Guest Rant: In Praise of Sheds


“When you were a kid, did you have a secret hideout? A fort, a tree house, or even a blanket drapedShed2
over the card table where you and your friends (imaginary or real) could steal away from adults’ peering eyes?”

This question strikes a chord with people. “Yes,” said one woman, host of her own radio show on an NPR affiliate. “But my hideout was the coat closet of the Manhattan apartment where I grew up.”

“Sure,” exclaimed another radio host. “It was the giant box our refrigerator came in and I had hours of fun playing inside.”

Now that we’re grownups, we need those personal hideaways and havens more than ever. Rather than building a house addition or “trading up” for a larger home, many of us simply plan an escape to the great outdoors.

It’s not so much about amassing more space as it is about having a door to close. And maybe enjoying views through a small window that overlooks the herb garden. That would be nice.

You can repurpose a conventional potting shed and use it for your private passion, say to practice yoga or to finally set up the long-ignored easel and begin painting again.

Or, you might build something from scratch that could otherwise be called a pavilion, studio, cottage or summerhouse – or folly.

Think about what’s missing in your life and perhaps you can devote the tricked-out mini-barn to that activity.

To my friend John Akers, a Seattle carpenter and self-described “glorified recycler” who has designed and constructed dozens of tiny garden buildings in the past decade (including several sheds featured in our book), these reimagined shacks have attained a higher purpose.

“I’ve seen so many situations where people have slowed down because of adding a shed to their property,” John observes. “They experience something intangible when entering their sheds. Maybe it transports them to a simpler time.” John sums up his observations with a laugh:“I guess you could say my motto is ‘build a shed and change your life.’”

Amen, Brother.

So here’s my challenge question to Garden Rant readers. The winner will receive a signed copy of Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways, along with a set of cool note cards featuring Bill Wright’s photography.

“What’s your dream shed and how will you use it?”

When I posed this question to an audience at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show last year, I was thrilled with the clever, innovative and heartfelt suggestions offered by way of handwritten notes and sketches on index cards. Many addressed a sensible space solution; others were purely frivolous, and all evoked a personal wish for individual expression. Here are some of my favorite ideas: a quilter’s haven, a garden reading room, a yoga retreat, an entertainment hut, and a gallery for displaying thirty birdhouses.

I look forward to hearing how you imagine your own elegant hideaway.


  1. Now if only my property owners association would get off their idea of shed (i.e. parking lot demos thrown up at Lowes/Depot)and look at the cover of this book alone I might have a place to store my garden tools and use the garage for what it is meant for:

    until then I remain

    THE (no place to play with my friends)SLUG



    I will be there as well since my boss said I could go. And who would turn down a free trip to Chi-town in August? I get to go back for the Casual Furniture Market in September as well.
    I am planning on attending your talk if the GARDEN RANTS GAURDS let me through the slug detector. I will be the one with the large can of SLUGGO chasing me everywhere.

  3. On a recent garden tour I saw his and hers garden sheds. His was for his hobby and hers was for reading and meditation.

    My shed already lives in my mind. It will be styled on a Japanese Tea House with sliding walls that can open or close and be located in a shaded area above the small stream so I can set there and hear it babble. The Rough Bark Japanese Maple has been planted to grace the entry. I’ll get to that sometime after I finish building the not much bigger than a shed, small cabin that will be my house.

  4. I think of a dream shed being an organized holding area for those things that I use to garden. One that appears to be a natural fit to the rest of the decor of my backyart. my secret hiding place is right near the shed and it is a patio covered in a natural gazebo which blends perfectly into the backyard and shed. One day maybe 😉

  5. Hey Chris………we just sold our small cabin in the Adirondacks. Knotty pine walls and ceiling. Huge old growth pines out back. Gonna miss it but it was fun for the 7 yeras we owned it. Good luck with your teah house “shed” sounds like a dream worth living.

  6. My shed would be for woodworking and garden implements and such. A place where earthly smells can mingle with the scent of newly sawn wood, without the overbearing odor of automobiles and lawn mowers.

  7. My shed would be a rustic log cabin with a little front porch and swing. The shed would be set on an angle way in the back of the yard. There would be a paver path from the patio to the shed. The shed would be bordered with lush, shady garden beds. I’d have windows that open, with screens to keep out the mosquitoes, and a wood screen door. It would have one, maybe two skylights. Inside I’d have a small potting bench, some clever storage space, a couple of comfortable chairs, and a sleeping loft. Two houses ago I had a shed with a loft. It was very spacious, big enough to park a car in. I always imagined turning it into a little garden cottage, ‘secret’ hideaway.

