Volume 17 • Issue 35 • Jan. 21 - 27, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Jennifer Weisbord

Harry Bruinius in the Village Quill on Franklin St.

Writers’ space opens in Tribeca

By Hemmy So

The writer’s life: isolated, contemplative and ripe for distraction. For many writers who don’t head into the office each morning, their apartments operate as venues for work, rest and play — the latter two often discouraging the former. A victim of this creative syndrome, freelance writer Harry Bruinius decided to establish a more inviting workspace for novelists, journalists, poets and screenwriters. The endeavor culminated in the opening of Village Quill, a loft space in Tribeca where writers can more productively practice their art.

The space occupies the second floor of a historic building at 106 Franklin St. glistening from a recent renovation completed almost entirely by Bruinius himself.

“When I came in, this was just a mess,” said Bruinius, who opened Quill this week. “There was conduit hanging from the ceiling, plaster over the bricks.” Coming from a family experienced in construction, Bruinius tackled the renovation project alone, occasionally hiring help for specific electrical and plumbing issues. In four months, he transformed the interior disarray into a sparkling room featuring exposed brick walls and a pressed copper ceiling reminiscent of late 19th century saloon décor.

While the physical space takes advantage of the building’s historical characteristics, the furnishings are unabashedly modern. Utilitarian IKEA desks line the walls, flanked by simple birch chairs and decorated only by small halogen desk lamps. Deep red felted panels separate each desk, providing privacy for each writer and helping to dampen noise in the loft. Each station has access to an electrical outlet and a broadband Internet jack, though wireless Internet access is also available. In addition to Internet access, Village Quill members may also connect to subscription-based services such as Lexis/Nexis and the Oxford English Dictionary Online — two resources normally too expensive for individual writers.

The cheapest membership option costs $109 a month, providing writers use evenings and weekends. The center is open Monday through Thursday 6 a.m. to midnight and Friday through Sunday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Behind the office space, a smaller room called the “Meeting Room” acts as a creative conference room. The room is the yin to the office space’s yang, providing a carpeted lounge area that holds a sofa, large conference table with ten chairs and three private workstations for conducting telephone interviews. The Meeting Room will also host writing classes, workshops, book readings and film screenings. But those working in the office space need not worry about excessive noise from the more communal Meeting Room. Bruinius used double drywall, insulation, acoustic tile and carpet in constructing the room, making sure to absorb as much sound as possible.

Despite these measures to ensure a quiet writer’s loft, its owner emphasized that he wanted to avoid a tomblike atmosphere. “It’s a cross between a coffeehouse and a library.”

While silence may not be golden and indie rock won’t be pumping through wall speakers, Bruinius still hopes that Village Quill will experience artistic reverb. He envisions a serious work environment tempered by increased foot traffic from people visiting the space to attend evening classes and readings and weekend art shows for local emerging artists.

“This will be a space for artists who can’t afford to show [in Tribeca],” he said. Although the Columbia Journalism School graduate had considered opening a writer’s space on the Upper West Side, he jumped at the chance to have a loft in Tribeca. A journalism professor at Hunter College, Bruinius heard word of the empty property from a former student who works in the film production studio upstairs. “I think this is a better space to integrate my mission to foster interaction between writers and visual artists,” he remarked.

Scott Brown, a staff writer at Entertainment Weekly, visited the space during an open house last weekend and appreciated the loft’s design. “It’s open and conducive to creative work. It’s not cluttered; it’s airy, and with those windows, it probably gets a lot of light during the day,” he said. “[Bruinius has] clearly thought about the space.”

Indeed, the inspiration for a communal writers’ space emerged from Bruinius’ solitary days at his apartment working on his forthcoming book about forced sterilization in America and eugenics.

“I had been talking to people about starting a business in a loft. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. The idea just evolved, and it evolved from being a freelancer,” he said.

“I can attest to the need for it,” said Brown. “I freelanced for a year before I was on staff and I got very little done at home. There are a lot of distractions. It’s hard to make a distinction between a place you call home and a place of industry.”

Kerry Sheridan, author of “Bagpipe Brothers,” said she will probably sign up for a Village Quill membership. “Writing is very isolated. It’s a very solitary profession,” she said. “It’s nice to be in a space where people are creative…. I thought it’d be great to be in a space where the community perpetuated that.”

In offering modern, spacious work stations, writing classes and community art space, Bruinius tried to distinguish Village Quill from other writers’ spaces in New York City such as the Writers Room at Astor Place and the Brooklyn Writers Space in Park Slope. Village Quill doesn’t have a waiting list. Currently the Writers Room has a six-month waiting list for full-time members, and the Brooklyn Writers Space has a three-month wait.

Prior to opening, about 15 people had expressed solid interest in becoming Village Quill members. Using flyers, listservs and word-of-mouth to market his new business venture, Bruinius wants to see how much interest the space will generate in its first month of business. Considering that the freelance writer financed the entire venture on his own partly using proceeds from his book advance, he can’t help but worry about the future of the Village Quill. But with a fairly steady flow of visitors at the loft’s open house last weekend and forwarded e-mails about the space landing in inboxes of writers’ and editors’ in-boxes, he may have no need to fret.

Like its peers, the Village Quill requires an application that asks for a resume, professional references and a serious interest in writing. Prior publication, however, is not a prerequisite for membership.

“The resume stuff shouldn’t scare anyone away. You don’t have to be a published writer,” Bruinius said. “If you want to have a space to get away from the kids for a couple of hours, even to write your journal, that’s okay.”

Those interested in using the space can sign up through the Village Quill Web site (www.village3quill.com) or call (212) 226-0442.

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