Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Where Writers Write: Denis Mahoney

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Dennis Mahoney. 

He is the author of FELLOW MORTALS (FSG 2013) and can be found tweeting as @giganticide and blogging at 

He lives with his wife, son, and dog in upstate New York.

Where Denis Mahoney Writes

The previous owners of our house loved lace, and artificial flowers, and anything pink or rose or violently maroon. They also loved television. I like TV, too, but running cable connections into five separate rooms shows serious commitment. We adored the house as soon as we bought it, but the cosmetic overhaul was a multi-year process, and we let our young son spread his Legos and trains all around a long TV room on the first floor while we tackled the rest of the house.

I work at home. When our son started school, that long disaster of a room seemed primed for renovation. We wanted a den or a library, a place for sitting with guests and relaxing in the evenings. It could double as my writing room. But it had to be cozy, and warm, and torn limb from limb to get it just the way we wanted.

the before, during and after photos

I was only beginning to attempt DIY projects at the time. I didn’t know what I was doing when I tore up the carpet to reveal the original hardwood floor. I didn’t know much about windows when I disassembled the frames, and stripped and stained the sashes, and reconstructed anything that couldn’t be salvaged. I’d never built a bookcase. I read a lot of handyman books and Googled often, and I learned that DIY is mostly about having the guts to tear stuff apart. At that point, you have to fix it. A missing window is the mother of invention.

Real wainscoting is expensive, so I attached plywood to the walls and trimmed it with baseboards and molding. The floor was in decent condition, its major stains easily covered by a rug. We found a colonial yellow shade of paint, creamy and warm, that accentuated the richness of the wood’s dark stain.

We needed fire. Winters are long in upstate New York and fire would give the room life. A pellet stove seemed the way to go: efficient, environmentally friendly, and easy to maintain. Then came the fun part—arranging and decorating.

We’d gotten a great free couch from a friend and placed it in front of the stove. My mother scored a terrific reading chair for thirty bucks at an antique store and reupholstered the cushions for us. I found another chair, small and elegant green, out on the street and carried it home on top of my head. There was a broad wooden table, another item discovered at curbside (we love garbage night in summer), that fit perfectly next to the couch and would eventually accommodate our dog’s kennel, which is just the right size to sit beneath it.

the before, during, and after

I built my wife a little oak wine cabinet for the corner, along with three bookcases: two for books, one for my old-timey CD collection. With a number of other minor pieces in place, all of which we’d gotten on the cheap from yard sales and the like, we added the finishing touches.

There’s a round-framed caribou picture over the couch, next to some old shoemaker’s augers, since I always enjoy the effect of three-dimensional wall decorations. My favorite decoration is the god of the stove. We wanted something shapely and organic over the pellet stove, which is squat and boxy. I stumbled upon a cast-iron face of Zeus at a local antique store for only fifteen dollars. It was spray-painted gold so nobody wanted it. All I had to do was steel-wool the paint away, reveal the underlying metal, and hang it with a heavy-duty wall anchor.

We’re constantly tweaking details, but the library is essentially in place and has, in fact, become the centerpiece of the house. Our son loves it. So does our dog. We sit in there with guests and spend our evenings with the fire. I do most of my writing on the couch during the day, and I’ve taken to writing my first drafts longhand. It was a key decision to put our computer in another room and keep the library free of distracting electronics. (The iPhones, it must be said, wander in a little too often.)

The one essential piece of electronics is the stereo, hidden in the corner so it blends, through which we’re able to wirelessly stream music from iTunes and, yes, play CDs. All told, it’s the best DIY project I ever did, and it’s made the entire house a better place to live.

Check back next week to see where Mark A Rayner writes. 

1 comment:

  1. I have always had a round table, I feel the same as you it just feels more conducive to intimacy, but my table does make out to an 8ft. oval for larger gathering. I highly recommend a round table with 4 leaves. Love mine