Building my dream studio
Part one of an inside look at my new studio
This is a free-for-everybody edition of the Tuesday newsletter. I wanted to tell all y’all about my year-long dream project: Building a brand-new poolside studio in my backyard!
Before I get started, heads up that tomorrow, Dec. 7 is the last day to order one of my books signed and personalized from Bookpeople in time for Dec. 25. I’ll be signing everything this weekend and will sign as many of my books as you buy! Buy a whole stack for the office if you want to and we’ll get you covered.
In the past dozen years or so, I’ve worked in spare bedrooms, garages, attics, and lofts. Curiously, I’ve found that almost nothing beats the kitchen table:
But I like being married and I want to stay married, so my mess needs a dedicated space. This is the first chance I’ve had to actually build the space I work in from the ground up.
For years, I prided myself on being fairly unfussy about my workspace. (I love how after Marc Maron hit big, he stayed in his garage.) I’m very influenced by what Steward Brand calls “low road” buildings: simple structures that are flexible and can change over time with the occupants’ needs.
Here’s a garage I worked in while writing Keep Going:
This space and many of my previous studios were inspired by the shipping container featured in Brand’s wonderful book, How Buildings Learn: lots of horizontal space for working and walls for storing books and tacking up images and pages.
I rarely work on anything larger than a letter-sized sheet of paper, so what I do could be done anywhere. But what I really love is kind of an odd combo: I like high ceilings but not too big of a footprint. I like to be right up under a window with a view and tons of natural light but I also like to be tucked in and surrounded by my stuff. Sort of like a cockpit in an airplane.
Of course, when you’re thinking about building a building, you are constrained by the building site. Real estate in Austin is completely insane — when we bought our current house, we were looking for a small bungalow on a big lot so we could have some fun in the back and put in a pool and a studio. (You can swim at least half the year in here Austin, Texas and the pool makes living here in the summer 200% more tolerable. I also do a ton of reading in the pool.) Here’s my notebook from 2 years ago:
As we were looking for a place, I eased my nerves by starting a series of tape and magazine collages called “A House for Meg.” One of the collages was A House for Me:
It is really spooky to me now how close that collage conjured what we ended up with. (See the image above.) It was good to have that vision on paper, because the pool took over six months and the studio took 14 months. (Pandemic. Freak ice storms and rainy seasons. Labor and supply shortages. Etc.)
Now is probably a good point to tell you that my wife Meghan has a master’s degree in architecture? So there was a lot of sketching involved. We went with a box around 200 square feet, with windows on 3 sides, most of them facing north for the good light. Here’s a picture of me right after the subflooring went in":
Building is very much like any other creative project: the structure looks really awesome after it’s framed because it’s rough but it exists and you get to imagine what it’s going to turn into. I loved this phase — the kids and I went in with sharpies and drew all over the paneling that we knew was going to get covered in insulation and dry-wall.
Then, like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly, things get sort of ugly and weird and you start to get nervous. What if it’s not as good as you imagined? One of my favorite moments was after the crew blew in insulation and you could really start feeling what the room was going to be like. I love the photo I took of Meg at this stage:
Here’s that same view months and months later finished out:
I’m running out of room in this email, so I’m going to stop there for now. If you have questions about the construction I didn’t cover, just ask in the comments. We used a local builder who specializes in backyard offices, but a good book about building a space with your own hands is Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own.
Next week is part two: a look inside my studio and how I use it. Part two will be just for paid subscribers, so if you haven’t already, please consider subscribing:
PS. Here’s a peak of the studio at night: