Remember the “man cave” craze? Back in the 1990s, thousands of American basements became pubs, game rooms and beer-tasting lounges — all so men could have a place to hang out in peace.
It’s not surprising, then, that women soon wanted kid-free, spouse-free retreats, too — somewhere to sip a glass of wine, do yoga, garden, paint or simply stare out the window in solitude. Enter the “she shed” revolution.
While styling photo shoots when she was editor for Romantic Homes and Victorian Homes magazines, Erika Kotite was always drawn to the small, quirky outbuildings on the properties. So when a publisher asked if she’d be interested in documenting the growing she shed trend, Kotite leapt at the chance. Kotite’s 2017 book, She Sheds: A Room of Your Own showcased dozens of funky, DIY retrofitted garden cabanas and other outdoor stand-alone structures, all of which had been lovingly transformed into bonus spaces by and for women.
Since then, she sheds have been popping up wherever women need an extra room for work, hobbies or relaxation.
A Book Becomes a Business
After her book came out, Kotite realized her passion project had tapped into an increasing need to escape life’s frantic pace. At book signings, women shared their desires for she sheds, but many lacked the knowledge or skills to renovate or build one.
“Women asked me, ‘Can you help me? Do you have a kit? Do you have plans?’ So I toyed around with some of those ideas,” recalls Kotite, who lives in Huntington Beach, Calif.
One woman who approached Kotite — Sabrina Contreras, an entrepreneur and board member of The Red Hat Society — led straight into a new adventure.
“Sabrina found me at a show, doing my side hustle and signing my books, and said, ‘I love your message and how you’re helping women’. I had been thinking about how to go from being a writer to being an entrepreneur, so the two of us put our heads together,” says Kotite.
“The best she sheds are built with intention,” says Kotite, noting that each shed is unique to the woman who creates it.
In May 2018, Kotite and Contreras launched She Shed Living, an online community and e-commerce business offering consulting services to help women across North America design and build their sanity-saving spaces. Kotite also sells on her site a line of chalk-based She Shades paints she formulated for exterior surfaces.
Getting a She Shed Off the Ground
“The best she sheds are built with intention,” says Kotite, noting that each shed is unique to the woman who creates it. Her recently published book, She Sheds Style: Make Your Space Your Own, offers step-by-step DIY decorating projects, tips on repurposing furniture and stories of she sheds being used as home offices, yoga retreats, craft studios or meditation spaces.
From charmingly rustic to fully insulated, wired and plumbed, she shed costs vary wildly, says Kotite. Renovating an existing structure is the least expensive option. She sheds may start out as utilitarian spaces that house yard tools, lawn furniture and bicycles, but they can become spectacular jewels with some imagination and lots of elbow grease — all without breaking the bank.
“For the woman who just wants a beautiful little space in her backyard and doesn’t have a lot of money, scrounge around and ask friends who are renovating, and get as many of your own materials as possible,” says Kotite. She adds that vintage windows, barn wood, floor boards, old doors and hardware can be found inexpensively on sites such as Craigslist or at salvage shops.
“If you then identify friends and family who have construction skills, you could create a really lovely, eclectic she shed for under $1,000,” Kotite says.
No outbuilding? No problem. Building one from scratch is much less expensive and complicated than adding an extension onto your home, which generally costs between $20,000 and $40,000, while also necessitating permits to change the footprint of the house, notes Kotite.
While many cities allow accessory buildings of up to 120 square feet and 11 feet high without requiring a permit, check with local authorities before beginning a project, she suggests. Any hard-wiring or plumbing requires permits. A solid, level foundation of concrete, wood, brick or pavers must be laid to support a new shed.
In temperate climates, most she sheds are pretty basic, with windows providing natural ventilation. For year-round use in colder areas of the country, she sheds need to be insulated, dry-walled and heated, so are therefore more expensive.
DIY or Custom She Shed?
Kotite built her own she shed from recycled materials (including lumber scraps from her garage and used siding from her aunt’s house) while writing her second book. She laid vintage bricks — a $35 Craigslist find — as flooring and found the perfect door for $60. Kotite learned how to use power tools with help from her husband Tim Hayes and by watching YouTube videos and hired a former film set designer to help enhance her skills. Total cost: $1,500, including a $425 splurge on a pair of restored leaded glass windows.
She Shed Living partners with building company A Place to Grow to offer women handcrafted, one-of-a-kind she sheds made with reclaimed materials. With the partners’ help, clients choose the design, size and materials; most of the she sheds range from 6’-x-6’ to 12’-x-20.’
She Shed Living designs she sheds that start at about $125 per square foot, and clients can customize the structure. Other custom-built she sheds can cost anywhere between $8,000 and $30,000, including professional help and top-quality materials.
A Place of Her Own in Her New Husband’s Home
When Carla Manly got married for the second time in 2015, she moved into her husband Brian’s house and soon found that she was missing having her own space.
“My home had been a huge part of my personal identity that had given me a sense of autonomy and personal security; in the transition to married life, I realized I’d lost my footing,” says Manly, a clinical psychologist and author in Santa Rosa, Calif. “As much as I loved my husband, his home did not feel like my space. At times, I felt like a woman who had no place to call her own.”
When Manly’s husband suggested building a she shed, she began perusing online images for inspiration and design ideas. Due to their busy work schedules, the couple opted to purchase a kit from Summerwood Products.
“It came with wood, windows, a door and a template — the rest was up to us,” recalls Manly. “We moved through the design process as a team; it was a delight to partner up to create a very special place.”
Finding the right spot upon which to build the she shed was Manly’s biggest initial challenge due to zoning requirements. An area under an ancient oak tree proved perfect.
Grading and foundation work began in the fall of 2017, and the couple were laying floorboards when wildfires began in the hills around their home. They were evacuated for nine days, and thankful to find their home — and the she shed — intact.
“My 120-square-foot she shed is unique because of the idyllic setting, and the love nestled within every board,” says Manly. “It was a truly bonding, if sometimes laughably frustrating, experience framing the walls, because neither of us are carpenters.”
Because she wanted her she shed to reflect the surrounding ocean, hills and forest, choosing the perfect sea green for the exterior took a long time — and 30 paint samples, notes Manly. Her she shed cost $23,000 including ground work, roofing, a white pine interior, painting and a redwood deck. She didn’t spend a cent furnishing the interior, using her own favorite items, plus an antique desk salvaged from an old school and a vintage cabinet donated by friends.
“My she shed is a reflection of me with its gentle colors, light and warmth; it’s a place of peace and serenity,” says Manly, who named her she shed Zazen (a meditative discipline). “It’s my sacred space for reflecting, unwinding, writing, meditation and yoga. The inside is carefully adorned with bits of my own history — precious artifacts that reflect love and life before, and since, my marriage. It feels like home.”
Endless Potential to Create a Place of Your Own
Whether you renovate an old shack, purchase a DIY kit or spring for a turn-key, custom-built she shed, you can easily add your own style to it, says Kotite. Her book features ideas for transforming an old suitcase into a mod ottoman, crafting a neon sign like the hot-pink one hanging above her own structure and upcycling a wooden ladder into a vertical garden.
Kotite and her team have been offering custom sheds since September 2018 and Kotite’s goal is to build two sheds a month.
“A lot goes into each one, because no two are alike; they’re a labor of love,” she says. “We’re looking at how we can scale our business while still keeping our vintage recycled vibe, and we’re trying to build a community that helps women articulate their desire to find more time for themselves. They just love the idea of a room of their own in the backyard.”
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