RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – There’s something about playing pretend that sparks the imagination.
But for one man in Central Arkansas with an inspiring backstory, he was able to take that imagination and bring it to life – one brick at a time.
A quick turn-off of I-40 in Central Arkansas brings you into the heart of Russellville. From the bustling downtown to the quiet of nature, the city has turned into something unique for Arkansas.
But hidden in plain sight, unique makes way for something extraordinary; a vacation rental hidden in the basement of an ordinary home that lets its visitors explore a fantasy world all their own.
Michael Bucker is the mastermind behind the “Hobbit House of Russellville”, a fantastical rental hidden and unmarked within a suburban neighborhood. It’s listed on Airbnb’s “OMG” category, one of only two in the Natural State. A quick look around shows you why.
“The biggest compliment I get from people is all the little details they keep finding everywhere,” Bucker said, pointing out the many antiques, collections, and artifacts carefully placed throughout the home. “It became an expression.”
7 years worth of work went into the two-bedroom listing, from tiny additions with a history of their own to the home’s two landmark doors – a carefully carved and painted opening depicting scenes from “The Hobbit”, and a massive circular door that takes up a good chunk of the living room.
It was this door that was the original inspiration for what was only supposed to be one room.
“I always wanted a cabin,” Bucker explained, pointing at the paneled wood walls of the living room, “and that was the initial idea of the Hobbit House, it wasn’t going to be a Hobbit House.”
Soon, he decided to add something else – an attention-grabbing addition that would take the space to a new level. A friend recommended a round entryway.
“If you’re going to do a round door,” Bucker remembers answering, “you might as well do the Round door of round doors.”
And what a door it is. Every swipe of paint is accounted for, from the design to the decoration – a focus that spreads to the rest of the home.
“I went into as many pictures as I could and zoomed in on them to get details that you would never think of,” Bucker explains. “I have probably myself 200 or 300 hours in the door and I’m not even the one that carved it.”
But just as these walls hold stories, so too does their creator.
Bucker says he grew up in “extremely humble beginnings”, sharing toys with siblings and barely having enough for a new wardrobe for school.
“I remember owning one pair of jeans through junior high school,” Bucker said, “and so what I would do is I would come home, and I would iron my jeans every day because I was like, hey, if I iron them then they’ll feel new.”
From practically nothing to everything, the contents of his imagination painted on walls. Once Bucker began having more than enough to survive, he channeled years worth of creativity into the “Hobbit House”: the way to express himself he had been missing.
“You have an active imagination when you don’t have anything,” Bucker said as a way of explanation.
He says the end result was only supposed to be a passion project, shared with the kids he mentors and close friends.
But a suggestion (“Dude, why don’t you just Airbnb that?”) turned into a business. Now four years later, the Hobbit House is one of the most popular listings in Arkansas for those just looking to escape.
“I would have done it either way, and I wasn’t looking at it to get money back,” Bucker says of the success. “I was looking at it to create something, I was looking at it for a way to express myself.”
And the Hobbit House is more than just a rental: Bucker gives back to the community by using it in fundraisers, holding concerts for local musicians, and hosting holiday dinners for those without a place to go.
Those wanting to check out the “Hobbit House of Russellville” and Bucker’s other Airbnb rentals can be seen on the website.