Last week I shared with you the exteriors of some famous Romanian writers’ houses, but it’s much more difficult to show you what it looks like inside. Most of the houses were nationalised and converted into schools or other public buildings. Even the ones that were transformed into museums had little of the original furnishings left. So I have had to include a few writers from elsewhere to make up a decent number of writers’ studies or libraries. What strikes me is how bare and functional most of them are. Clearly, a fancy location does not mean better output!
Here is just a handful of the many examples I could have picked. However, it might be worth mentioning that more recent writers would have lived in blocks of flats and therefore have a less attractive backdrop for their creativity.
I’ve featured quite a few writers’ homes in my Friday Fun series, and occasionally even featured some other celebrities. Here are a few old favourites.
Celebrity homes in Switzerland https://findingtimetowrite.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/first-friday-fun-of-the-year-2016/
Writerly homes in France https://findingtimetowrite.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/friday-fun-more-writers-homes-in-france/
An international selection of writers’ homes https://findingtimetowrite.wordpress.com/2017/04/21/friday-fun-more-writers-with-magnificent-homes/
More French homes to swoon over https://findingtimetowrite.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/friday-fun-homes-of-french-writers/
Some of these gorgeous homes no longer exist https://findingtimetowrite.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/friday-fun-abandoned-pulled-down-and-restored/
I thought I had already shown you most writers’ homes in France, but it turns out I’ve barely scratched the surface. So here are some more, plus an extra one a little further afield!
I had the great good fortune of visiting St Mary’s University in Twickenham on a sunny day, which allowed me to take a walk through its lovely campus and visit its next-door neighbour Strawberry Hill House: indeed, there is a door leading from the wing of one to the old building of the other.
It was the summer house built to house the art collection of the extravagant and eccentric Horace Walpole, politician, art historian and writer. He was not all that rich when he acquired a plot of land with a cottage and a nice view over the River Thames in Twickenham, but he had very strong ideas about what he wanted to create: an architectural folly to entertain guests who would come upstream to visit him, a backdrop for his legendary literary and artistic parties.
He had a passion for the Gothic style and pioneered its revival a good half century or more before the Victorian revival of it. He even pioneered it in literature, starting a new genre: the Gothic horror with The Castle of Otranto. As he got richer, he kept adding another wing or redecorating the house, and of course he spent a fortune on his collections. Not just objects of artistic value but also of historical importance – for example, the clock that Henry VIII gave to Anne Boleyn on their wedding day or Cardinal Wolsey’s scarlet cardinal hat. Before visiting, I had the impression that Walpole made it up as he went along and created a mish-mash of styles without much thought and planning. But I discovered just how meticulous a historian he was and how accurate all his reproductions were (of wallpaper and silk hangings for example).
And it was not all about extravagance. He was also astute at spotting a bargain – for instance, most of the stained glass in the windows was reclaimed from Flemish salvage yards. Unlike most private collectors, he was not about keeping it all for himself, but saw Strawberry Hill as a cultural centre to be shared with others. He started a printing press, and exhibited most of his possessions like a museum.
He had a wonderful life surrounded by all his favourite objects, showing them off to visitors, living exactly as he pleased. But the sad coda to this tale is that when he died without an heir, his entire collection was auctioned off. Fortunately, for a short time only, much of it has been brought together again (on loan or reproduced) and until the 24th of February you can see Strawberry Hill as its owner wanted it to be seen in the Lost Treasures exhibition.
The view over the Thames has been lost, sadly, and the gardens border onto St Mary’s athletic track, but what other garden has got a shell-shaped seat with a whole book dedicated to it?
This week I am wandering around Europe with famous writers, while next week I plan to go a little further afield.
We can never get enough of the homes and workplaces which inspired famous writers, can we? Here are some truly enviable ones from all over the world.
I’ve presented quite a few homes of writers and artists in France, but what about some homes for English-language writers in the US and UK? I don’t want to neglect Africa, Australia or New Zealand, so if you know of any noteworthy houses there, be sure to let me know in the comments section.
Finally, in this one you can actually stay overnight courtesy of AirBnB.
There is an enduring fascination with the writing spaces and rituals of famous writers. Perhaps by mimicking some of their surroundings or habits, some of the talent might rub off on us!
Good fortune and good writing spaces are clearly wasted on some people…
In my next Friday Fun, I will show living authors and some more non-English ones.
Some of them belong(ed) to writers, some of them are being used for writing workshops and retreats. All of them will predispose you to a bookish reverie…
Finally, the Michalski Foundation in Switzerland has been busy building different versions of treehouses by renowned Swiss architects. You can apply for a writing residency programme in one of those treehouses, very close to where I used to live (talk about bad timing for leaving the area!). Here are more details on how to apply (deadline is Sept. 30th, hence a Thursday rather than Friday Fun posting, to give you time to apply).