Make your own space

I have always had a love of architecture and design, but also carpentry, because while one can dream it, and draw it, I would also like realize that vision with my own hands. Over the years I have drawn, dreamed, and built a variety of tree forts wherever I found a little space: in patches of transitional land in suburbs such as Surrey, or in the cut line through east Van that eventually became the sky train route, looking down over play grounds, or the back of apartment buildings, or under fallen trees, but also in small towns in the interior of British Columbia, where one could drag a few scraps of lumber a few feet into the woods and be entirely on one’s own.
It was the idea of transitional, or wild spaces, I was drawn to. Places to sit in and peer out, to cocoon myself, and to do this with found objects, or using natural, or chance spaces and material, seemed, even as a child, the most logical and rewarding thing to do. The notion of walls and floors was really gestural. What fit, how one could pull out a nail or two from one end of a piece of wood and bang it in the other with a two by four, or a rock, that level of building. Windows were really holes. Bits of gyproc, or ends of shag carpet, or lino from garbage bins became walls and floor coverings. They were more assemblages than dwellings, but I loved every one of them.
Invariably these were taken over by teenagers. Once the tell-tale signs appeared (the smell of pot, empty liquor bottles, glass) the tree fort had to be abandoned. I want to write more about those more transitory spaces, but today I’m actually thinking of the leap between found and bought, or rather, more conventional means of construction.
I built my first real structure with my brother, at eleven. By real I mean that we used new materials, purchased with our allowances. We made a floor, leveled it in the spot we chose (completely surrounded by trees and on a mossy patch of sloped land), before we banged it into place. We then built the walls, lifting them and nailing, and finally the the roof. It’s a different experience entirely, once a measuring tape and a level is introduced: you can do a lot more with flush frames. We sealed it with plywood and then split our own cedar shakes. It had a loft for sleeping–though, because we were in bear country I was never allowed to sleep in it–and a front porch with a rail.  The model for this one was the Walton’s house.
These mini structures continue to fascinate, though now the insides are of particular interest: how to have each aspect of the dwelling multi-task. And if I were really an architect and not a poet, I might come up with something like this:
or this:
But what I realize now is, it’s not the living space that matters so much to me as the creative space. It’s the creative solitude, a space to work, but also a space to imagine. To that end, I have always wanted to build my own writing room, to lay my own floor, and build my own desk, and I have fantasized about building something like the above, on my roof. After all, I’m limited by my choice to live in a city.
In any case, this summer I had to give up my office, so I’ve been busy, with my friend David, a sculptor and carpenter, doing just that. It’s not in the woods, it’s not on the roof, it’s in my basement, actually, and from my window I can see, at eye level, a wide variety of shoes, strollers and dogs trotting past. Though, if I’m sitting in my arm chair and look up, I can see branches, leaves, and sky. This week I’m adding a small, narrow window box to my window, so it will change the street level experience, but it won’t cut out the noise, which I love, and haven’t had since my office in Brooklyn, which was at the front of our apartment, near the stoop, and allowed me access to endless snippets of conversation.
We’ve used chipboard for the floor. Laid it, then sanded and applied polyurethane. The sit-at desk goes up this week and it’s not unlike this one, though we’ve limited the chipboard to this desk top, and the floors, using sheet rock on the walls. I have various desk tops including one very nice, thick, wooden desktop, but it’s too deep, too conventional in size and shape. I want a long narrow desktop that can have several workstations going at the same time.
David made storage cupboards out of plywood, sanded so smooth the fronts are like cream. By adding a few small walls (we’re dealing with less than 300sq ft in total), and enhancing existing shapes, out of this dingy storage area we have actually made three distinct, and useful areas: a work area, with a standing desk at one end, a laundry and storage area in the middle, and a reading/library/desk area in the front, near the window. We’re not quite finished, but I’ve run out of time this summer, so while I have more plans for this space they’ll have to wait for next year; a good lesson for a writer: sometimes your project reaches a plateau and you need to let it sit until you take it to the next level.
Meanwhile, though I’m not quite moved in down there, already, the fact that we’ve laid the floor, makes a huge difference in my experience of the room. It reminds me that sometimes the work is about changing the existing structure. Or sometimes it’s about seeing a space/text in a new light. Sometimes when we think we’re finished a work we’ve only just gathered the materials to start…if I had it to do over again (yup, not even finished and I’m thinking that),  I might have had a concrete expert come in and re-do the floor and gone with that, adding floating walls. I might have used tinted plexiglass for the roof, and put lighting behind that so the whole ceiling glowed. I might have used found wood for the dividing walls instead of the sheet rock, etc. There is always a new way to think about and do everything.
Every time I take a step in my new office I am aware of the labor that went into this space. I feel the potential of it. I don’t know how it will evolve, but I know that it will, and I love that it’s shifting, not fixed, like the rest of my living area. And somehow, that difference makes me eager to spend time there, enjoying the way it is now yes, but also looking forward to how it will change. Oh, yes, and what work I will produce inside this new space.
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