The Cottage: A Womb With A View

I grew up in a house bustling with artists. We had extra bedrooms that my mother kept filled and a grand piano that was always in use. To this day she hands out her number to people she picks up at bus stops and airplanes and the rapid transit. But mostly, she’s lived with musicians who come from abroad to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music; young people who have been given scholarships for their studies, but no money on which to live.

My mother fills the refrigerator and her artists fill the house with extraordinary music.

The guests give her a community and a purpose. They cook and share food from their home countries. The house teems with color, chaos, diligence, fresh bread and jam eaten over the sink, long late after-concert meals, hours of serious practice, and hours of playful and spontaneous creativity. Over the years my mother has housed scenic designers, graffiti artists, modern dancers, painters, conductors, folk musicians, filmmakers, actors, singers, and of course many orchestral artists. When I was young I longed to be a guest in my own home. To be a part of this band of artists.

I grew up to become both an artist and to start a coop shared workspace. The Cottage is a lovely, light, tiny house in a small city where six of us work.IMG_1387resize

There are four rooms with places to work alone, see a client, shelve one’s books, lay out one’s index cards, eat together, talk, not talk, close the doors or keep them open. There is a porch to drink tea and a back deck to watch squirrels. We drink a lot of tea. While some have tried the Cottage and found it was not for them, others have been working here since the very first.

Men have asked to join, but then we would have to shut the door when we pee. For us, there is a very female vibe of weaving in and out, sharing and respecting, collaborating and focusing, that make the Cottage feel just right.rsz_finalresizeimg_1381

There are writing groups and doula groups; there are blogs posts, PhD theses, novels, and plays being written; there are charts on the walls, quotes on the fridge, rehearsals, and raucous meetings.  My mother floats in and out on her journeys, children stop in to have a snack and do homework, and a black cat comes for love.

Not surprisingly, my brother, an expat social psychologist living in Prague has also opened a shared workspace. “People are social animals and most of us rely on structured environments, social contact, external feedback, support and accountability as part of what helps us thrive.”

We may not have had the “structured environment” growing up in our family home, but the creative chaos gave us the passion to pursue it in our own lives.



Kate Bennis is a writer, actor, speaker coach, and psychotherapist. She lives in Charlottesville with her husband, two children and two one fish.




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