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

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.

How a Garage Turned Into a Seussian Studio