Michael Pollan’s Writing House

Posted by Scott

Michael Pollan's Writing House

Michael Pollan's Writing House

Author Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and The Omnivore’s Dilemma) spoke at U.C. Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall tonight. If you haven’t heard of his books, you may recognize him from the recent film Food, Inc. — which I highly recommended seeing.

In one of his books, A Place of My Own, Pollan describes how he personally, with no carpentry experience, built this small structure behind his house in Vermont. This whole thing might be ringing a bell if you read the Linda Aldredge post, but remember her tree house is a real, fully livable home, isolated in the woods, in a tree. She definitely wins the battle of priciple, but Pollan gets the honorable mention for pragmatism. Although how many people just happen to have an acre of woods in their backyard? Or happen to own an acre of raw forest for that matter… I think this is an east coast thing, the woods always look amazing out there.

This “writing house” — as he describes it — is a great concept and I am willing to bet it’s an incredibly productive environment. I often find that working in the same space as I live presents unique challenges to motivation and focus. This seems like a cost-effective alternative to having different addresses for your working and living spaces.

How many of you work primarily from home? Do you find there to be a conflict between convenience and distraction in the home work environment? Comment

35 Comments Leave A Comment


grey says:

October 1, 2009 at 3:09 am

I find there is a definite correlation between work environment and productivity. Having home space and work space seep into each other definitely presents a lot of challenges as you’ve cited. I’ve found that for myself, this is definitely the case. The ability to isolate function to space tends to work a lot better for me. To bad NYC apartments don’t lend themselves to such things.

Reminds me of the dwelling plans ReadyMade Magazine used to sell, which someone has now kindly shared online. Might be of interest to someone looking to tackle this kind of a project:×17


Ray Drainville says:

October 1, 2009 at 3:09 am

Working from home, I sometimes find it difficult to shut out work completely –it’s always very tempting to reply to that last message, tweak that logo, try out that CSS technique, or–especially–read those news feeds.


RA_OUL says:

October 1, 2009 at 3:33 am

Working at home definitely presents some challenges that often affect creativeness, productivity, and concentration. I sometimes spend hours upon hours at my desk spinning in around the same concepts. What helps me is to move to another corner of the office for hours at a time; occasionally moving downstairs by the window to sketch ideas. Some of my other productive places are the downtown and Sac State library as well as the computer labs in the design building. I love Pollen’s creative shack by the way! I wish I had a place like that.


Josh says:

October 1, 2009 at 5:17 am

My current workspace is at a desk in my dining room. I have 2 children (1 year old & a 3 year old) who like to take anything they can grasp off of my desk and run away with it. I really need an office.

Aside from the kids, I find it to be really hard to get work done with the internet and television being right there as I work. It would be awesome to have a building like Pollan’s where I could just isolate myself and be able to think clearly for more than 2 minutes at a time. I guess it all boils down to self discipline, which is really tough.


Mark C. says:

October 1, 2009 at 7:10 am

As for myself, my biggest challenge with working from home stems from dealing with my girlfriend…who likes to engage me with meaningless chit chatter and/or play with our very vocal dog. And, especially when I’m on a creative roll, all this activity drives me NUTS!!!

To sum things up, I believe that it’s safe to assume that men require a certain amount of alone time, be it for work or not. And this little “writing house” provides the perfect escape. To me, his underlying message is loud and clear: “LEAVE ME ALONE!”


marc says:

October 1, 2009 at 8:15 am

I recently left my home studio for an Agency job (my morning commute went from 30 seconds to 40 minutes). I think having a home studio is the best way to go—already I’m making plans to escape back to my freelance life by next year. But I think having a backyard studio would be heaven. It’d help separate work and home life all that much more, but you’d still have all the perks of working at home (late night projects are a stone’s throw away, lunch with the family, consolidating expenses, etc).

Now I just need to rip down the kids swing set and build me a “play house”.


Nicholas says:

October 1, 2009 at 8:16 am

To respond question about owning acreage. Although I have never experienced east coast wilderness, I do encourage everybody to experience the open areas of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. It is absolutely beautiful, especially this time of year entering October.


Oliver says:

October 1, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Don’t get me started on the conundrum of working from home. Let’s be fair though, it definitely has its perks, but for me the addition of a wife (who also works from home) and 1 year old running amok make things a little tricky sometimes. I’ll be out back with my saw and timber, see you later.


zx says:

October 1, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Working in a place where no one will disturb you – perfect, but difficult for a freelance. Still… there are ways to achieve it (groups of freelancers renting an office and working there) with smaller amount of resources. No worse thing than someone wanting something from you when you get the ‘perfect design’ vision. Few things and the vision is gone.

Also – people who like nice things work much better in places that are nice. Beautiful workspace can raise the productivity and pleasure from working.


Hiller says:

October 1, 2009 at 1:25 pm

great article.
this is a great discussion given how many more people seem to work remotely. i have been combining home and work more and more(I work from home and occasionally squat at a clients office for somewhere quite), while challenging (extremely difficult with kids) it is also a good way to live close to the ground. not so much waste and you absolutely have to be focused. if not there is always the coffee shop for perspective.
keep up the great work on the blog it is appreciated.


