| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter LinkedIn RSS Feed


Writers Room DC quietly aims to fill a void

Alex (left) and Charles Kareilis, founders of a space for D.C.'s creatives


A pop of color

Cozy spaces

Peace and quiet

Within lies inspiration

The quiet at Writers Room DC is palpable, which is just how owner Charles Karelis likes it. The unassuming space on the fifth floor of the Wisconsin building in Tenleytown boasts 1,150 square feet of near silence that members can access 24/7 for roughly the cost of two lattés a day. 
It's a price that member Fernando, a local writer, is happy to pay. He estimates that he spends between four and six hours a day in the "quiet room," as Karelis calls it, working on nonfiction and a memoir. Fernando points through the large windows overlooking Albemarle St. to his gym a few blocks away. "I used to have a gym at work [to go to] for free. I never went. Now, I pay for a gym. I've been going every day."

In a way, Karelis's business concept is similar. Sure, writers can write at home. They have creature comforts there. But distractions can easily turn a motivated writer into a champion game player or the owner of the cleanest house on the block.  If they pay for a distraction-free space, they're going to use it.

"There are distractions for writers who write in public places," Karelis explains. "At the coffeeshop, people are crawling over you. And you can't leave your laptop when you want to go to the bathroom. We want to offer an affordable alternative for writers who are looking for a distraction-free environment."

Even though writers want a space free from distractions, those who write in public are seeking some sort of community.
"People like the presence of other writers," Karelis says. "It's like the gym. They like to be around other people. Motivation is contagious."
"It's like the gym. They like to be around other people. Motivation is contagious."

While the concept of Writers Room DC is not new—there are writers' rooms in New York, L.A., and Boston, among others—the space is the first of its kind for the DC area. Other organizations have tried to launch dedicated writing spaces in the area (Syntax DC in 2009, for example) but have not met with much success. 

Karelis, a lifelong academic who taught at Williams College in Massachusetts and George Washington University, was sitting in Starbucks with his son, Alex. They knew they wanted to collaborate on something, but they weren't sure what that "something" was. As he glanced around the coffee shop, Karelis realized that writers were buying coffee to get space to write for free. He wondered if offering the converse would work.

That was about two years ago, Alex explains. "We really started working seriously on [the concept] about eight months ago." He finished school with a degree in English literature—"Do you want fries with that?" he quips from the small closet that serves as an office for Writers Room. A bike hangs on the wall. 

"I knew [writers' rooms] were catching on," Karelis says. "I'm a methodical sort of person, so I did some market research." That research involved sending out a multipage questionnaire to writers in the area, who then sent it to other writers, until Karelis had more than a hundred responses, a process that took more than six months. "Mostly, people were looking for certain locations and certain amenities." Overwhelmingly, he says, writers asked for a space in close proximity to a Metro station. They were also interested in easy, on-street parking. Karelis and Alex started exploring locations up and down the Red Line, and soon found that Tenleytown had what they were looking for.

As for the actual space, Karelis wasn't as concerned about the aesthetics. "We knew we wanted natural light." He thinks for a moment and settles on the windows that provide the view of the street scene below. "We didn't want a glass tower with windows that don't open." While the furnishings at Writers Room DC are not spartan, they are minimalist with a touch of modern. Two red velvet chairs flank a small table opposite the doorway to the quiet room. Eighteen nearly identical desks are furnished with chairs and task lamps. Modular walls block sound and sightlines. A yellow mug holding pencils offers a pop of color. 

Outside the actual writing space, Karelis offers writers a small kitchen with a fridge. The coffee is hot and free, and a banquette of cabinets above the sink reveals a selection of tea and mugs to suit discerning tastes. "There's no kitchen in the library," Karelis jokes as he pours himself a cup. A mason jar of pretzels stands ready to appease the occasional hunger pang. And if they want to take a real break, members can grab a bite to eat across the street at Whole Foods, Panera, Neisha, Guapo's, or Starbucks.

For Fernando, the free coffee at Writers Room is a draw and offers a trade. He says he is giving up his latté habit to feed his need for a writing space free from distraction. At home, he explains, there are too many things to do. The phone and the doorbell are always ringing.

While Writers Room DC does offer free Wi-Fi, a writer who is finishing up a tour of the space states that she is hesitant to take advantage of it. It's a distraction, she says. "We can block it for you," Karelis smiles. "We can put software on your machine that prevents you from checking your email for an hour. We've got it here. The next time you're in, I'll show you how."

She gathers her bags and heads about the door. A few minutes later, another writer breezes in, waves hello, and heads into the quiet room. She circles back to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. 
"I think we've been lucky to tap into a network of writers who were looking for something like this."

So why now? Karelis won't go as far as to say that the economic climate has changed in favor of supporting a DC writers' room. Instead, he says, "I think we've been lucky to tap into a network of writers who were looking for something like this. I also think our survey may have helped get the word out at the same time as it helped us gather information about what people wanted."

Karelis won't divulge how many members Writers Room DC has. They've had several open houses, and he states that those were well attended. "We are going to cap membership," he explains. "But we're looking for a ratio of writers to workstations. [We'll cap] when there is a danger of people not finding a space." Unlike writers' rooms in other cities, members at Writers Room DC do not have to make reservations. 

Until they reach that ratio, Charles and Alex Karelis welcome interested writers to stop by, have a cup of coffee, and get a feel for the quiet room.

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
Signup for Email Alerts
Signup for Email Alerts

Related Content