A Space of One's Own

Famed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns calls his one-room retreat "the only thing in my life that's really been a folly." It's unheated. Without electricity. Unfurnished, except for a single Windsor chair. And it's small -- four paces separate the floor-to-ceiling, triple-hung windows, each one oriented to one of the four major compass points.

The simple brick pavilion stands on a grassy knob in an apple orchard in Walpole, N.H., behind Burns's 1820 clapboard farmhouse. Close by is the barn that's home to Florentine Films, his film company, which swells from 7 full-time employees to as many as 40 on a major project like Baseball or Jazz.

Burns says of the pavilion, "I use it to get away from the ringing phones, to be alone. If I'm there, everybody knows I'm not to be disturbed -- unless my children call. I'll read, write on a legal pad, maybe a speech that I have to give. I often go out [at sunrise and sunset] and watch what Emily Dickinson calls the far theatricals of day."

The cost: about $35,000. The design: borrowed from Monticello, the home of his idol, Thomas Jefferson. Burns built the structure in 1993 with proceeds from The Civil War, as a step-in, functional tribute to the subject of one of his upcoming documentaries. "To the millimeter," he says, "this is Jefferson's garden pavilion" -- even to the filmmaker's demanding eye. After using a shot of the Monticello pavilion to cap the opener of the Jefferson documentary, Burns realized, "I could have taken a picture of mine at sunset, and no one would have known the difference."

Copyright © 2002 John Grossmann

The Inc Life

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