14th 2010
Writing houses

Posted under: American history, art, book reviews, European history, happy endings

Undine had a nice post last week about “Writing House Fantasies,” in which she explores her fantasy about a little detached cottage in which to write.  Most writers’ houses, she writes, “They have a window or two, and a view that’s just beautiful enough to reward a glance without encouraging prolonged staring out the window. They have lots of natural wood surfaces, including tables or desks, and room for some books.”  She continues,

The writing house of my fantasy has electricity but not Internet access or phones. Sometimes, in the nineteenth-century version of my fantasy, I bend the rules a little and picture working in a screened-in porch attached to a beautiful old shingle-style house high above the water (a recent house I saw inspired this one). So–wood, light, air, and nature are the only real requirements.

Undine also includes links to a bunch of different writers’ cottages/studies:  Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, and Road Dahl, for example.  (Mark Twain’s unexpurgated autobiography?  Sign me up, please!  Can’t wait!)

I’ve always thought this was a great idea, ever since I saw Thomas Jefferson’s writing shed at Monticello (above right.)  At least, that’s my recollection of it.  Maybe I’m laying that trip on TJ, since that’s my fantasy.  It was really difficult to find a photo online of TJ’s writing house–as I recall, it wasn’t a part of our tour (we weren’t permitted inside) but it was pointed out to us.  But, it’s been 16 years since I was at Monticello.  Anyone who’s been there recently is invited to please enlighten me.

But until I get that replica of TJ’s shed built on the ranch, this one will have to do.


20 Responses to “Writing houses”

  1. squadratomagico on 14 Jul 2010 at 8:25 am #

    Do you actually write in there? It’s so cute — and the tree is magnificent!

  2. Pam/Digging on 14 Jul 2010 at 8:25 am #

    I appreciate your interest in my photo of the Monticello grounds, but I only allow reposting of my images with prior permission, as stated on my site. I would be grateful if you would take down the photo. Thank you for your prompt attention. –Pam/Digging

  3. Notorious Ph.D. on 14 Jul 2010 at 8:29 am #

    After going to the mountain town (a town specifically designed as a getaway for beleaguered urban residents), I made a decision to rent one of the woodsy cabins for a long weekend every semester, as a writing retreat. The cabin has all the things Undine talks about: good light, a writing table in front of a window that looks out on trees and a creek, and no internet access. $120 a night. Late October is the idea.

  4. Kathie on 14 Jul 2010 at 8:31 am #

    Sunset magazine featured just exactly such a house – I’m not sure when this article initially ran, but it looks quite enchanting:
    and the link in the sidebar at that article has several other similar backyard office/cottages.
    I wish I had a backyard where I could build such a space!

  5. GayProf on 14 Jul 2010 at 8:47 am #

    Given that I live alone, I am not sure that I need a separate retreat. But I always liked the idea of traveling somewhere to write.

  6. Rad Readr on 14 Jul 2010 at 8:50 am #

    I haven’t had my coffee yet, so…writing houses or fantasies of them won’t help as much as sitting in front of a computer and not getting up until something gets done. Some of these houses, both writers’ houses and writing houses, become monuments to canonical writers, more often than not men (e.g. Hemingway houses).

    More importantly, what else did TJ do on that shed? Do they show the slaves’ quarters on the tour?

  7. Rad Readr on 14 Jul 2010 at 8:51 am #

    That’s “inside” the shed. Coffee!!

  8. Historiann on 14 Jul 2010 at 9:17 am #

    Sorry, Pam–I didn’t see the notice on your blog. I have replaced your photo with a photo of Jefferson’s writing shed that’s from a blog without a request not to reproduce the photos.

    Glad the rest of you like the treehouse.

  9. Katrina on 14 Jul 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    The treehouse is fabulous!

    Notorious: I have often been tempted to rent a cabin to write, let us know how it works out for you.

    Having never had a writing cabin, I can only fantasise about one. But I do find that when I travel, I seem to get lots of work done in hotel rooms, so somehow being away from home without distractions helps me focus. Don’t know if I could replicate that with a shed in my garden!

  10. wini on 14 Jul 2010 at 12:46 pm #

    This is actually feasible where I live: a lot of people have air conditioned one-room sheds in their backyard. My fantasy is making a little studio (with a kitchen and bath) and using it as a writing shed but also being able to rent it out.

    Please let me know if you know of a grant for writing sheds!

  11. Fratguy on 14 Jul 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    For the inspired and handy this might get you started. The report was on NPR a few weeks back, talking about 70 sqr foot houses, built new in the low 4 figures and for far less if found and salvaged materials are used. Tip, my new very favorite place to shop and browse is the Habitat for Humanity salvage store. All sorts of used and discarded prefab materials are sold for pennies on the dollar. Best part, the proceits go to a worthy charity, not the a$$hat that runs Home Despot.

    Anyway, check out these houses.



  12. Fratguy on 14 Jul 2010 at 2:03 pm #

    Here is the link for the company that builds and plans these. You need to watch the movie from the home page.



    I’m going to start building one of these the moment I get home.

  13. Sisyphus on 14 Jul 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    Wow what are those blossoms? They are amazing!

  14. Janice on 14 Jul 2010 at 2:57 pm #

    My backyard shed is no writing house, sad to say. Not even a window! But I have a pretty private deck and if I really want to feel away from it all, I can just go over the crest of the hill in back and plop myself down on my very own piece of the Canadian Shield.

  15. Matt L on 14 Jul 2010 at 4:01 pm #

    Place is important. I don’t know if I want a writing house.

    I really like writing in the reading rooms of National Library of the (former) Peoples Republic of Megalomania. There is something about the austere 80s wood paneling and ‘commie modern’ light fixtures that puts me in an elegiac mood. Also, I like having access to the handy reference works. The buffet has a reliable salami sandwich. Yum. Thats on the other side of the Atlantic.

    Right now I have to settle for the sun room off of our kitchen. Its got a windows on three sides (no curtains, the spouse tore them down in a fit of aesthetic rage) and you can see the great big maple tree in our backyard. Great morning sun. Now if I could just sit still for two hours every morning (before the other denizens of Chez L wake up) a guy could get some writing done around here.

  16. undine on 14 Jul 2010 at 5:04 pm #

    Thanks for the link, Historiann! Do you really have a treehouse for your writing house? That’s amazing.

  17. Del on 14 Jul 2010 at 10:06 pm #

    Check out Michael Pollan’s book “A Place of my Own”. I read this several years ago and I’ve been jealous ever since.

  18. Indyanna on 15 Jul 2010 at 3:15 am #

    So that’s what the famous Historiann HQ looks like! I’m staying in a cottage that would do for a writing cottage on the specs above, but not writing. If I had to write everyday on the equivalent of this keyboard Francaise, no amount of amenity value would get that next chapter–make that paragraph–out! But, otherwise no complaints

  19. Rose on 15 Jul 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    The Guardian had a blog running last year featuring photos writers’ rooms and their comments about them. Alas, it is no more, but it’s fun to look at the posts that are still available. This is my favorite–I’d like to transport myself right into this space: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/mar/21/kevin-crossley-holland-writers-rooms

  20. Comrade PhysioProf on 15 Jul 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    Awesome fucking treehouse! You are so lucky! That would be a great spot to spark up a fattie!

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