Explore a better way to work – one that promises more calm, clarity, and creativity.

You Are Where You Work: More Examples of Fantastically Deep Working Spaces

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about three writers who custom-built work spaces to help them go deeper with their craft. In response, many of you sent more examples of fantastic deep work spaces. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites, as the more I dive into this idea of “method working,” the more appealing it becomes…

David McCullough’s Cabin


(Image from Reason and Reflection.)

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, it turns out, writes his biographies in a eight-by-twelve cabin on the property of his Martha’s Vineyard farm. He calls it his “World Headquarters.” Supposedly, he once quipped, “nothing good was ever written in a large room.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln Library


(Image from the Wall Street Journal.)

Not to be outdone, another Pulitzer-winning historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, wrote much of Team of Rivals at her Concord, Massachusetts home, in a library holding over 1000 books on the former president.

Hans Zimmer’s Gothic Studio


(Image by Trey Ratcliff.)

The movie composer Hans Zimmer built a Gothic/Victorian studio that perfectly matches his style of brooding crescendo.

Mahler’s Hut


(Image from Alex Ross.)

And the composer Gustav Mahler did much of his great work in a collection of three huts he built to escape the city noise. The one pictured above, facing the water, is my personal favorite.

23 thoughts on “You Are Where You Work: More Examples of Fantastically Deep Working Spaces”

  1. I read your book, “So good, they can’t ignore you”. I got a question. You say skills, not passion, is required to become great. But to acquire those skills, one has to work hard, right? What I think is, if one keeps doing something out of curiosity and interest, and keeps on learning, he will acquire skills. For example, consider Sachin Tendulkar. He is a Legendary Cricket player. He started playing cricket from his childhood. When all of his friends were enjoying the day, he used to play cricket. He thus acquired some hardcore skills in cricket. But what I feel is, he didn’t force himself to play cricket. He practiced hard because that his interest and love for the game made him do so. I’m eager to know your views on it.

    • This is what he said in his book and you are still doing that!!

      I love Sachin and I’m from your rival country(guess..)
      But the thing is that he was good all the others also follow thier passion, say Raina or even Dhoni then why is there one Sachin?
      Because He was SO GOOD.
      Hope you got it

        • Liking or enjoying something is just a small part of success (like the tip of the ice berg)
          Just because you enjoy something , doesn’t mean it’ll guarantee success. Nor does it imply that your road to success will be smooth sailing and fun.
          What makes Tendulkar different from other cricketers is not his love for cricket , but the number of hours(and i am pretty sure not all of them were pleasant), that he put into training and perfecting his skills.
          Or in other words …irrespective of your love for your job , the only way to gain recognition, is to work towards honing your skills the point where people can’t help but notice how fantastic you’re at your job!

    • I’m an artist in 30, and quite confident about my artistic skill. I can say confidently right now that creating art is my ‘passion’ or it is what I love to do, or what I feel comfortable. Like many other artist out there, I used to believe that I love art because I have ‘passion’ about it.

      B..But where is that passion came from?
      I think back and found that answer. (Thanks to Cal’s book that sparks my thought)

      My mom enrolled me for children’s art school at around 5.
      Being so young and quiet, I don’t even think about that I like it or not, I just learned. I continued to learn art on the weekend for several years, participated in many art contest, become that student that have artistic talent in class, that everyone need you to draw something for them. Of course, my mom still support me to continue to take art courses once in a while. Though even in my 20, I still don’t know that art is my ‘passion’ or not, I just did it because I feel comfortable about it. That’s all.

      But that is the key of this story:
      The comfortable feeling I got everytime I draw,
      The feeling that art is the thing that get me ‘in the zone’ or ‘flow’,
      The feeling that art is my ‘passion’,

      It’s all because I’m GOOD at it, due to 24 years of practices. (I know that one shouldn’t brag oneself about being good, but I just want to illustrate the example)

      When you are good at something, you start to like it, then love it, and you don’t feel ‘force’ about it, because it is easy for you to create good works now.
      When things that you create are good, you feel accomplished, you start to like what you do, and you want to do it even more. That’s the beginning of ‘passion’ But it takes time to become good, and a lot of people quit it too early.
      I think that’s what Cal means in his book.

