A quiet spot for mindful meditation. A place to pull pottery or fill scrapbooks. A cozy corner for binge-watching your favorite television shows. There isn’t much that can’t be done in what has been dubbed a “she shed.”
The female equivalent of a man cave, these small outbuildings are growing in popularity among women in search of a space where they can escape (at least temporarily) from the responsibilities of their harried work and family schedules to pursue their pastimes and passions.
However, ladies aren’t going too far from home: She sheds typically are situated in the backyard.
“Man caves are almost always in the house, so it’s kind of funny that men have nested in the house and women are venturing out,” said Erika Kotite, author of the recently published tome “She Sheds: A Room of Your Own” (Quarto Publishing Group).
The sheds also serve double duty as a landscape focal point.
“People have been slapping sheds in the backyard and not giving a thought to how they look,” explained Kotite, former editor-in-chief of the decorating magazines Romantic Homes and Victorian Homes.
Her book features dozens of photos of sheds from throughout the U.S., England and Australia that have “become this beautiful anchor for the landscape design, and they look incredible,” she said. “What I think women are pulling for is to create that beautiful landscape that has a little, private room as part of it.”
That privacy is paramount, given that modern homes have become “space challenged,” Kotite explained.
“In one sense, having something completely detached from the house is really the only way for women to go if they want to get anything done,” especially if they are pursuing creative arts like quilting and sewing that require “spread-out space,” she said. “A lot of homes are filled to the gills.”
With a she shed, “You can start a project one day and run (back inside the house) and do errands or make dinner and keep (the project) there, and then unlock the door the next morning or a couple of days later and everything is still as you left it.”
As the name implies, she sheds are shed-like in that they feature a foundation, a roof, walls, doors and windows.
They can be built in a range of shapes and sizes (up to several hundred square feet) from scratch with a variety of new or reclaimed materials, or fashioned from an existing structure. Do-it-yourself shed kits and prefabricated structures produced by shed manufacturers are also available.
Kotite and her family built a she shed from a kit at the Santa Cruz, California, home of her sister-in-law. She chronicled the construction process — from site selection to assembling the walls and roof to painting the exterior — in the book.
“It was a tough job, but we built a beautiful one,” she said of the completed 8-by-12-foot shed that is used as a small guesthouse and home office.
In the DIY chapter, which features numerous construction tips and other advice, Kotite said, “I tried to point out where (the process is) going to be longer than you think and maybe a little more expensive than you think.”
Most she sheds are not insulated, Kotite said. Owners who use them as gardening or potting sheds tend to keep the space utilitarian.
Crafters may outfit sheds with plumbing, electricity, lighting and even heat and air conditioning, which may require that local building permits be pulled and inspections performed.
“It’s still a real structure,” Kotite reminded.
But it’s the she sheds that go from drab to fab — adorned with stylish vintage furnishings, delicate fabrics and such — that are largely fueling their fandom. Countless Pinterest boards and a fair number of Facebook pages are dedicated to designing and decorating sheds.
“It’s really opened up a huge creative outlet for women — not how they’re gonna use it, but how they’re gonna decorate it,” Kotite said. “It’s almost a creative pursuit in itself.”
Her book features several sheds whose owners spent thousands of dollars to build and bedeck them, including the 10-by-12-foot playhouse-inspired English cottage of Shirlie Kemp, former backup singer for ’80s pop group Wham!
“She is just a quintessential … shabby-chic (design) enthusiast, and she has a lavishly decorated interior,” Kotite said. The bright-white space serves as Kemp’s photography studio and includes an antique fireplace surround and numerous pieces from her vintage china and furniture collections.
Kotite’s favorite shed in the book is the one called Dinah’s Rustic Retreat, a quaint 10-by-10-foot cabin in San Luis Obispo, California.
Its hand-milled pine siding came from trees that formerly stood on the property where it sits. The shed boasts shabby-chic decor that includes handcrafted stained-glass windows, a daybed loaded with handmade pillows and many framed family photos.
“That interior, with its sublime minty green paint, with cream-colored (wall) studs and ceiling (rafters) … I don’t know, everything about it just delighted me,” Kotite said, explaining that the owner uses the space for “communing quietly with family members, both living and gone.”
Leah Carter also went with shabby-chic styling to decorate the 300-square-foot she shed at her Boulder City home.
The detached structure was already standing when she purchased the house three years ago. Carter toyed briefly with the idea of making it a large playroom for her grandchildren but ultimately transformed it into a retreat that she calls Cozy Crumb Cottage.
Part of an old picket fence hung on a wall serves as the headboard for a full-size bed adorned with a down comforter and fluffy pillows. It is flanked by a pair of small vintage-looking tables that serve as nightstands. A petite crystal chandelier hangs from above.
On a budget of less than $1,000, Carter finished the walls and tiled the floor. The air-conditioned space includes a small refrigerator and microwave, cable television and Wi-Fi, as well as a bathroom with a tub and shower.
“It was just this empty room. I turned it into this magical place,” said Carter, whose firefighter husband died in the line of duty a decade ago. She frequently offers her she shed as lodging to women traveling in Southern Nevada with whom she connects through a local support group for widows.
“It’s kind of a sweet place for them to stay,” Carter said. “I’ve done a lot of traveling, and I like to stay in kind of quaint, little areas myself. There’s just something a little warmer about it (than a hotel room), especially when you’ve lost your husband.”
Carter said she also occasionally bunks in the she shed. “When I want to go on a staycation, I go out there.”