It’s all well and good to read about those custom-designed writers’ studios–you know the ones I mean: built just far enough from the main house so it doesn’t impinge on the wall of windows, cantilevered out over the treeline, ocean barely visible from the desk on the top floor. The light changes with the seasons. The rough stone fireplace casts a glow on the wide plank floors and accepts all first drafts cheerfully. As the old joke goes, how nice.
But it’s good to know that such large-scale fabulousness doesn’t have to be a prerequisite for a writer’s hideaway. After all, there are no canvases being stretched here, no welding tools in play or soundproofing required. A desk, a chair, some bookshelves, maybe a mini-fridge, and most of all quiet—these are the requirements of a writer. And some of our best and brightest have made do in some very small spaces.
Charles Dickens famously wrote in a tiny wooden chalet across from his house in Kent. It was a gift from actor Charles Fechter, and was shipped from Paris in 94 pieces “fitting like the joints of a puzzle, but which proved to be somewhat costly in setting on its legs by means of a foundation brickwork,” according to his biographer John Forster—one imagines that do-it-yourself prefab projects haven’t changed all that much between 1864 and IKEA. Once Dickens’ little gingerbread cottage was assembled, he built a secret tunnel under the road to his home so that he could slip out and work undetected.
On a simpler scale, Apartment Therapy’s Re-Nest offers up a sampling of famous writers’ small writing sheds and off-the-grid huts. Authors from Virginia Woolf to Michael Pollan have opted for small-scale, modest hideaways to do their work in, every one of them unique and pretty damn impossible to describe without using the word “charming.” The only real necessity here was privacy, and being tucked away in a sun-dappled corner of the garden seemed to do the trick without having to resort to underground passageways—although George Bernard Shaw did christen his “London,” just so his assistants could tell folks that he’d “gone to London” and not be stretching the truth.
(Via McNally Jackson Bookmongers and others. Photo is of Dylan Thomas’ writing shed.)