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Backyard Arts & Crafts Writer’s Studio

Instead of adding on to the 1912 Arts & Crafts cabin in the country, a writer opted to build a small studio on the property, to be "a room of her own." By Ricarda O'Conner | Photos by Steve Gross & Susan Daley

    Cardi’s writing desk sits before the windows.

    Most people move from the city to the country to find peace and quiet—and a whole lot more room.

    My husband, Michael, and I, however, downsized from a 2,000-square-foot loft in a New York firehouse when we decided to live full-time in our weekend cabin in the Catskills. The cabin is an Arts & Crafts gem, hand-built in 1912. At 1,000 square feet, it’s quite suitable for two—but we share it with my brother and five Siamese cats. And I write at home.

    In the city I’d taken my solitude for granted, spending whole days alone at my desk. Here I didn’t have a desk. I had the kitchen table, which was covered with cats and newspapers. Like a magnet, the table drew everyone into the room whenever I sat down to write. I turned to Virginia Woolf: a room of my own, that’s what I need, just a room. Or maybe a studio!

    A few days later we were waiting in line at Home Depot. I picked up a magazine to find an article on how to build an Arts & Crafts-style backyard shed. It had a dormer and divided-light windows. It looked a lot like our cabin. I passed the magazine wordlessly to Michael, who scanned the text, looked at the plans. Closing the magazine, he said, “So where do you want to put it?”

    We chose a site across the meadow, at the edge of the forest. We envisioned a new building as graceful as the old one, nestled into the landscape. Exterior details were copied from the house: cedar shakes stained barn red, with window and door trim painted butter and sage. Copper lanterns with iridescent glass light both buildings, and bluestone steps draw us through wide French doors.

    Separate Means Private

    The studio is saturated with light, its pale yellow walls often aglow. The high, open ceiling makes the 12×12-foot room seem bigger, allowing my energy to expand while soothing my spirit. I kept furnishings spare: just a desk, chair, bookcase, and a 1930s chaise longue for dreaming.

    I have a small collection of paintings and pottery by local artists, and portraits of my husband and my father. No phone. No internet. Nothing to disrupt the stillness except birdsong, the river’s hum, and wind rustling leaves.

    I do have visitors. Deer and wild turkey peer in at my door, hawks and eagles circle overhead. At dusk, I might glance up to see a black bear amble through the woods. Nature provides plenty of company. My family, bless them, keep a respectful distance and wait for my invitation. Now and then I let them in.


    Maria March 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Wondering where you got the screen doors from?

    Sarge May 28, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Where can I find the plans you site in the article? I would like to build a similar one in my backyard. I am an author and tinkerer and even though we have an office in our home, it is a real problem finishing a thought in the house. Your magazine is terrific. Thanks.

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