A place of her own: A she shed
Keep your man caves, men. A growing number of women are carving out their own space in she sheds.
She sheds are tiny structures or outbuildings in a backyard where women can do anything from gardening to painting. Some women even use them as a place to simply rest and unwind.
Author Erika Kotite profiled she sheds across the globe, from England to Australia, for her new book, “She Sheds: A Room of Your Own” (Cool Springs Press, $25), which hit stores earlier this year.
Kotite — who found sheds in a wide range of styles, from modern to rustic — said the most important aspect of any shed is its functionality.
“Each woman who possesses a she shed has her own personal reasons for using it,” writes Kotite, a California-based author. “Usefulness is the real beauty in these structures, even if that usefulness includes serious naptime.”
As fun as they are, she sheds are often small — as tiny as 36 square feet — and Kotite believes that’s a key reason why they’re so popular. Cheaper than a “granny unit” or a home addition, they provide a small but functional space for some solitude (even if it’s just in the backyard).
“You can’t really live in a she shed but it provides a meaningful getaway place,” writes Kotite in an email.
Rhonda Diethelm of Sterling Heights calls her she shed a “she shed - he shed” because she and her husband Richard built it together in 2006 and both use it.
Inspired by something they saw in a magazine, Richard modified the plans on a computer assisted design program to make the shed bigger. Used primarily for gardening, it has a sink, electricity, running water (though only cold), a large counter, even a small refrigerator for a beverage when their yard work is done.
“We built it ourselves,” says Rhonda. “The only thing we didn’t do was the foundation.”
Treasures from the couple’s trips to Nova Scotia, South Carolina and elsewhere add a personal touch to the shed, which they use from early spring until late fall. Wicker baskets and shelves keep Rhonda’s gardening tools and supplies neat and tidy.
“My favorite thing is I have a place for everything,” Rhonda says. “I have a place for all my tools, little things that I find when we are on vacation that I can put an display. ... We love it.”
Daughter of potting shed
The Diethelms aren’t alone. The most popular use for she sheds is gardening, says Kotite, who calls them the “daughters of potting sheds.” The difference is they’re often a little bigger, more polished and have room for a chair or sitting.
She sheds also are commonly used as art studios or for other creative pursuits, says Kotite. And a growing trend is to equip sheds with soundproofing material so they can be used by musicians, she says.
But how practical is a she shed in places like Michigan where winter can last anywhere from four to five months? Kotite says sheds in colder climates are sometimes closed for the winter — the Diethelms close their shed in late fall — but that isn’t always the case.
“You’d be surprised how determined women are to use their shed year-round,” says Kotite. “Space heaters, lots of layering and blankets help and then there are some who actually have built-in heating. At that point, however, it goes from she shed to backyard studio.”
Build your own
For those considering building their own shed, Kotite says do your homework. Check building codes in your community, especially if you plan to wire your shed.
Sally Bolle of Troy had plans to build her own she shed designed by an architect and was ready to go when a neighbor delivered some crushing news the day before construction was set to start: Her subdivision didn’t allow outbuildings.
“We verified this and the entire project turned upside down,” says Bolle. “It is now brick, attached to the house (by a walk-through), with heat. Our builder had to match the brick and shingles of our 20-year-old house, and (it) needed to be insulated. It was completed the day before the (Troy Garden Club) walk in 2011 and we have had such fun with it.”
Today, Bolle, a master gardener, uses her 101-square-foot shed for plant research, reading and listening to music. Heirlooms from her mother and grandmother, along with her collections of birdhouses and chickens, personalize the space. Loved ones are drawn to the space, especially Bolle’s adult daughters, who live far away.
“This is their favorite place to hang out when they are home,” Bolle says.
For those considering building their own she shed, Kotite says a minimum shed would be 6 feet by 6 feet, which would allow room for a small table, chair and shelves. Budgets depend on size and scale.
“Plan on spending about $500-$1,000 to rehab an existing shed, $2,000-$5,000 to build a shed from a kit, $6,000-$15,000 for a more customized and pre-assembled kit shed and then $15,000 - $35,000 for top-of-the-line designed shed with installation and landscaping,” says Kotite.
Kotite says the best place to start with any she shed is with ideas from a book, online and even in your imagination. Think about what kind of structures you like, what feels good and homey and “then sketch it out,” she says.
“The more you do yourself, the more satisfying the whole process is,” Kotite says. “There really is joy in the journey.”
Win ‘She Sheds’ book
Do you dream about building your own she shed? What would you build and why? Send design writer Maureen Feighan an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. One reader will win Erika Kotite’s book, “She Sheds: A Room of Your Own.”