One of my most satisfying experiences in graduate school has been the construction of a backyard cottage/shed/hut/tiny house in which to write my dissertation, known as “The Hermitage.” It took a large chunk of two summers to build and finish, but it has far more than paid for the time spent on it, in terms of increased productivity. It is beautiful, quiet, and cozy. It has no internet, hence few distractions. Plus, I built it myself. Every scholar should have one. Here are a few photos that may motivate you to fashion your own! For literary inspiration, check out Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own.
- The Hermitage began as a grassy corner of the empty lot next to our house. Amazingly, my wife supported the project from the first!
As in a major writing project, laying sound foundations was the most difficult part of the project. Hard to dig, hard to adjust, and, in my case, liable to be filled in by curious hands.
2. Here is the floor, resting on the foundations, with the team hard at work.
The building process was a great multi-generational family project. My father, uncle, and father-in-law all joined in. And a construction site is a perfect (aside from minor safety issues) place for little children to poke around and bang on things. Political science research is rarely so collaborative!
3. The basic structure in place, with an open trench for electrical lines.*
I had never built a building before this. I relied instead on books from the library and online tutorials for particular procedures. The best overview and guide that I found was Keep Out, by Lee Mothes. It walks you through every step up to the finishing stage. *Trenches are also extremely appealing to children.
4. The Hermitage in a structurally sound, but unfinished state.
It over-wintered like this, with plywood on the outside and insulation showing within. My first winter of study was more pentitential than it needed to be, since I rarely turned on the heater early enough for morning warmth. Now I use a timer.
5. Two views of the finished interior: front wall and back wall. There is a sleeping loft above.
6. The finished structure. My choice of siding was, as far as I know, unique. Slab wood, the rounded outside of logs that is left over after square boards have been cut out, is easy to find and very cheap. I used slab wood in a reverse board-and-batten configuration, with the rounded side of the wide, visible boards facing in. The small, in-between boards are the other way, with the flat side facing in. A very rustic but affordable way to make cedar siding!