
In 2004, Scheid purchased the property out of foreclosure from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“When we first found the home, we fell in love with the connected bubble shape of the home,” he said. “The giant skylights in every room made it one of the brightest homes I have ever been in.”
The interior needed to be “cleaned out and started over,” he said.
Scheid, with the help of Chicago-based concrete sculptor Nathan Giffin of Vertical Artisans, began remaking the interior with faux stone and artwork inspired by his fondness for “The Lord of the Rings.”
Giffin constructed a faux rock wall and arch called a “moon gate” in the front yard.
The interior was finished over about three years by Giffin and other concrete sculptors who brought students to watch them complete decorations in various rooms, Scheid said.
Scheid said he excavated much of the dirt around the house to make repairs on the exterior walls. He said he applied a layer of waterproofing spray on the exterior and covered it with sprayed concrete that included a “water stop additive.”
Asked if the house still leaks in addition to the open skylight holes in the roof, Scheid said, “it is not dry” and another “step of waterproofing” still must be applied to the roof.
Scheid said he thought the house, located near Lorane-area wineries Iris Vineyards, King Estate and Chateau Lorane, would be ideal for a bed-and-breakfast inn or as a wedding venue.
But those plans never materialized. Instead, Scheid let friends and others stay at the home.
Once a “pastor called me and said, ‘I have a family here and they don’t have a place,’?” he said. “So I came out here and I had not met them. It was a wonderful moment. I just handed them the keys and said do what you need to do.”
Scheid said he put the property up for sale because he has purchased a 160-acre tree farm with a cabin about five miles from Lorane. He said he will devote time to his new property, including building a concrete lodge that will look like it’s made out of old-growth timber.
“I still love this place, and I love my neighbors,” he said of the Lorane house. “But I realized that I was not going to come back and finish this, so I thought that it was time for someone else to enjoy it.”
Bob Edwards, 70, is no longer a pastor. He works as a part-time, long-haul truck driver for a food distributor. He and his wife live in a manufactured home in Idaho.
Adams said he hopes that someone buys his former Lorane home, makes the required repairs and turns it into an underground home again.
Adams said he would hate to see the home demolished.
“The earth shelter house is a wonderful idea,” he said. “I have mentioned to my wife a dozen times, I sure would like that house over here.”