Study Hacks Blog

Brandon Sanderson Built an Underground Lair in Suburban Utah

October 2nd, 2022 · 31 comments

The pandemic got knowledge worker types suddenly thinking more seriously about their telecommuting setups. Once it became clear that we might be toiling hour after hour, day after day, in our own homes, that Ikea desk in the corner by the washing machine no longer seemed quite so adequate.

I enjoyed, during the early months of this period, sharing here on my newsletter case studies about some of the more unusual or interesting home office setups that my readers sent me. You’d be surprised, for example, by how many people relocated to tents in their backyard. One professional musician went so far as to build a cabin for practicing inside his apartment. I even wrote an article about the topic for The New Yorker.

As I recently discovered, however, the bestselling fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson put us all to shame. His home office heroics began in 2008, when he and his wife bought a nondescript house in a nondescript Utah suburb. Sanderson noticed the adjacent lot was still undeveloped. As he explained in a recent Reddit comment:

“So I started to plan. And the next year, I bought that lot. When my wife asked what I wanted to do with it, I was quite decisive. I wanted an underground supervillain lair.

It took Sanderson eleven years of planning, but as revealed in a series of stunning photographs that he shared on his newsletter, he finally built up both the resources and courage to start digging.

Here’s a photo of the hole he excavated. Keep in mind that this is in a normal-sized lot between two houses. Sanderson admitted that it took some wrangling to get the needed permissions from his town (“the city really has no idea what to do with someone like me”).

Here are the concrete walls being added to the lair. To keep the space epic, Sanderson insisted on twenty-foot ceilings.

After the lair was completed and covered back over, Sanderson built a garage and extended driveway on the lot so that it looked as if nothing unusual was going on in this space next to his house:

 

Though Sanderson posted these photo back when construction began several years ago, it wasn’t until last spring, when he allowed cameras from the CBS Morning Show to tape an interview in the lair, that we got our first look inside.

Here’s the secret stairway that leads down to the complex from inside his house. The stained glass windows depict covers of his popular books.

The nook where he’s sitting in this photo is where he plans to setup his writing desk. The more formidable tiled space in the background, surrounding the cylindrical saltwater fish tank, is meant for larger gatherings. He calls it his “Adventurer’s Club.”

Here’s the movie screening room he added that features three rows of reclining seats and a full-size screen.

“It’s…admittedly a little extravagant,” Sanderson writes. “[But] what else would you expect from a fantasy novelist?” No explanation is needed for me. As my readers know, when it comes to producing important work, I’m always happy to see someone go, well, deep.

31 thoughts on “Brandon Sanderson Built an Underground Lair in Suburban Utah

  1. Tony Iannone says:

    This place puts the Bat Cave to shame. Good on him!!

  2. R.D. says:

    This is super fun… and I can’t get past the extravagance. The number of people who could have (for instance) had their sight restored for the amount of money spent on this lair. Not a personal attack on Mr. Sanderson, I just feel more and more that celebrities/the wealthy are using resources we don’t have the luxury to use.

    1. H.H. says:

      Have to say I agree completely. I’m not going to argue against someone spending their hard-earned money as they want, but this is definitely over-the-top (and smacks more than a bit of Bezos’ ego-driven penis rocket).

    2. Anthony Pero says:

      To be fair, this “lair” is also the headquarters of his small company of 15+. So people actually go to work there.

      1. R.D. says:

        Good point!

      2. tom says:

        That just means that the US Treasury paid for it.

    3. Vince says:

      Just think of the number of people he employed. All local businesses as well.

    4. Desslyn says:

      You are more a problem than what Sanderson does with his money. First. You know nothing about what he does with his money and he helps a lot on charity and such. Probably more than you’ve ever helped anyone in your whole life. Love when people start by saying oh I’m not trying to attack him but ….You are personally attacking him. You the one with issues. Not him

      1. R.D. says:

        Hi Desslyn, my comment seems to have ruffled your feathers. Comments sections are not the best place for considered discussion, but I think wrestling with things is important and how we progress. I think your comment shuts down discussion, and is doing what you are saying I shouldn’t do to Sanderson (make assumptions, personally attack). You don’t need to defend Sanderson – I’m not saying he’s a bad person for choosing to create his lair. His lair is technically a blip on the radar in terms of resource use, I’m reflecting on it as an example of a broader issue that bumps up against my values. In this case, for me, there are competing values – I love that he is a prolific creator whose work adds value to so many people’s lives. We need art and creativity in the world. Another commenter mentioned that it’s also a place of work, that’s something I hadn’t considered. That said, I am also concerned by our tendency to massively over-consume in North America. There’s a wrestle here for me where I find myself asking if the lair is necessary for his work or does it lean closer to an extravagance. Bigger picture, it’s about questioning how we find balance between competing desires/values.

        1. A.M. says:

          R.D., I almost never comment to articles but had to compliment you the most cogent level headed response I can recall reading to criticism in a comment section anywhere.

          Questioning and discussing the meaning and implications of an author’s work is the entire purpose of a comments section. Disagreement is welcome and necessary. However, ad hominem attacks discouraging open conversation are the antithesis.

        2. Abe says:

          I agree with Desynn. It’s a concerning development in our country when we feel free to criticize how others spend their hard earned money. If you, rich or not, want to devote a large percentage of your earnings to charity, good for you — but it doesn’t make you morally superior to folks like Sanderson or Bezos. But to publicly shame people or imply that WE (the People) should not _allow_ people to have this kind of fun money is only the path to socialism. Where most are equally miserable, and only the privileged ruling class has wealth and influence. No thanks, I’ll take capitalism and it’s occasional fun excesses any day.

