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Move over man cave: ‘She-shed’ is the lighter, brighter hideout

Posted: August 30, 2016

Creating a space that’s all hers without ever having to leave home — these female retreats are growing in popularity.



J.P. Moczulski, Toronto Star

Monika Schaefer steps out of her she-shed, a 310-sq.-ft. space with tongue-and-groove pine and big windows that she uses as a studio for creating pottery, tapestries and jewelry.
Hamilton Spectator

Monika Schaefer had been heading to the basement of her Hamilton-area home to create pottery and fibre art.

Two years ago, she decided it was time to move out — to the backyard — and into her own “she-shed.”

“Forever I’ve wanted to be above ground so I can look out the window and listen to the birds,” Schaefer says.

She isn’t the only woman heading for the hills — or at least the backyard — these days. It seems droves of women are taking a look at everything from garden and storage sheds to garages and seeing a place for themselves, a lighter, brighter version of a man cave. It is a place where women take their business, whether it’s a hobby or a social spot or just somewhere away from it all without having to leave home.

Schaefer had a concrete slab laid down in the backyard, then hired a Beamsville, Ont., area company, Limestone Trail, to put together the shed. It took two days to install the 310 sq.-ft. structure (12-by-20 feet at the back and a 7-by-10-foot wing) at a cost of $28,000.

In went her work tables, several display cases, electricity, and a sink, and she was good to go.

The tongue and groove cedar walls of Schaefer’s shed are insulated, enabling her to use it three seasons. “I spend every waking moment out there. I love it,” Schaefer beams. “It’s nice and bright and cheery. I went crazy with the windows, because I wanted lots of natural light, and that helps heat it up in the spring and the fall. It cooks there in the summer, but I have a window-unit air conditioner.”

Cindy Jardim, director of style and trends at Lowe’s Canada, says, “Women are feeling it’s time for the man cave to move over and to make room for them. It’s time they have their own little haven, whether it’s starting from fresh or taking a look at the shed in the back corner of her yard that’s been neglected over the years to spruce it up.”

Women are using she-sheds for everything from art studios and writing sheds to just simple getaways. Jardim says, “It could be just chatting with girlfriends, reading a book and having a glass of wine, even napping — whatever makes you happy in your little escape. It just kind of takes the pressures away from everyday life. You don’t have to worry about what’s next on the to-do list, what meal you’re going to make, what jobs have to be done. It’s your own little space where you go out and do whatever makes you happy.”

Jardim says she’s encountered some pretty spectacular she-sheds. “What I love is that they’re all so different. It really speaks to the individual — I never get tired of looking at them, because there’s so much you can do.”

What women choose ultimately comes down to preference and budget. Custom builders can create whatever a customer wants and there are also kits available in materials ranging from metal to resin. Depending on the size of the backyard and budget, the sky’s the limit. Jardim says, “You can go very simple with a shed as small as 5-by-7 feet, or you can go very big and put a little porch on the outside where you can fit in a sectional sofa.”

While there are numerous ready-made sheds or designs available for purchase, many women decide to convert or enhance an existing structure. Cheryl Ward took an old garage (12-by-16 feet) behind her north Toronto home and created an art studio for herself. A contractor drywalled interior walls, put down a cement floor and closed off the garage door with a dummy wall that can be removed, installed a picture window at one end, a skylight in the roof and another window on the side, all to create an art studio.

Ward, who is retired and calls herself a hobby artist, says it’s the perfect retreat. “It’s a nice way to get away from it all. I’m surrounded by a garden which I’ve worked the last 20 years. It’s just a really appealing getaway place in the middle of the city.”

Jardim says watching all the she-shed activity has convinced her that her end-of-the-summer project this year is to create one for herself. “We’re putting up a new shed, and it’s going to be mine. I live in a house with all men — I have two boys, and even our dog is a male, so there is nothing girlie in our house. I want it to be extremely girlie.”

If you’re thinking of going the she-shed route, Jardim has a few pointers. Have fun with the design. “Do all those things you’ve wanted to try in your house but were afraid to, whether it’s bold colour, wallpaper or a mural.”

You don’t need to install electricity, simply run a long extension cord. For security, Jardim suggests a padlock or just a simple entry door where you need a key to enter. Keep backyard critters at bay by making sure there are no loose boards, and remember to close the doors at night.

A few cautions from Jardim. Don’t use it as a catch-all for storage. “It will just become another thing on your to-do list to clean up.”

She also advises not putting furniture inside that is too big. “Don’t put a chair or sofa inside that’s too large and going to overwhelm the space.”

In the Hamilton area, if you are building over a certain size, you have to apply for a building permit. Check with the city for detailed info on bylaw by calling 905-546-2720, email building@hamilton.ca or at hamilton.ca.

Women are using she-sheds to work, create and chill out

She-sheds come in many shapes, sizes and designs. A few examples of what women are doing with their own, personal spaces:

• Jewelry artist Joan Drews used a former garage foundation as a base for her she-shed (22 square metres) in Phoenix, Md. With two lofts at the front and back of the studio, a small porch, insulation, year-round heating and air-conditioning, it’s the perfect place for her jewelry business — built for creativity, productivity and comfort. “When I walk into the studio, I feel blessed and always think, ‘What will I make today?’ ” COST: $28,000

• Ottawa sisters Lynsey Bennett and Kristi Blok turned an old shed (14-by-20 feet) in Bennett’s backyard into an ‘outdoor living room.’ They installed reclaimed wide plank wood beams on interior walls, added patio doors and a ceiling fan. Then Blok, an interior decorator, added furniture, art, pillows and shelving. Electrical was already in place. Bennett, who lives just steps away from Ottawa’s Little Italy, hosts an annual BBQ in her she-shed. COST: $3,500

• Retired Ottawa nurse Gabriele Mehaffey’s neighbour built her a shed (10-by-10 feet), with a vaulted ceiling and a poured concrete heated floor with a baseboard heater, for her new-found passion — writing poetry and short stories. With two skylights, windows overlooking the garden and her desk, and a glass door, she loves her cosy abode. “I often have to shovel my way to my shed in winter, which feels like an adventure.” COST: $28,000

• Writer Kathrin Edwards hired a carpenter to build walls, install leaded glass doors and electricity in an unfinished vinyl-sided (9-by-7.5-foot) tool shed in her Kamloops, B.C., backyard. With special touches like a floor made of pennies, she then filled it with a barrister’s bookcase, a hope chest filled with memorabilia and a glider rocker. “It’s a combination of all the things I cherish — everything in my past and present is one place.” COST: $2,000

Toronto Star