By Marni Jameson
Marie Antoinette had the right idea. When life in the Palace of Versailles with Louis and their four kids got to be too much, she slipped away to the Petit Trianon, a quaint (by royal standards) cottage in the garden where she could be by herself.
Two-hundred-plus years later, women across America have found the young queen was onto something. Today, “she sheds” – small outbuildings women have created for their own purposes — are fast becoming the new “it” structures.
“The term ‘she shed’ was barely on the radar two years ago,” said Erika Kotite, author of She Sheds: A Room of Your Own (Cool Springs Press, January 2017), in a phone interview. “Today a Google search surfaces millions of hits. Pinterest is on fire with she-shed content, and last year, a new TV series called He Shed, She Shed came out on FYI Network.”
All in response to a pent-up need for the woman of the house to get some space.
Any woman who has been in the midst of forming her most profound idea of the week — that spark for a painting or poem, that solution to a business problem, that perfect glittering phrase for that opening paragraph, that notion that would finally unify Einstein’s theory of relativity with quantum physics — and then had that moment pierced by the screams of her kids fighting over the last Oreo, the crash of a flower pot the dog bowled over, the shouts of her husband hollering at the referee on the television, or the ringing doorbell announcing the neighbor who’s come by to talk about the crabgrass, understands.
Kotite saw these women at her book launch party, which was, naturally, held in a she shed. “Over and over I’d watch women get struck by that aha moment,” she said. “I could see their heads swivel, their eyes dart around, their minds spinning. Then they’d say, ‘Hey, Honey?’”
Unlike man caves, which are often in the house, and are like dens officially identified as the man’s domain, she sheds are apart from the house, said Kotite.
“Is that because when a man goes into his man cave, everyone says, ‘Oh good,’ but when a woman slips away to be alone in the house, suddenly everyone needs her?” I ask.
“Exactly,” said Kotite, who is married with three children.
In her beautifully photographed book, Kotite, the former editor-in-chief for Romantic Homes and Victorian Homes and author of several books on crafts and fashion, opens the doors to these intensely personal and creative female spaces that serve as gardening sheds, artist studios, backyard sanctuaries, home offices, sewing rooms, and simple escapes.
“I talk about how each shed was built and why, and also about the woman who uses it, so it’s not just about the structure,” said Kotite, who is currently building a she shed for herself at her home in Huntington Beach, Calif.
In her book, we meet a horsewoman from New Hampshire, who uses her she shed to elegantly store the trophies and tack for her three horses, and a woman from rural Oregon who pieced together salvaged old windows to form her see-through she shed. The glass lookout sits on stilts, creating a Zen-like space where meditates.
As Kotite and I chat, I flip through her book. Now my head is now swiveling. My eyes are darting, as I hear Kotite ask: “Did we ever really outgrow our playhouses?”
Come to think if it, no.
Later, as I write my column from a desk in the corner of my home’s well-trafficked great room, where the dogs are fighting over a chew toy, and where I can hear my husband upstairs playing electric guitar in his man cave, I look across the courtyard toward the detached garage. I have thought about building a guest house above it, but now I’m thinking … maybe a place to write …?”
Though she sheds are as varied as the women who design them, here’s what every one must have, according to Kotite:
- A backyard –These free-standing outbuildings, which typically range from 100 to 200 square feet, need a little piece of land.
- A purpose – Before you design your she shed, know how you want to use it. A home office will have very different specifications than a gardening shed or art studio.
- A budget – In Kotite’s book, the cheapest she shed was $500, the cost to convert a plain metal existing shed into an artist’s studio. If you use salvaged materials and your handyman (or woman) skills, you can build a she shed for under $1,000. However, many DIY shed kits are on the market for between $1,500 and $5,000, and can be fashioned into a she shed with a little creative customization.
- Natural light – Windows and skylights are important, not only for artists, but also for those who want to make sure the space feels welcoming and connected to the outdoors.
- A door – So you can shut it, and lock it.
- A sound roof – This isn’t some old tool shed. Treat the space with respect.
- Electric wiring – This is a must if you want to work after sundown, or use any electrical equipment.
- A shared style – The best she sheds create a pretty focal point in yard and relate to the architecture of the main house.
- Ambience – This is you in 3-D, so decorate like it.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.