outermost house

From the very beginning, a key element to the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s vison has been the creation of a residential library, a unique place where people can come and stay, prolonging their exploration of the books, and the surrounding lands. Yes, we’ll have workshops, field trips & classes, but we’ll also have quiet spaces for people to pursue the projects of their own design.

Author and naturalist Henry Beston built such a place in 1925 (pictured above). The time he spent at his tiny dune shack was the inspiration for a true natural history classic, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod. Over the years, literary pilgrims flocked to Beston’s simple shack, until it was finally claimed by the sea in the Great Blizzard of February 1978. The shack was so close to the ocean that Beston once commented on its ten windows and immediate views of the Atlantic — so close that he felt as if he were aboard a ship.

We just came across a wonderful new book to fuel our inspiration to create simple quiet places that give people the gift of time and uncluttered space. Alex Johnson’s Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution is full of ingenious huts from around the world. (For more information, visit Alex’s excellent site, www.shedworking.co.uk!).

We especially loved his chapter on the history of huts for writers, artists, musicians, and the like. Here’s just a few writing huts that we were inspired by. Alex Johnson is a terrific writer, so we’ll let him do most of the describing!

Four Walls, Endless Creativity, and a Scandalous Number of Chocolate Bars:

dahl garden shed
Roald Dahl wrote many of his books in a small hut at his home at Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, England. Alex Johnson: “Dahl settled himself into a rather ancient wingback armchair, covered his legs with a rug on which he nested a large roll of corrugated paper and then his writing board. He pinned a variety of photographs and drawings onto the walls and on a table by his side he kept a personal cabinet of curiosities including one of his own arthritic hip bones and a large ball made of used silver wrappers from chocolate bars. Dahl wrote without interruption every day in what he regarded as a sanctuary from the outside world…”

A Philosopher’s Hut in the Black Forest Mountains:

heidegger bookheidegger
Alex Johnson: “Was it the snow that attracted controversial German philosopher Martin Heidegger to his hut? Anybody who is unconvinced that working in a garden office can be life changing should read Heidegger’s Hut by Adam Sharr, in which the author looks at how Heidegger’s wooden hut near Todtnauberg in the Black Mountains of Germany is absolutely central to his philosophy and writings.”

Huck’s Hut: The Writing Shed Where Huckleberry Finn Was Born:

interior mark twain
When Mark Twain moved to Elmira in New York State in 1874, his sister-in-law built him an octagonal one-room shed studio, which Twain loved. Alex Johnson: “‘It is a cosy nest,’ he wrote, ‘with just room in it for a sofa and a table and three or four chairs….And when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lightning flashes above the hills beyond, and the rain beats upon the roof over my head, imagine the luxury of it!’ Twain wrote some of his most famous works in his shed including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Dylan Thomas’ Wordsplashed Hut:

dylan's sheddylans' desk
Dylan Thomas had a cliff-top writing shed on the Carmartenshire coast of Wales. Alex Johnson: “[Thomas added] an anthracite stove, bookcases and tables, and decorated it with photos and magazine cuttings of Byron, Whitman, W.H. Auden, nudes, items from Picture Post and long lists of words. In a typical working day Thomas would read, visit his parents, nip out for a drink at noon, then work and relax in what he called his ‘long tongued water and tree room on the cliff’, his ‘bard’s bothy’, and his ‘wordsplashed hut’ until 7pm.”

Michael Pollan’s Homage to a Little Cabin at Walden Pond:

pollan's hut
Taking inspiration from Henry David Thoreau, among others, author Michael Pollan set about designing and building a tiny book-lined retreat on his Connecticut property. His journey is told in the following book from the Land Library’s shelves:

pollan's bookshedworkingbeston cover
A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams, and here is the wonderfully informative (and, many times quoted here) Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution by Alex Johnson, along with Henry Beston’s classic The Outermost House.

Forget About the Nobel Prize, This is Good Enough for Popular Mechanics!

shaw & hut
George Bernard Shaw and his whirling dervish of a hut. Alex Johnson: “It had a revolving base which used castors on a circular track. The hut, at his home in Shaw’s Corner, Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, could thus be moved to improve the light or change the view (or indeed just for a bit of exercise). Spectaculary high-tech for its time, it also had an electric heater and a telephone connection to the house as well as an alarm clock to alert the Nobel prize winner to lunchtime.”

Finally, we wanted to share this passage from Alex Johnson’s Shedworking, so evocative of our desire for a room of one’s own, no matter what your age:

“Small spaces in general have a magical attraction on childhood….I loved spending time in the cupboard under the stairs of the first house I lived in as well as in the shed in the garden my parents helped to make using any old bits of wood lying around….I vividly remember the first time I stayed out there during a rainstorm, reveling in my spectacular luck at being able to read Tintin in my own little hideaway and not get wet.”

This post is part of an ongoing series inspired by the University of Colorado School of Architecture’s design work for Buffalo Peaks Ranch.

7 thoughts on “The Gift of Time and Space

  1. Alex & the folks at Shedworking — how nice to hear from you! As you can tell, the Land Library loves your book & site! (I was intrigued by the “Bookshelf” link on your home page — I’ll have to delve into that). THANKS again for your book, and I hope we can send you a photo of a Land Library hut someday soon! Jeff

  2. What a wonderful blog entry! Now I am wishing for a big snowstorm, and a cozy hut stocked with blank notebooks and ink-filled pens. . . Thank you.

  3. I’m thinking this explains a lot about G.B. Shaw–I always thought he was pretty ‘revolutionary’ in terms of his vision(s) of how things should be. 🙂

    But seriously–

    THanks for this. Not only is it interesting that there’s a pattern of behavior of going off to a cozy, separate space to work, but also, the idea of Twain and Shaw and Thomas as examples makes consideration of that pattern all the more intriguing.

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