          1. Colin says:

            You think it’s a concerning development when people feel free to state their opinions? Goodness.

          2. Dave says:

            Lol ok Boomer.

          3. Edward says:

            God , you guys are morons dessy an you .. an it’s sad .. I don’t even want to take the energy to explain it … It’s sad .. I am a author an a avid reader an fantasy doesn’t do shit for the world at all either do athletes they are paid to blind us an educated man knows this .. why you take the time to defend nonsense with the practiced show of apathy is the root of America the land of lies …

    5. Dan says:

      Think about it, that money doesn’t just disappear. It still exists, just in someone else’s hands now. As long as the rich aren’t hoarding their wealth, I’m fine with it

      1. R.S. says:

        Exactly!!

    6. R.S. says:

      What exactly should he use his resources for? That’s kind of up to him, right? Brandon certainly isn’t in the Musk/Bezos realm, but is quite charitable with his good fortune which is the result of hard-work and talent. He gets to decide what to with his resources as do we all. Perhaps you feel the government should manage all resources in an equitable manner?? Wrong country…

    7. J B says:

      Most people making a decent living wage or more could be living a subsistence existence and donating most of their salary to charity, but choose not to. Sanderson is no different in this regard.

    8. Gl says:

      He has every right to spend his money the way he chooses. Just as you choose how to spend your money. Your way of thinking is what’s ruining the world.

    9. Dru says:

      I think you may also be missing some other points of interest. Would you have the same opinion if the lair were say above ground, on the 32nd floor if a high price, high energy consumption building? The exact same setup could be achieved in such a space, but would have probably cost him 3x as much. Then there are the other considerations like the fact that cooling the lair in Summer is mist likely cheaper that cooling your house per square foot, because a building using concrete walls below ground will maintain a constant temp if 58 degrees on the outer edges and just slightly warmer in the center, I have a similar configuration for my hone office in s room detached from my house that was put under it when they built my home in 1948, originally it was supposed to be used for emergency shelter in serious storms and for storage. Then in 1965 granny decided that she wanted it converted to a play space for grandkids, or an overflow sleeping area if extra family came in. In 1985 she removed the bunk beds put in a desk, a couch, a recliner, a old cabinet stereo, and a TV and called it her leave me alone space. Today I use it for my office, to do research, journal, and write books everything I described above is still there and in excellent shape. I said all that to say this, most of the time in the summer I have wear a jacket while working because even with the windows she installed in the 80’s, replaced in early 2000’s with more efficient easier to clean ones it still stays below 70 on 100+ degree days with zero resources like hvac being used, in the winter with snow on the ground again it stats constant, last year we had a power outage for 6 days due to snow and ice a guy took out a major pole, and I packed up my dog and went to the office at night because the temp wasn’t n the main house dropped below 50 degrees, in the office it was a cozy 60 degrees consistently. So being that Sanderson built underground his energy usage would be greatly reduced, and if he runs it all off solar (don’t know if he does) his energy footprint would be even better.

      1. Margaret King says:

        Dru,
        If there is any “extra family” around from your Granny’s reign. (Grannies rule!), I’d like some. I was in grade school when ZPG, zero population growth, was a concept I thought would stick in the hearts and minds of my generational cohort. As it turned out, did the ZPG idea grab the hearts and minds of my or any other generational cohort?…….. Uh, well,
        not so much. From my current vantage point of three score and ten, I wish I’d ignored ZPG and created family enough to fill an underground, or otherwise, screening room. I’m thinking that a buncha folks getting together to enjoy each other around a movie, gazing out of a stained glass window, or while listening to a reading of fantasy fiction, or fantasy non-fiction, sounds well worth the time/energy invested in that underground lair. Some who may disagree are free to enjoy their family and maybe even some “extra family,” while picking up litter on the side of the road. Grannies, family, and a place for them all to get together, including in an underground lair, seems like a good thing to me. I don’t know why the article & comments offered elicited this particular rant from me. It just did.
        Thank you very much for showing me this part of me.
        P.S. Don’t forget to throw a little popcorn while you’re at it.

  3. Pat Amsden says:

    Definitely bigger than my writing area. Or actually, condo. But I do like being a one minute walk from about five different restaurants.

  4. Mieander says:

    Even if he donated half his earnings to charity, he’d still have plenty to build this. I’m happy to see an artist getting fair compensation. He is able to produce quality work at a pace that is insane compared to other authors. I’ll be honest, I’d build a hobbit hole if I had the means and enough left over for my pet charities.

  5. W D says:

    It’s as overrated as is his writing. He got four finishing another famous work, and then chasing trends. But people thought Elvis was talented. You get the trash you pay for.

  6. J Double says:

    The comments here are insane. If you think charities need more money, give it to them. If you have resources available, do whatever you want with them – as he is doing with his.
    This welfare mentality of “hey, you’ve got money – gimme some!” is legit destroying normal thinking and behaviors.
    Stop making other people’s resources a cover for your own inadequacies or laziness.

  7. Kelley says:

    Someone that has a dream and pursues it, you have to appreciate their tenacity to do what they want to do. I think it’s great that someone that works so hard for their money is about to enjoy it

  8. Nikki Magnusson says:

    I want one

    1. P.M. Willis says:

      Nikki Magnusson: ?

  9. Ben S. says:

    Cal really nailed it when he said Sanderson did something really special with his book The Name of the Wind.

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