      I also think that anything can be your passion, if you spend time with it long enough, and become good with it.

      On a side note, my mom also brought me to kid’s music school too (I learned electone), but we didn’t have money to learn both art and music so we have to drop music and I cannot play anything till today.

      But I asked myself,
      what if I didn’t stop learning music, and still learn and practice music till today? (20+ years of practice)
      Will it become things I like, like art?
      Will it become my another passion?
      Well, I don’t know, but I’m certain that I will have some musical skill with me, able to play some good music, and begin to love it, too.

      One’s Passion is like Nature + Nurture. I think you like certain activity because it ‘click’ with your personality(nature), but you also got it from a lot of practice (nurture) along the journey too.

      Being an adult sometimes make us think ‘too much’
      But the plus side of this thoughtfulness and experience is, you might have a glimpse of what you like and don’t like, or what click with your personality or personal values.

      You then keep on doing that thing, whatever it is, long enough, and become good at it,
      THAT thing will turn into passion one day.

    • I also thought about it when reading the book, you’ll love what you do if you’re good, but to be good you need to already love or at least enjoy doing it in a certain way, kinda like a catch 22.
      The book doesn’t address the fundamental question of how people get off their seats to actually go through the stuff, it just says it’s very difficult (no shit Sherlock…). This fundamental questions is so tough that most books just ignore it, they talk about tips and strategies already assuming you have the balls to go through all the work.

      • Pick a discipline/subject (see Cal’s lecture at the World Domination summit – its like flipping a coin) and start slow – focus on the first exams. Do very well in those exams, and slowly your confidence and ‘passion’ for the subject will start to grow. How to study for those exams? Check out Cal’s prev blog posts, and look into the concept of ‘Deep work’

    • Good question.

      Re-read the section titled “The Argument from Pre-Existing Passion.” It notes that evidence suggests that individual’s passion for a topic snowballz along with his or her skill. That is, though they end up quote passionate about a given topic, this passion did not exist with this intensity before they began the process of career capital acquisition.

      In Chapter 2, I also note that athletes and musicians are not generalizable case studies when trying to understand the role of early interest in career success.

      • But why Cal? What’s so different between the passion of the musicians and others? Why does it work only for them? I can’t get the answer from the book. Whenever I recommend this book to my friends, they come up with something like,”It worked for Sachin Tendulkar. It worked for A.R.Rahman. Why won’t it work for us?” I really can’t reply to them, and I get confused within me. Please help.

  2. An exception to this rule is John Von Neumann. From Wikipedia:

    “Von Neumann did some of his best work blazingly fast in noisy, chaotic environments, and once admonished his wife for preparing a quiet study for him to work in. He never used it, preferring the couple’s living room with its television playing loudly”.

  3. I don’t agree with nothing good was ever written in a large room. I usually walk back and forth across the room to make my mind clear and make the brilliant ideas come to me. I need a room even bigger than the one I currently have.

  4. This blog post is very “slow movement,” because writing is a long process..I am not sure my comment add anything to your thoughts. I hope I am not trolling.

  5. Just mentioning, all these places seem to be their homes, and there’s actually research being done that people are more creative in their own home, office or personal place.

    + Cal, your favorite spot is the last one… There’s a rather quirky-sounding book called “Blue Mind,” on how being around water can make us feel more connected to things. It’s not published yet, but I’m waiting with excitement 🙂

  6. I would love to have this luxury, but I have a small cottage and its filled with my 3 small children. I have found that I can work in the same room as them whilst they play up to a point. It makes me work harder to focus and so I’m less likely to flick onto the internet and a spiral of distractions.

  7. Thanks for the links to my Wordpress blog, Reason and Reflection, in your post on writer’s “quarters.” Apparently the huge up-tick in traffic to my site is, at least in part, related to your mention of my post on David McCullough and his tiny “world headquarters.”

    I have decided to follow your blog, given that you, like me and Mr. McCullough, are intrigued by the concept of “excellence” and how to encourage it. I detect some parallel interests!

  8. My personal favorite is: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln Library. I could read, write and conduct research endlessly in there 🙂 Thanks for the inspiring post Cal. I shared it on my fb pagge.

  9. Pingback: Foundr

Leave a Comment