Sandra Foster, a Female Thoreau: A Little House of Her Own

Virginia Woolf once wrote of the great human need, for intellectual and emotional flourishing, of having a room of one’s own. And the New York Times today has a profile of a 40-something woman, Sandra Foster, who has built her own small retreat (after the Victorian style):

Ms. Foster has her own shabby-chic retreat. It may not have a bathroom or a kitchen, but it is a dream of Victoriana: stacks of Limoges china with tiny rosebud patterns; chandeliers dripping crystal; billows of tissue-paper garlands.

This is all the more impressive because she renovated the 9-by-14-foot cottage, an old hunting cabin, herself. The cost of renovating and furnishing it: $3,000.

Ms. Foster haunted upstate salvage shops from Kingston to Albany for old windows with wavy glass; she found an old porch door in the precise shade of hunter green once used on the boarding houses that dotted the area; she used a jigsaw to create gingerbread trim and cut out openings for the windows.

This is a very special sort of dream house: the Victorian Ms. Foster has wanted since she was a teenager on Long Island and her middle-class family lost their home. It is a house that is as soul-satisfying as it was when she first imagined it as a 15-year-old, even with the ups and downs that grown-up life brings.

“My refuge,” she calls it.

And her husband has his place of solitude as well:

Mr. Foster’s personal property is his “man cave,” a truck-size shed covered by an enormous tarp. It’s furnished with a big-screen TV, lots of videotapes, cooking equipment and two lamp-warmed cages for the chicks and pheasants.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Sandra Foster, a Female Thoreau: A Little House of Her Own

  1. Todd Foster says:

    Wow, How nice to have my lovely wife called a female Thoreau! She worked so very hard to create this dream house. I am happy that it has perhaps the power to inspire women around the globe to create their very own space. My theory on life is, if anothewr human being can do it, so can I. Sandra too has adopted that theory in order to realize this dream. Stay tuned to see what she has coming.

    Thank you for your kind words

    PS there really is no tarp over the Actual Man Cave!

    • santitafarella says:


      When I first read of your wife’s adventure in the New York Times, my first thoughts were of Thoreau and Virginia Woolf, and wondered why the journalist writing the piece did not make the obvious tie-in. I’ll likely share with one of my classes the “room of one’s own” NYT piece, and I hope your wife’s experience becomes more widely known (and an inspiration to young women thinking about the importance of solitude and imagination to their intellectual lives and development).

      As for the no tarp part, I’m surprised the NY Times got a detail in the story wrong. Double check your place! (Just kidding.)


      • Todd Foster says:

        Sandy and all the ladies in her family are inspirational for young women as well as older. They are from humble beginnings but the depth of heart and soul developed in them, I presume by their mom is incredible. Holiday time at mom’s is rife with conversation with substance. One sister a Harvard MBA also married to a Harvard MBA(last Nov). Sister Nicole Tadgel is a childrens book illustrator of 20 or more books at this time. Her husband also a man of wit and knowledge, adds a bit of New England humor to the frey. Not to leave out her brother John who held a national BMX title a decade or so ago. He still rides where and when he can, preferring not to drive!
        Sandy is working on a book to inspire and empower women. Stay tuned!

      • santitafarella says:


        The book idea is great. My wife interviews people for magazines, by the way, and if you think that your wife might be interested in doing an interview with her, leave me an email at


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