Allen says:

October 1, 2009 at 2:25 pm

I used to live in a carriage house that was about the same size, but two levels. It was the coolest thing in the world.

Now I live in an un-dated atomic ranch that I’m renovating. It’s very distracting at times: “None of this is due today… Hmmm. I could really be working on veneering those doors…”

Actually – this [whole topic] is the tip of a huge iceberg in my life right now.


Ryan says:

October 1, 2009 at 2:38 pm

This reminds me of the Modular sheds/work-spaces I found in an article from Readymade:

And there is definitely a conflict between convenience and distraction when working from home. I recently moved to San Francisco, and have an apartment that is basically unfurnished. Not having a comfortable work area (and living area in my case), makes it hard to focus at times when it comes to work. In my efforts to curb distractions, I try to create to-do lists and do my best to prioritize the tasks. I’ve also tried to get away from the computer completely if I don’t have anything pressing, seems to help a little bit with motivation in that when I do come back to the computer, it’s for a specific task/reason. I think the ideal situation is to have live and work spaces, and your live/work mentality be separate, or at least not interfere with each other.


De says:

October 1, 2009 at 8:55 pm

I work at home (I do uni but I do all my work at home). I think it’s a good concept, but everything has downsides to it. I think it’s really hard to discipline yourself between working and resting, because as someone else said, it’s so easy just to go back and tweak little aspects.

I think a separate room from your living life would be the best, so just don’t have your bed in the same room as you work.


Ben says:

October 2, 2009 at 1:17 am

It is a bit of an East Coast thing (among other areas). Almost everyone I went to highschool with in Maine had acreage, and the same for my college in Massachusetts. I grew up on 32 acres of wilderness that we owned, and hundreds more surrounding it. No nice writing huts, though.


Garvin says:

October 2, 2009 at 10:22 am

You know the ability to work from home really varies – as a full time design student and a full time day time graphic designer in an office environment, keeping up with both of these “creativity vampires” really has proven to be difficult. There are days where I am in front of a computer from 7 AM until 9:30 PM, then I actually have the gall to sit in front of my laptop when I get home. This is draining – both mentally and creatively. For me, I’m not sure if a stand alone room will alleviate the inevitable. My attention needy chihuahua tends to understand eventually that playtime comes later. Maybe it’s something I lack and I’m just so used to the rush of working under pressure…the space is pretty cool though.


nick says:

October 3, 2009 at 9:26 am

I’ve always complained while living at home (I’m recently graduated and living with my family still), that one needs a proper environment to create. And be successfully productive… ie. I found that I completely butchered online classes that I was able to do at home, because I didn’t have a desk, in a classroom, with classmates and a teacher to force me to do nothing but absorb information and think. I can’t wait to have my own art/music space!


WAcreative says:

October 4, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Working at home is always a challenge. I’m a designer, photographer and avid gamer. When your home alone there is no one to watch you and boss you around.

“Well I never finished that level last night”, comes to mind sometimes and can cause a big disruption of attention to your work.

Also if you don’t have a separate work place (aka office) in your home it makes it almost impossible to feel like your at work. The atmosphere of your work environment is a big key to success if you ask me. And when there is no separation (due to living in a one-bedroom apartment) it makes working difficult.


rypat says:

October 5, 2009 at 7:32 am

if you like this, you would probably be interested in the work of Peter King, who leads workshops in Vermont on building “tiny houses”. basically its a boot camp for small scale framing and building with the goal of reducing the builder’s reliance on resources and putting priority on nature.

i don’t know if Pollan has had any exposure to these workshops, or if it’s just a Vermont thing, but that landscape seems like the perfect setting for this kind of minimal escapist dwelling – whether it’s for writing, or any other kind of work or relaxation.

if you get a chance, check out Peter’s site:

and here’s a video explaining the whole project:


Jérémie says:

October 5, 2009 at 7:00 pm

I work at home for my photography business. I dont even have an extra room in my appartement so I do all my editing on my desk in my bedroom. I find it really hard at times to seperate my personal life from work. There are tons of papers invading my desk!


Brad says:

October 6, 2009 at 7:09 am

I also work from home on the days I’m not teaching at a local University. I constantly beat myself up for not being as productive as I should be. I find myself being distracted by personal errands and to-do lists during “work hours”.

Maybe a little shed out back would do the trick… until my 2yr old wants to turn it into a fort.


Kent says:

November 10, 2009 at 12:32 am

I’ve worked and lived out of the same space for the last 6 years. My ‘office’ and ‘Musik Room of Rawk’ are in the same space. At least I’ve a room dedicated to this while living in a capital city.

It has been hard for me to draw a line between work, play & home life. It took a while to figure it all out. It is all to easy to ‘answer just that one email’.. and then it drags out for an hour. We’re planning on moving to a bigger place next year. I’ll definitely divide work from play.