Famous Writers’ Small Writing Sheds and Off-the-Grid Huts
When I hear the phrase “writing hut” or “backyard shed” my imagination practically squeals with delight. A small, intimate space furnished with the essentials. Low impact, high inspiration. This is probably why I love going to North Dakota and why I want to pull a Pollan and build my own little house. But until I get a backyard and some serious carpentry skills, ogling these famous writing sheds will have to do:
“The whole of the inside was organised as a place for writing: so the old wing-back chair had part of the back burrowed out to make it more comfortable; he had a sleeping bag that he put his legs in when it was cold and a footstool to rest them on; he had a very characteristic Roald arrangement for a writing table with a bar across the arms of the chair and a cardboard tube that altered the angle of the board on which he wrote. As he didn’t want to move from his chair everything was within reach. He wrote on yellow legal paper with his favourite kind of pencils; he started off with a handful of them ready sharpened…” – from The Guardian
“It is the loveliest study you ever saw…octagonal with a peaked roof, each face filled with a spacious window…perched in complete isolation on the top of an elevation that commands leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills. It is a cozy nest and just room in it for a sofa, table, and three or four chairs, and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lighting flashes behind the hills beyond and the rain beats upon the roof over my head—imagine the luxury of it.” – Mark Twain, in a letter to William Dean Howells, 1874
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) worked for the last 20 years of his life in a remarkably sophisticated writer’s hut on his property in St. Albans, Hertfordshire. Besides having electricity, a telephone, and a buzzer system, the hut’s most notable feature was that it was built on a turntable, which enabled Shaw to push it to follow the sun. This eliminated the need for an artificial light source and created indoor passive solar heating.
“Dylan Thomas’s writing shed began its life back in the 1920s. A Dr Cowan, who spent his holidays at the boathouse, bought the shed to house his Wolsey car. He paid £75 to erect the £5 shed on cast iron pillars on the cliffside at a time when the average house price was just £200… In his, as Thomas told Princess Caetani in 1952, ‘wordsplashed hut’, the walls were pinned with photos, reproductions and magazine cuttings of Lord Byron, Walt Whitman, Louis MacNeice, W. H. Auden, William Blake, a painting by Modigliani, picaresque nudes, serial specials from Picture Post and similar magazines, rhyming lists and word lists of alliterations.” – from The Dylan Thomas Boathouse at Laugharne
Henry David Thoreau
Tired of the distractions of modern living, Henry David Thoreau went to the woods to live a deliberate and simple life. He borrowed some land near a pond called Walden from friend Ralph Waldo Emerson and built himself a simple 10′x15′ shack for $28.12 and furnished it with a bed, a table, a desk, and three chairs.
“She was always being distracted – by Leonard sorting the apples over her head in the loft, or the church bells at the bottom of the garden, or the noise of the children in the school next door, or the dog sitting next to her and scratching itself and leaving paw marks on her manuscript pages. In winter it was often so bitterly cold and damp that she couldn’t hold her pen and had to retreat indoors.” – from The Guardian
Michael Pollan’s book A Place Of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams is the story of how he built a tiny writing hut for himself in the woods behind his Connecticut house. As he writes on the first page, “Is there anybody who hasn’t at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn’t turned those soft words over until they’d assumed a habitable shape? What they propose, to anyone who admits them into the space of a daydream, is a place of solitude a few steps off the beaten track of everyday life.”