  8. My dream shed does not have a particular look or style. It would not have a comfy nook to read in, nor a comfortable swing.

    My dream shed would let me know that I already had one bag of Holly Tone before I went out and bought another. It would keep all of my tools organized and in an easily found place, and not just in a pile inside the door. My dream shed would tell me to buy potting soil before I come home with yet another root-bound bargain with nothing to pot it up with. It would make it possible to get from the door to the far wall without tripping over a pile of used nursery pots. My dream shed would hold regular yard sales for all of the “gifts for the gardener” that my well intentioned relatives give me. It would be equipped with special scanners to keep out all non-gardening items that we don’t have room for in the house.

    If it could do all of these things, I would let it pick any style it wanted – arts and crafts, Asian, colonial revival, whatever.

  9. My shed would be styled after a Mediterranean home — the whitewashed houses you always see with cats in front of them. It would have big windows with window boxes and shutters, and small cement porch in the front.

    It would have a front and back entrance — however, you would not be able to walk through it. There would be a wall separating the back from the front.

    The front entrance would lead to the perfect potting shed. There would be waste-high bins along the walls for different soils and amendments. A peg board for tools, open shelves for pots, and a big open work bench. Windows would open to the veggie garden, and the window boxes would be full of flowers. The whole space would be about 8×10 feet in size.

    The back entrance would lead to my tiny secret hidey-hole. It would be smaller, about 5×8 feet. It would house my art supplies in beautiful shelves and drawer units, and would have a large, open desk. There would be one comfy chair in a corner, and windows with a perfect view of a hidden herb garden. The walls would be decorated with art made by my friends. There would be a small sink for cleaning paint brushes, and tiny cabinent on which to put my electric kettle and tea pot for making tea.

    The ceilings in both halves of the shed would be high, to allow space for hanging herbs and flowers to dry.

    Oh, and it would have an excellent WiFi signal.

  10. My shed already exists…sorta’.

    It’s now an empty hulk…a former 1-car garage, sitting under the dark shade of a Sugar Maple.

    …And it’s about to change! I’ve already cleaned out most of the mess. In the next year, I’m re-building it into a garden shed and tool shed.

    It will still sit under the Maple…and the front will look out across my restored woodland, which is resplendent in Spring with thousands of wildflowers of dozens of species, and is a cool, dark green haven in the Summer and much of Fall.

    The other side looks out across my vegetable garden of beans and squash…and to my prairie beyond.

    And I will use the shed to plant and grow flowers… and to read… and to draw and sketch the garden around me.

    I’m particularly looking forward to sitting with a good book, looking out over the woods, during a steady rain shower… it sounds like such a poetic experience!

  11. My shed would look like a little cottage–natural cedar shakes accented by slate blue window trim and porch posts and railings. The porch would hold an Adirondack chair and a table just large enough for a book and a good cup of coffee. A jungle of fragrant plants, from lavender to mint, would live on the porch so that every time I walked past, I’d get a whiff of their amazing fragrance.

    The interior would be simple: white beadboard paneling would line the walls, upon which would be hung black and white photos of loved ones and places I’ve visited. There would be plenty of houseplants here, and old-fashioned rag rugs would be scattered across the warm pine floors. A day bed loaded with vintage linens and pillows would be for reading, napping, and dreaming. A simple desk would hold my laptop, notebooks and other writing tools. A pair of small bookcases would flank it, holding some of the treasures from my gardening library.

    Ah, now you’ve got me daydreaming. This was fun!

  12. The home that I currently live in could be termed ‘a shed’. At barely 900 square feet it was built in the late 1940’s and has a cottagey bungalow feeling to it.
    I’d love to have a small studio room adjacent to the house .
    It would be built from glass panels much like the simple square box that Walter Gropius ( founder of the Bauhaus ) built in Lincoln Massachusetts.
    As a young teenager I use to ride my bike past this house most summer days on my way to Walden Pond.
    I was so inspired by this piece of architecture and how it was grounded in the landscape that it set me on my career path as a landscape designer.
    I would keep the furnishings simple in my glass box with a few well chosen mid century classic pieces such a Le Corbusier chaise and club chair paired with a Noguchi table .
    There would be space enough for my meditation zafu and zabuton and a simple tea set from Japan.
    That would be my shed nirvana.

  13. I actually have been thinking about this very much recently. I just bought a new house and my backyard is more or less a large blank slate. I have been picturing a sort of formal garden with a small elegant structure in the center of the yard. Fruit trees will surround the shed and give it shade. The structure would be small but would serve as the bar and would have a picnic space. It would have bookshelves and a desk space as well for quieter moments. It would be a place to view a small formal rose garden to the East, the kitchen garden to the South, and the bay window of my house to the North. The West is still unplanned. I will keep dreaming about that! But the shed would be the anchor in the middle and the room with a view of it all.

