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Writers’ Retreats: Homes of Great Authors

These estates come with a literary pedigree to match their beauty and grandeur

Each year, millions of visitors from across the globe arrive in the small town of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England, to see the half-timber house where William Shakespeare was born and raised. Inside, historic interpreters wearing 16th-century costumes tell visitors what daily life was like there when Shakespeare was growing up. All around them are period furnishings, pewter and pottery, and the leather and glove-making tools that Shakespeare’s father used to ply his trade. The house is startlingly ordinary on the inside, which makes it all the more remarkable that it sheltered the family of a genius who reshaped the literature of his time and invented more than 1,700 new English words that we still use today. Describe something as “bedazzled,” “fashionable,” “new-fangled,” or as having “swagger,” and you are quoting the Bard.

Shakespeare’s childhood home is managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, so his devotees may only visit it. Shakespeare fans need not despair, however. The upcoming Christie’s sale of “The Four Folios” on May 25th features a set of manuscripts dating from 1623 to 1685 that experts count as some of the most important in literary history. Had they been lost, it’s likely that 18 of Shakespeare’s plays would remain unknown today. 

Numerous estates around the world set the stage for literary inspiration as the former abodes of great authors and poets—and also allow today’s writers or book lovers to make themselves perfectly at home. 

The Orchard
Newport, Rhode Island

This 1873 estate in Newport, Rhode Island, was designed by a French architect at the request of the city’s mayor, Colonel George R. Fearing. With plans in hand, Fearing engaged the Newport firm of George Champlin Mason & Son to build what he would call The Orchard. Inspired by the stately proportions of a French château, the grand edifice is complemented by a reflecting pool and vast landscaped grounds that make the property resemble the setting for an English mystery novel. Bestselling author Gloria Nagy has lived here with her husband, Richard Saul Wurman, founder of the popular TED conference series, since 1993. The author of numerous books including House in the Hamptons (1990), Nagy is known for her subtly satirical stories that would have been referred to as “novels of manners” during the period when The Orchard was built. A keen social observer like Edith Wharton and Jane Austen before her, Nagy has made her perch in Newport a source of inspiration in an exclusive East Coast enclave.

New York Story
Waverly Place, Greenwich Village

For New Yorkers who walk the streets of Manhattan thinking about the wit and social commentary that emerged from the pens of Edith Wharton and Henry James, there’s no better place to draw a bit of Gilded Age inspiration than Greenwich Village. Here on Waverly Place, an expansive residence with over 10,000 square feet of living space was one of the neighborhood’s great literary salons in its day. This seven-bedroom townhouse was the home of Anne Charlotte Lynch, a writer, artist, and socialite who held weekly receptions for the most celebrated thinkers and personalities of her time. Guests included writers Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Herman Melville as well as sculptor and Statue of Liberty designer Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and industrialist Andrew Carnegie. It has been said that Edgar Allen Poe debuted “The Raven” at one of Lynch’s gatherings. Recently renovated and updated, this extraordinary residence now boasts an interior that displays the clean lines and subtle color palette of a modern home while its historic exterior retains its intricate period detail. Featuring a light-filled dining room, large roof deck, and beautifully appointed living room, it remains a perfect setting for gatherings of great minds.

Kerrow House
Inverness-Shire, Scotland

A historic hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands dating from the 1770s was home to famed Scottish writer Neil Gunn during the second half of the 20th century. One of the key figures in the Scottish Renaissance literary movement of the 1920s and ’30s, Gunn wrote more than 20 novels, most of which take place in and around the picturesque region. As part of his commitment to celebrating his Scottish heritage, the author chose to live in a place rich with the kinds of stories he wanted to tell. His most popular works include Highland River (1937) and The Green Isle of the Great Deep (1944). Today, his former residence known as Kerrow House is a bed and breakfast, though it could easily be turned back into a private home. The estate with two guest cottages and two chalets is surrounded by idyllic Highlands countryside on the banks of the River Glass. The river provides excellent trout fishing, and the grounds have pony paddocks and an extensive network of trails for riding and hiking.

The Carlyle Mansions
London, England

Built in 1886, the Carlyle Mansions on Cheyne Walk are affectionately known as the “Writers’ Block”—not because they stifle creativity, but because they may well enhance it. Numerous famed authors have lived here over the years including T.S. Eliot, Ian Fleming, Henry James, and Erskine Childers. The building is located just behind a lush urban garden near the major shopping thoroughfare of King’s Road. An exceptional four-bedroom apartment in the Carlyle Mansions offers views of the River Thames, two large reception rooms, and a renovated kitchen designed for entertaining. 

Rocky Pasture
Kennebunkport, Maine

Kenneth Roberts wrote about his native New England in his historical novels Arundel (1929) and Rabble in Arms (1933), both of which explored the American Revolution, and Northwest Passage (1937) about the French and Indian War. In 1957, he received a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation “for his historical novels which have long contributed to the creation of greater interest in our early American history.” In Kennebunkport, Maine, the author’s secluded, five-bedroom estate Rocky Pasture is surrounded by pristine forested countryside. Rocky Pasture is a Colonial Revival-style oasis on 24 verdant acres that provide a welcome retreat from modern life. With a completely renovated interior, the home overlooks a lily pond where blue herons come to fish, and its many windows offer views of the pond and grounds.