How Two Upstate Poets Turned Their Garage Into a Seussian Writing Studio

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Haffenden House was designed by Jon Lott, a principal of the Brooklyn-based firm Para Project.
Haffenden House was designed by Jon Lott, a principal of the Brooklyn-based firm Para Project. Photo: Courtesy of Jon Lott/Para Project

When poets Bruce Smith and Jules Gibbs first approached architect Jon Lott about transforming their semi-attached Syracuse garage into a studio, one of their initial requests, Lott recalls, “was for a very big bathtub — a bathtub they could write in.” With this rather unusual directive, Lott knew his clients might be up for something slightly off-kilter, so he created the award-winning and blog-stirring Haffenden House, an almost-Seussian three-story structure that looks like a hand-drawn rectangle dropped in the middle of a suburban neighborhood of clapboard Dutch Colonials. Lott, a principal of the Brooklyn-based firm Para Project and a design critic in architecture at Harvard, cites the 1972 Ice House, by Gianni Pettena, one of his professors, as inspiration: “Pettena’s Ice House was kind of a comfortably resting misfit,” he says, “a great blend of foreign and familiar.” Lott carved out irregularly shaped windows and covered all but two windows of the front façade in three-millimeter-thick Atex fabric — fiberglass mixed with silicone — that allows light in but blocks the view out, so the bards could feel secluded but not smothered. The ground floor is a carport, the second is the tub room surrounded by wall-to-wall poetry books and a window facing the backyard, and the top floor is a curved, felt-lined reading room. As to whether this is Lott’s most radical project to date, he pauses before answering: “Well, yes, certainly — at least so far.”

*This article appears in the August 10, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.

Photo: Courtesy of Jon Lott/Para Project

The Second Floor

The library is filled with poetry books; the custom-cast tub blends seamlessly into the polished concrete floor. Both have radiant heating.

Photo: Courtesy of Jon Lott/Para Project

Rear Exterior, Looking In

The curtain can be drawn for privacy and is made from material similar to the façade’s.

Photo: Courtesy of Jon Lott/Para Project

The Reading Room

The curved, bowl-shaped reading room is lined in a soft, thick felt over padding, so it feels like sitting in a cloud. The gold-leaf ceiling, Lott explains, is “semi-reflective, so it creates the impression of a spherical volume above.” The room also has pillows: “It’s basically a giant bed.”

Photo: Courtesy of Jon Lott/Para Project

The Stairs

Lott created a gap in the staircase leading to the reading room to mark the separation between the two floors. “You also get a little view to the outside,” he says.

Photo: Courtesy of Jon Lott/Para Project

The Section Model

Shows all three stories of the house: the carport, the library on the second floor, and the curved reading room on the third floor.

Photo: Courtesy of Jon Lott/Para Project

View From the Sidewalk

The writing studio is adjacent to the owners’ house.

How a Garage Turned Into a Seussian Studio