Coffee shops are fine for writing, but a writer should have a personal cloister too: a serene, solitary sanctuary where one can think, research and put words on paper (or the computer). My house has a den, but focusing in there has always been tough with the family running around, talking, watching TV, playing music, and doing all the other noisy things families do. My perfect writing studio would have a number of things: good natural and electrical lighting; plenty of outlets for a laptop, monitor, and such; a passive/active ventilation system; good insulation; a whiteboard for writing and organizing ideas; storage space for a few books and supplies; and, most important, a quiet, comfortable, uncluttered working environment.
If I was ever going to have such a place, I knew it’d have to be DIY project. We had an old storage unit at the side of our house that seemed perfect for the project (see photos 1 & 2 below). The exterior and the unfinished interior were in good shape, I knew how to swing a hammer, and I figured I could learn the rest from books and the Internet. I started the project by removing the barn-style door (photo 1) and cheap tiny window (photo 2), as well as the ventilation grates on the long wall (not pictured). I had to buy a reciprocating saw to cut holes for the replacement windows and door, and 2x4s to support them.
After hanging the new double-paned windows and a pre-framed door, I installed new exterior panels and trim (Photo 6), a ventilation blower (not pictured) and a solar-powered exterior light. I then painted the outside, which brought me to the moment of truth: water-testing the whole thing with the hose. Relief – it was watertight! Time to do the interior. I have little experience with electrical wiring projects, just enough to know it can kill you if you screw it up. An electrician wired the shed and connected it to our house’s electrical system. After that, I insulated the ceiling and walls, hung drywall, installed the wooden floor, added interior trim, painted, and put up the lights, switches and power outlets. I cleaned up an old desk a retired coworker gave me, and either bought or appropriated other furnishings from our house.
Photo 3 is a shot of the finished interior from the door. I’ve always liked the look of wainscot paneling, but thought it might overpower such a small space, so I installed it only beneath the two big windows. I trimmed the walls out with a chair rail and baseboard. To minimize distractions, I limited artwork to a poster of my first book. Photo 4 shows the desk, right next to the door. You’ll note the two swiveling ceiling lights in photos 3 and 4. I knew I’d be rearranging the furniture until I got it just right, and wanted the ability to redirect the light beams as needed. Three power switches are located next to the door (for ceiling lights, whiteboard/room lights, and ceiling blower). The shed’s new ventilation system clears all the air from the space four times a minute. So if I want to have a cigar in there – perhaps to celebrate publishing Hillari’s Head this summer – I’m all set!
Photo 5 shows the whiteboard. It’s called that even though it’s really frosted glass designed for the same purpose. I chose glass because I didn’t want to evoke the look of a classroom/conference-room. I also found plans for a fireplace mantle that was perfect for the erasable markers, once I added a lip to keep them from rolling off. Hooks in the wall help eliminate clutter. I painted the walls green (sage green, I think) because it’s a relaxing, neutral color. Of course, the light-colored floor and white ceiling reflect light in the shed, which enhances visibility and makes the space feel bigger.
The whole project took about nine months to finish. I wish I could tell you how much supplies and tools cost, but I didn’t keep good records. If you’re somewhat handy and patient, I think building a writing shed is the way to go. If you don’t already have a shed and don’t want to build one, buy a solid one with 2x4 framing so you have space to install proper insulation. And look for deals! For many months, I was constantly watching for sales on lights, materials, supplies and anything else I could use, and I’d adjust the design to accommodate those purchases. But I would not compromise on some things. For example, my shed’s double-paned windows, ventilator, shades and insulation increased the building’s cost, but keep the shed cool in the summer and warm in the winter (with a space heater).
This is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding projects I’ve completed. And having my own personal cloister has really facilitated my writing. Than you, Home Depot!
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