Objects of Desire: Building the Perfect Desk With Daily Rituals Author Mason Currey

Fifteen perfect accessories for the well-curated life.

Photograph by Victor Prado; Set Design by Todd Wiggins for Mary Howard Studio.

Fifteen perfect accessories for the well-curated life. Item credits below.

Let's just get this out of the way: I work in a closet.

Granted, it's a pretty generously sized closet—about five feet by six feet—with a built-in dresser and vanity and enough room left over to accommodate a small desk and a bookcase. The space isn't any smaller than your typical cubicle, albeit one with no natural light and no ventilation—and in which my wife and I also store all of our luggage.

Preparing to move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles last summer, I had entertained fantasies of something a bit more expansive. I dreamt of a book-lined study with sturdy file cabinets, handsome modern furniture, and just the right high-design tchotchkes on display—the kind of home office that I could never afford in New York but that seemed attainable in somewhat-cheaper L.A.

In the end, my real-estate fantasies collided with our budget, and I set up shop in the closet. And it's turned out to be kind of perfect. It may be cramped, stuffy, dimly lit, and, as all of the furnishings are about 30 percent too small for a person of my height, exceedingly poor in the ergonomics department, but I've gotten some great work done in there.


Photograph by Victor Prado; Set Design by Todd Wiggins for Mary Howard Studio.

Photo by Perry Ogden. Courtesy of the Estate of Francis Bacon.

In fact, I've come to suspect that the prettiest spaces are not always the most productive ones and that perfectly arranged offices can even hamper creative thinking. Researching my first book, Daily Rituals, which details the routines and working habits of great creative minds, I found a lot of anecdotal evidence to support this hunch. The painter Francis Bacon, for instance, worked in a famously chaotic studio strewn with paintbrushes, books, papers, broken furniture, and other detritus. More agreeable interiors stifled his creativity, he said. (After his death, Bacon's studio was relocated to a gallery in Dublin, where it's now open to visitors.)

Countless writers have produced great works in not-so-great environments. Vladimir Nabokov started the first draft of Lolita on a road trip across America, working nights in the backseat of his parked car on a small file box that served as a lap desk. Thomas Wolfe claimed that he could never find a chair or table that was comfortable for a man of his height (he was six feet six), so he usually wrote standing up, using the top of the refrigerator as his desk. Maya Angelou has said that she "can't work in a pretty surrounding," and as a result always rented a "tiny, mean room" in a hotel or motel to do her writing.

I could cite more examples, but you get the idea: Where you work, and the stuff that you surround yourself with while you work, turns out to be pretty low on the list of important considerations for a creative life.

I do think there's one exception, however, which is that a quiet workplace may be a necessity for some people—as it was for many of the figures in my book. Having a messy or uncomfortable work environment shouldn't hold anyone back, but having a noisy one has proved to be unbearable for many writers and artists.

Fortunately for me, my closet-office is as quiet as a tomb.

—Mason Currey is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. His first book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, was published by Knopf last April. Follow him on Twitter at @masoncurrey.

Photograph by Victor Prado; Set Design by Todd Wiggins for Mary Howard Studio.
Photograph by Victor Prado; Set Design by Todd Wiggins for Mary Howard Studio.

See what's on our desks at the Details office by following #ObjectsOfDesire on Instagram @detailsmag.

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Top photo credits:

1. Garrett Leight eyeglasses, $285; garrettleight.com. 2. Postalco document portfolio, $340; creaturesofcomfort.us. 3. Tau bottled water, $33 for a case of 12; aquamaestro.com. 4. Original Crown Mill envelopes, $12; orangeartstore.com. 5. Opal licorice, $4.50; shieurasia.com. 6. Zenith 548E stapler, $34; kaufmannmercantile.com. 7. Halfpops corn snacks, $4; elizabar.com. 8. Slice scissors by Karim Rashid, $25; sliceproducts.com. 9. Moore map tacks, $9; kioskkiosk.com. 10. J. Herbin ink, $9.50; shopwritersbloc.com. 11. Wrther Slight mechanical pencil and refills, $60 and $5; ipenstore.com. 12. Braun ET66 calculator, $49; ameico.com. 13. Giuseppe Dell'Era paper clips, $4.50; delleragiuseppe.com. 14. Anve business-card holder, $100; assemblynewyork.com. 15. Poketo agenda planner, $26; poketo.com.

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