Inside the creative home studio of a puppeteer-novelist


A fire roars in the fireplace and sprays of bright red frost adorn a vase on the decorative fireplace. The smell of hot cider wafts through the air. What storybook scene from the Victorian era did I step into on that cold, gray day in late November? This is the home of Hugo Award-winning author, audiobook narrator and professional puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal, a spacious and stately 1913 apartment in the Ukrainian village that she shares with her winemaker husband, Robert, and their two cats.

“In 2012, we moved from Portland, Oregon, to Chicago for my husband’s job and were looking for somewhere comfortable and familiar,” says Kowal, 47. “Ukrainian Village was [described online as] closest to Portland [neighborhood] from Chicago. And it has, in fact, been very similar to that. She and her husband rented the apartment without seeing it and fell in love with its stained glass windows, dark wood beams and built-in features. “We were just looking for a place with trees, hardwood floors, a gas stove, and quiet,” she says. “We sent a friend here to see it, and he looked around, went through our checklist, and emailed us and said, ‘This is the nicest apartment I’ve ever been in. summer in Chicago. Rent it now. ”

The living room1 credit

Most rooms in the house are dedicated to some sort of creative project. In Kowal’s sewing room, just off the living room, she’s busy working on a blue silk Regency dress (think Jane Austen) and a polar bear costume for a children’s theater in Iceland. The living room, meanwhile, houses the couple’s books and old typewriters. “When I met Rob I had a typewriter, singular, and he had a typewriter, singular, then we went to a yard sale together and found a third typewriter,” Kowal explains. “As soon as you have three of something, it becomes a collection.”

One of Kowal’s puppets1 credit

In the months leading up to their wedding, they discovered that all of their conversations had something to do with wedding planning, and it had become overwhelming. “What we did was establish one of the typewriters as a bridal typewriter, and it had red and black ink. If any of us had a question – he was the ink red and I was black ink – we would put it in our color, type in the question or thought, then the other person could go and look at it This meant you only had to do wedding business when you were in the right frame of mind. It was really nice. Suddenly people started giving them more typewriters – “That was before the hipsters discovered them”, she says – and now they have nearly 20. Kowal doesn’t recommend starting a similar collection. “Moving around with typewriters is a really bad idea. Dusting typewriters is really horrible.”

One of Kowal’s old typewriters1 credit

A bookshelf in the master bedroom houses copies of Kowal’s many novels—Shades of milk and honey, Glass Glamor, Value and Vanity, and several others, while the back porch serves as his puppet studio, aka “the dusty area.” “That’s where I have my bandsaw, my drill, my belt sander and that kind of stuff,” Kowal says. “People in modern America tend to view puppets as sesame street, but puppets have this very long tradition, and many of them are made of wood, fiberglass or papier-mâché. She is currently building sci-fi type puppets for Chicago’s House Theater production of diamond dogs by Alastair Reynolds.

The sewing room1 credit

Ultimately, her home is a reflection of a multifaceted career. “A lot of times when people talk to me, they’re like, ‘Wow, you do so many different things,'” Kowal says. “But I feel like I only do one thing: tell stories. And I happen to have a few different mediums that I use to tell stories – puppets, prose, costumes … My job is to have a daydream and use any means to communicate that daydream to you. v


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