  14. I would love a small space with lots of windows. It should be situated in the middle of my garden. It should have lots of storage and nooks and crannies for me to stuff things in. (I like to nest). I see it having a large door to the outside with a potting bench and smaller gardening tools nearbye. Further in there should be a comfortable chair, my spinning wheel, and a small table for a snack.

  15. My perfect shed? 
    Its purpose is a funky digital studio/artists workspace. It is styled after a Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie-style, on a miniature scale, with a planted roof around a skylight. It is of roman brick (the wide brick Frank favored), with built-in window boxes and oversized saucer-like urns on either side of the door. A small doorway lets you into the two-story space. The size & scale of the interior blow you away. Between the clerestory windows, skylight, and glass art windows I get to design, it looks amazingly open and light. The back wall is all french doors leading out into the part of the garden you cannot see from the front a hidden garden. Shelves of art & design books are topped with beds for kids’ overnights & house guests. An artists easel and large flat shelving (stocked with art supplies) assist in everything from finger painting to architectural model building. There’s a wet bar. Technology includes an oversized flat screen TV, wireless everything, and a couple Mac workstations. The evening lighting scheme is impeccable. There’s no phones allowed.


    These “soul temples” represent my ideal garden sanctuary. A light filled space built with salvaged windows and bits of stained glass. A place for my spirit to fly. We’re actually in the process of building some kind of garden shed to replace the ugly one that collapsed in a raging storm last January here in coastal California. We have neither the time/money/energy to create something this wonderful, but these photos are my inspriation. I’ll be happy if we manage to capture even a teensy bit of the magic in these wonderful spaces.

  17. A place to write near the garden–it’s hard writing books and essays when I’m the kind of person who needs dead silence. I think it’s have to be a small house, as I’d like tall ceilings, tons of light, maybe a small patio–the whole thing must be modern and clean, yet not stand out as something too good. If that makes sense. Michale Pollan’s place in his woods looks nifty, indeed. I’d need a/c and heat, and I suppose I don’t need a bathroom, but could I compost my own, um, you know nearby? And the place would have to be a surprise, barely noticable, some place, as others have mentioned, much like a tea house. My wife and I, already in our first year of marraige confronting my “quirk” / necessity to have silence when writing, thought about buying one of those Home Depot sheds and tweaking it. But no, for many reasons we finally decided, no–better to wait.

  18. My “shed” will be a garden “shed.” Why? Because I’m happiest with my hands in dirt, surrounded by all my plants. It will house all my gardening things – holly and plant tone, tools, pots, etc. Oh, and it will also house those ugly motorized things Garden Man uses on the yard (I so want them out of the garage). My shed will have grey siding, like my house, with light silver trim. It will look like a little cottage hidden behind our dogwood tree. It will have a shed-roof cover on one side for my potting bench. The back will have a trellis for climbing vines. It will have a little stone patio in front with a couple of chairs for resting and looking at the garden from a new perspective. It will be surrounded by a small cottage garden and the beginning of the dry creek bed that will run to the swayle. It is “cuted up” but not tacky. If I close my eyes real tight, I can SEE it. Now, if I could just make it really be there.

  19. I’ve got a plan going in my mind for a shed in parts – a minumum of two storage/tool ‘closets’ connected with a potting bench and all topped with a shed roof. It would sit beneath the eave of the house.

    Best part? I’d be collapsable so that I could take it as I move to another rental, or into a house of my own…

    I favor shingle style, but here in the desert termites are a real problem. Don’t know right now what ‘style’ it will be – other than part of the idea is to make it as light as I can. Hmmm.

    Got some more thinking to do before I make up any plans for this…

  20. After taking 3 years to decide that a 15 x 15 foot square was the perfect size for a Cottage Ornee (properly said with a heavy French accent)and three years to actually build it, we have been enjoying our ‘shed’ (so described on our tax bill). It rests on four giant boulders to float and is built of native hemlock. A plastic pyramidal skylight keeps it from being too dark and it was our solution to not having 8 pieces of wood come together in our hip roof. This hip roof kept the building low, tucked in under an ancient apple tree, and a large highbush cranberry. A long padded bench on the north side acts as seating/lounging/bedding. Across from the bench is a table and chairs and screening on the south side and coming round on the west. Small square windows above the bench on three sides mean we catch every breeze. The deep overhang means we are protected from rain and snow – although we don’t really use it in winter. We use it for meals, for sleeping when summer guests fill the house, for lounging on Sunday morning and reading on hot summer afternoons. It is across the lawn from the house, just far enough to be ‘away’. It is perfection itself.

