Social distancing, travel bans, lockdowns: our thoughts have turned to home improvement. So let’s consider a learning space, a place to read and write, calculate and think. What’s needed?

Quiet. Not necessarily silence; some people’s best thinking is set to music. But uninterrupted; the dining room isn’t the place if it’s a family thoroughfare. In past centuries people even built a little room, a studiolo, inside a big one to make a study space.

Artificial light. A lot of learning is done at night. Moderately bright, not glaring, preferably moveable to shine on the particular task at hand; reading, writing, or typing are each different. Natural light if possible; a window can ventilate, and provide a useful (or inconvenient) distraction. On the other hand, there are good basement studies. (Spoiler alert: damp is the enemy of books, papers, and electronics.)

Flat surface: table or desk, with room enough for a laptop and other materials and equipment. Luxuries: a tiltable surface for reading, a lower surface for typing. Got space? A very big desk is easily created with two two-draw file cabinets and a hollow core door or sheet of plywood. Do-it-yourself varnishing.

Seating. An adjustable desk chair used to be an expensive luxury; now they’re cheaply available at any big box store. Many of the young and not-so-young prefer to read while more-or-less horizontal. A reading pillow (a cushion with arms) turns a bed into a lounge/couch/ sofa. Bean bags may be retro, but available and functional.

Books and case. School books, recreational reading; books accumulate, and should be conveniently available for ready reference. Include a dictionary: computers should spend time turned off; mobile phones may offer spelling and definition, but not the opportunity to browse surrounding words. Another dictionary, for a second language.

Storage. A plastic crate, perhaps with hanging file folders, will do for now. Paperless learning, like the paperless office, is still a dream, or nightmare. Teachers are fallible, school records imperfect, business records moreso, digital memories vulnerable. Essays written, thoughts recorded, contracts signed: keep a hard copy.

Notices. Bulletin boards and calendars are not obsolete (see previous paragraph).

Happy home improving.

David R. Jones’s big desk (file cabinets and plywood) is in the basement.

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