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Tips for transforming your backyard storage space into your very own she shed can be found here


When Erika Kotite was an editor for home and garden magazines she found herself drawn to the intriguing little buildings behind the main houses she featured in her publications.

There was something about the miniature size and the mystery of what might be inside, that proved magnetic. So years later when several former colleagues were looking for the right person to put together a picture book on what have come to be known popularly as “she sheds” — the female answer to the 'man cave' — they immediately thought of Kotite.

The Piner High School graduate, who now lives in Huntington Beach, happily took on the challenge, creaming out from Pinterest, Houzz and other sources, some of the best examples of small outbuildings and structures that have been turned in to tricked out retreats for women.

“I think it’s linked to playhouses. It’s a room of our own,” said Kotite, the author of the new book, “She Shed: A Room of Your Own” (Cool Springs Press; $25). “You can decide who can come in and who cannot. Women are squeezed for space. Now all of a sudden there is an easy, low maintenance way to have a new space for yourself in the backyard. It’s pretty clever.”

Space and privacy-starved women have quickly embraced the concept, seeking out forgotten sheds, shacks, freestanding garages built for Model Ts, small goat barns and coops, and turning them into nooks where they can engage in artistic pursuits and hobbies. And some women, if they don’t have an old building, are getting DIY kits or buying ready made garden sheds and customizing them.

The concept of dolling up a weathered, rattletrap outbuilding into a feminine hideaway is an offshoot of “Shabby Chic,” the Rachel Ashwell invention that become the trend that never dies. Many women love the idea of repurposing, and it’s a design idea that is accessible to any budget. A flood of new books on the subject has hit the market like “Women’s Huts and Hideaways” and “Shed Decor” and kit manufacturers are catching on, marketing cute garden sheds to women. Summerwood Products out of Colorado even features a backyard cottage called “The Sonoma.” a little hip-roof shed that you can customize to your architectural taste and which promises “to bring the feeling of wine country to your piece of the world.”

Kotite’s book, which features a range of styles from a cute converted corn crib with slatted walls and window boxes, to a minimalist ultra modern shed sheathed in corrugated steel, is already entering its fourth printing and she is gathering materials for a second volume.

Kotite said that while men tend to seek out clubby, often dark places attached to the house, like the garage or basement for their caves, women want to get away from the house and demands of family and chores. And they are bathing their tiny sheds in light with lots of glass — doors, windows and skylights.

Men are still struggling to understand why women are taking their traditional turf — like tool sheds — and feminizing them with furniture, paint, pictures and even chandeliers.

“But they’re slowly coming around. And some are offering to help build or assemble She Sheds for their wives,” Kotite said.

But it’s not all about gender specificity. Tracy Sawyer of Sebastopol actually shares one with her husband. Together, they carved up an old outbuilding on their slightly-under 2-acre property. Sawyer, who oversees education and outreach programs for the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, turned her half into what she calls her Scrap Shack. The 11-by-13-foot space, is where she indulges her passion for putting together elaborate scrapbooks.

“It’s not a suite, but it’s sweet,” she says of her makeshift atelier, which she helped finish off with Sheetrock and laminate floors that are impervious to paint spills.

She said the shed’s original purpose — a chicken coop perhaps, or maybe a dog run — is lost to time. But the once “gross thing” in her backyard is now her happy place, where she’s free to spread out on big tables and make messes she doesn’t have to clean up until she’s finished with a project.

“I’m the envy of my friends. If you’re spread out on your dining room table you have to clean it up to use the dining room table. My shack is a shambles but really nice,” she said.

Rustic outbuildings and tool sheds lend themselves to a hodge podge of design, like the family cabin where the old furniture and dishes go to retire. “I have my typewriter from high school. It’s laughable, a plug-in Selectric. I have a sewing machine. I don’t know how to sew but if I want to learn, I can,” she says.

A glass door provides a nice view of the yard.

“It’s really nice to go out there and get in that headspace. It’s definitely a place where my creative wheels start turning and I have fun. And I share. Friends come over and they can play with me and we can all scrap in the space. Kotite said part of the attraction of using an outbuilding for personal space is that it’s so easy. If it is 120 square feet or less you don’t need a permit or inspections as long as it meets local setback requirements. You will need to get permits if you want to add electricity or plumbing. But a lot of women get by with natural light, and using their shed as a day retreat.

Women use their tiny houses in a multitude of ways. In her book, Kotitie features women like Susan Mintun, a botanical illustrator outside Philadelphia. After conceding to her husband in a garage space war she went to Garden Sheds, Inc. and had them customize a shed with a faintly Colonial look. She added a French door and plenty of open shelves where she now draws to her heart’s content.

Kotite also features Paige Morse’s “Casita,” which she converted out of a shed. Now a cute cabin, with corner kitchen and tiny bath, it has enabled her to make extra income renting her main house as an Airbnb. When she has guests she moves to her casita.

“In Oregon there’s a She Shed made entirely of glass on raised posts. The owner is very Zen. She uses it for meditation. It’s on a rise and like a watchtower,” Kotite said.

She undertook a demonstration project with her sister, Karen Nystrom in Santa Cruz, using a shed kit from Costco. It came out well, painted in plum colors and opened up with windows they found on Craigslist. Assembling a kit can be challenging. Instructions can be found online and downloaded from a PDF and most kit manufacturers offer telephone assistance, Kotite said. But be prepared to manage and organize hundreds of little parts and you will need a lot of tools and additional materials.

While Sonoma County is rife with the kind of rural properties and ranchettes where you’re likely to have an outbuilding to annex, you don’t need to be in the country or to even have a large yard to have your own She Shed, Kotite says.

She lives in Huntington Beach, in a newer home along the Bolsa Chica wetlands. She has only a “pocket garden” but she’s determined to have a She Shed.

She’s designing it herself and it will be her private reading nook.

“It will have a herringbone brick foundation. I love vintage brick,” she said. “I’m hoping it will have a drop-down bar and a shelf in back where I can have all my books. Eventually I can have all my Jane Austen and Laura Ingalls Wilder books there. I want to find the perfect reading chair and it will have good light.”

And however tiny, it will be a room of her own.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5204. On Twitter @megmcconahey.