  21. My dream shed would exude “funky California bungalow/cottage” from the outside. It’s well constructed yet casual, and is decorated with a restrained yet eclectic palette of junk art and garden art made by me or others.

    Inside, my dream shed will be part yoga retreat, part satellite office, part library and part cafe. My iMac is in my little shed-alow and I’ve got a wicked fast internet connection. And music. It’s my escape from barking dogs, electric-guitar playing teenage boys, and ringing telephones.

    I’d like it to house all my gardening books, which are now scattered in different rooms in my house and even stacked on the living room floor.

    When I invite friends into my tiny lair, I would like to be able to offer them a decent cup of coffee or a beer or a nice glass of wine. Nice, like Two Buck Chuck. So, yeah, I’ll need a place for a coffee maker, a small wine rack, and a little fridge.

    There’s only room for one fancy recliner from Relax The Back inside my shed, so my friends and I will have to enjoy our drinks out on the tiniest front porch you’ve ever seen.

  22. I wanted a garden shed. My husband went out and bought a Tuff Shed, filled it with tools, lumber, and the lawn mower, and said “there you go, Darlin’ — a garden shed!” It hurt his feelings when I wasn’t thrilled, pour honey.

    So I built my own potting shed up against the back of the Tuff Shed. It’s small — just 8’x8′. The roof is corrugated fiberglass, the floor is terra cotta pavers, the three walls that aren’t the back of the Tuff Shed are T-111 to waist-high and then salvaged windows above that. The door is another salvaged window. There are potting benches along two walls, with plenty of storage underneath. I love it. It’s really a potting shed, not a lounging shed (I want one of those, too), but it’s pretty and serene, full of light. It’s tucked in the back corner of our city lot under a cedar tree.

  23. Out back of Anchovy World Headquarters up here in Toronto, I have an old shed I turned into a combination of painting studio and place to tie trout flies. I used to tie trout flies in the basement, but then there was the little matter of the moths that came in with with some feathers. Was I ever in trouble with the Minister of the Interior!

  24. Back in the spring I planned a combination chicken coop/garden shed. Many people discouraged me from combining the two because of the smell of the chickens. But I figured I wasn’t going to have THAT many chickens or spend THAT much time in the garden shed anyway.

    Since then, I have decided that what I really want is a potting shed just for me.

    Of course, I will have a neatly organized work area. I will have bins for all the ingredients for different types of potting mixes–peat moss, vermiculite, mushroom compost, etc. I’ll have shelves and all my pots will be organized according to size.

    I will have windowboxes, a ceiling fan, a tiny frig, books and a rocking chair. My cat, Miss P, will hang out with me, as will my little dogs. No men will be allowed and I will hang a sign advising them of such.

    Did I mention that I would have a little stereo. Maybe I’ll put in a heater too so that I can extend my time out there. And a daybed so I can take naps…

    Wait a minute! This is starting to sound like a little house of my own.

    Robin at Bumblebee

  25. I love sheds! I’m currently having a new tool shed built and it is going to look like an old fashioned outhouse, complete with half moon design on the door!

  26. What a thought/dream provoking challenge. I think I might just need 2 sheds, one that is functional with all my tools lined up against the wall and everything in a place where I can find them without anyone else interferring, borrowing or just not putting away. It would feature a small bench on the outside and the outer walls would be covered with clematis, honeysuckle. a variety of perennials and buzzing bees. The second shed would have big glassless windows and a large sliding door. Inside a comfortable chair and ottoman, books to browse through and a kettle for tea. Just wondering if a wine fridge would fit in…… The outside would be covered in vines and surrounded by herbs. So 2 sheds, 2 functions, all mine. Thanks!

  27. Hey honey, what you’re describing might be lovely, but it ain’t a shed. Sheds smell like gasoline and they have grease spots on the floor and bicycles in the way. Clay pots stacked against the wall and long handled tools hanging from hooks. Half empty bottles of garden chemicals teetering on the shelf. Fertilizer and bird seed stashed in garbage cans. Call yours an ‘outdoor retreat’, or some such, but have mercy, let a shed be a shed.

  28. Wow, everybody is so clean-cut here. My ideal shed would be for activities illegal, immoral, and fattening. Love my kids, but no kids allowed!

  29. My garden shack would have tools in order. No searching for the rake! Get me out and into the garden as fast as you can.

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