'Labor of love': 'Lord of the Rings'-themed vacation home opens in Dalton

Mar. 3—"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

When traveling out of Dalton on Reed Road, you just might be swept right into the fantasy realm from which that quote originates.

Up a wooded hill, an unassuming, small house gives way to the fantastical as you pass a sign pointing directions to places like Mirkwood, Helm's Deep and Mordor.

Once you travel past the palisade fencing and see the green flags emblazoned with a white horse trimmed in gold, you're seemingly no longer in Whitfield County. You've entered Middle-earth, and, specifically, the kingdom of Rohan.

Or, at least, local rental property owner Jeff Gowan's best approximation of the civilization from J.R.R Tolkien's high-fantasy book trilogy "The Lord of the Rings."

Right here in Whitfield County, Gowan and his wife Kinma have created a short-term rental vacation home right from the pages of the fantasy epic — and from the scenes of its film adaptations.

Travelers, adventurers or passersby can spend a night — or more — in Middle-earth by booking through the property's listing on short-term rental website Airbnb.

"I want this to be its own destination," Gowan said. "It's not really just a place, I want it to be an experience."

The home recently opened to guests for the first time. Gowan posted progress of the property as it came together on a Facebook page and quickly gained a following of interested Tolkien fanatics.

The first guest stayed in the home during the last week of January, making a trek from Missouri to be the first to stay in the Gowans' version of Middle-earth.

Traveling through the front door of the home, which is styled in the architecture of the city of Edoras as it's depicted in the movie series, you're met with a living room that is straight from the movies, save for the scores of merchandise and replica props from those films.

A giant map of Middle-earth clads the ceiling, and replicas of the helmets of King Théoden and his nephew Eomer line the wall.

A TV, meant for watching the movies — preferably the extended editions, according to Gowan — sits on on the opposite wall, flanked by the swords Glamdring, wielded by the wizard Gandalf, and Andúril, the sword of Aragorn.

The kitchen, meant to evoke that of the Prancing Pony, an inn and pivotal meeting place in the story, hugs the back wall. For those enjoying second breakfast, even the spoons are embossed with quotes from the tale.

A torch-lined hallway leads to three bedrooms, each themed after a member of Rohan's royal family and each with its own hand-crafted, 100-pound door packed with merch, costumes and references galore.

"The more you know, the more you catch," Gowan said. "I didn't want to build a house and just decorate it. I wanted it to be specific. Rohan had the most character that I could work with."

The immersive nature of the house isn't so important as to forbid conveniences like modern plumbing, but those bathrooms still have Tolkien-inspired touches, like the lines of characters from the series in rubber duck form in the hallway bathroom or the white handprints of Uruk-Hai on the black tile of the shower in the master.

Those prints were done by Jeff and Kinma, who have their fingerprints all over all the subtle touches of fandom packed into the house.

Jeff Gowan has operated several local long-term rental properties for more than 25 years.

"Two or three years ago, I started thinking about short-term rentals because they were getting bigger," Gowan said. "I converted one of my properties to that, and it's done well."

Gowan had also seen a few similar themed homes advertised on sites like Airbnb as he began offering a few of his properties as short-term rentals.

It was after the couple stayed in a Harry Potter-themed rental in Chickamauga that their plans were set in motion.

"After that, I definitely said, 'I'm doing this,'" Gowan said. "It took about 15 months from when I decided and started collecting items."

The choice to go with a Middle-earth-themed house was an easy one. Gowan had been a huge fan of the movies when they came out starting in 2001.

"I just wanted it to be something that I liked and enjoyed. It's really something where if you do something you like, it's not like work."

"You can't come up with everything up front," he said. "As we're building, we're coming up with things."

Gowan's office was piled with so many boxes containing movie merchandise and props while the house was being constructed that he accidentally purchased a few things twice.

After the structure of the building was complete, Gowan went to work. Most of the wood features in the home, from the trunk-sized beams on one of the room's bunk beds to the frames of maps that pepper the hallway, came from wood that was cleared away from the lot prior to construction.

Hand-carved wooden horses, painted gold, adorn the exterior of the building.

Among all the props, figures and statues, one is Kinma Gowan's favorite.

An iron frying pan, temporarily used as an impromptu weapon by the hobbit Sam in the movies, hangs in the living room.

"The detail that he's (Jeff) put in is unreal. I was speechless. It's really a labor of love," she said. "I knew before it even started, when he told me the idea, that it would be like this. That's just how he is."

And that labor continues.

Jeff Gowan is still on the lookout for more additions to be made. Any new idea, any new purchase, is added to an already-overwhelming experience.

"I don't think it's ever going to be truly finished," he said.