Monday, May 31, 2010

Reacher's Minimalist Roost
Crime writer Lee Child creates a home that his fictional hero might approve of

Below -Lee Child with some of his usually hidden books. Photo by Harry Zernike for The Wall Street Journal

Best-selling crime writer Lee Child admits to fantasizing about a life like that of the hero of his books, Jack Reacher, a possession-free maverick who travels from place to place and has no permanent address.

So if a button falls off his shirt, Mr. Child casts the shirt in the garbage, as he doesn't want to store a sewing kit. He doesn't cook, so he sees no need for pots, pans or ingredients. Mr. Child did draw the line at homelessness. "In principle if I could not have a home I wouldn't. But not having a home would be too difficult procedurally, going from hotel to hotel, the gap of three hours where you're hungry and tired," explained the 55-year-old author, whose series of Reacher thrillers has sold about 40 million copies.

So instead Mr. Child lives in a two-room apartment in the Flatiron district that's architecturally stark, wrapped in white and bereft of rugs, curtains, side tables or accessories. The entire left-hand wall—stretching from the white Corian kitchen counter along the living space and to the windows that open to a small balcony—is a plane of glossy white laminate cabinetry. Inside the cabinets are some 3,000 books, as Mr. Child believes books make a room visually chaotic and that displaying them is pretentious. The books are shelved randomly; Mr. Child said his photographic memory allows him to know exactly where each one sits.

The only furniture in the living area are two black Walter Knoll leather sofas where Mr. Child is often horizontal, thinking up plot twists or watching MSNBC and baseball on his Bang & Olufsen flat-screen. The source for color: A large Tom Christopher painting of a New York street scene looking down Fifth Avenue. The red traffic light in the painting is echoed by a red ashtray on the small balcony outside, where the view up Fifth includes Madison Square Park, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the Metropolitan Life clock tower.

"Every time I go there I want to come back and clean my apartment," says fellow crime writer Alafair Burke, a friend who lives a few blocks away. She says Mr. Child always laughs at things she has around her house, asking what she needs stuff for.

According to his brother, Andrew Grant, also a writer, Mr. Child (born Jim Grant) wasn't always neat: His room often had record sleeves, jeans and shirts strewn everywhere. But the New York apartment more reflects the way Mr. Child grabs onto an idea and pushes it as far as he can. "Everything he does, he does to the extreme," Mr. Grant says. "He's always had that side to him."

Extreme minimalism is easier for a fictional vagabond. Maintaining a nearly possession-less apartment has required more resources and effort.

Mr. Child bought the 990-square-foot apartment in this doorman building for $1.5 million in 2005. It then took 2½ years, $800,000 and interviews with 12 architects to satisfy his need for precision. "It's very hard to make nothing look like something," says Scott Ageloff of Ageloff & Associates, who ended up with the job. Mr. Ageloff adds that Mr. Child wanted something easy to maintain because he never thinks housekeepers do a good-enough job. (A smaller apartment in the same building is for sale for $819,000.)

For the full story including a slide show visit the WSJ.

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