What Constitutes a Shed?


George Bernard Shaw in his writing shed

Some of you may recall our post last week about the 2017 “Shed of the Year” contest.  For those of you who are new to the blog, I should probably warn you that I go through periods of my life in which I get obsessed with having a writing shed in my backyard.  I don’t have one yet, but a man can certainly dream!  (One time I actually tried to convince shed builders to build me one in exchange for free publicity at the blog.  By the way, that offer still stands. We have a lot of readers).

It seems like this year’s finalists for the coveted prize of “Shed of the Year” have drawn some criticism.  The folks in the U.K. take their sheds very seriously and some believe that the structures chosen to compete for this year’s award are not really sheds.

Here is a taste of an article at The Yorkshire Post titled “Is the term shed losing its meaning?

Andrew, who runs the phenomenally successful readersheds.co.uk, really needn’t have bothered as most of us don’t care about the semantics. Shed trips off the tongue far more easily than garden building and it sounds relaxed, while whispering “escape.” Yorkshire-based writer Sally Coulthard, author of best-selling books Shed Chic and Shed Decor, says: “When I was writing the books, there were lots of small buildings that we wanted to include that wouldn’t necessarily come under a tight definition of ‘shed’. I can think of shepherd’s huts, caravans, treehouses, railway carriages, tents, and showman’s wagons that all made the pages. We included them because the spirit of the shed was definitively in them, the idea of a small, portable or temporary structure that has been transformed into a useable space.

“For me, sheds are just as easily defined by what they are not. They are not supposed to be permanent living accommodation or a replacement for a home; sheds also can’t be built from permanent materials like brick or stone, they need to be materials that can be deconstructed or moved if necessary, like wood or metal sheeting. For me, a shed is a retreat, or an extra space, that enhances your home, somewhere you can express yourself or carve out a quiet corner. “

Designer maker and author of Granny Chic Rachelle Blondel, of Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales, agrees and invested in a 1980s Monza caravan six years ago. Known as “Maud”, it is now parked in her garden and serves as a retreat, guest suite and a playhouse for her daughter. “I got it for £350 from eBay, re-did the inside, put some electric in and painted the outside off-white. It was a cheap solution and because it is technically mobile, it isn’t a problem planning wise,” she says.

Alex Johnson, who runs shedworking.co.uk and writes on microarchitecture for The Idler magazine, is a former Shed of the Year judge and believes that the definition of a ‘shed’ is now notoriously tricky to pin down.

“I think most of us would agree that while some builds fall under the heading of ‘microarchitecture’, they are only shed-like at a considerable push. However, I wouldn’t like to see people discouraged from entering Shed of the Year because one of the great successes of the competition is that it has thrown up so many examples of incredible ingenuity within highly restricted spaces.”

He points to some of the builds he has shared on shedworking.co.uk. They include a 4m high boat pod constructed from the former bow section of a Cornish fishing trawler, a contemporary garden office clad in cork and the theatrical Flying Black House by Czech architects H3T. This shed is suspended in mid-air under the arch of an old railway bridge.

Read the entire piece here.

Writing Shed of the Day

This one comes from Alastair Humphreys, a “writer, author, and motivational speaker.”  Check out his pics and read a short narrative about his shed-building experience. Here is a taste:

I’ve almost always worked from home. At times I’ve worked in spare bedrooms or from a sofa in the living room. I’ve set up a desk in a conservatory (hiding under an umbrella when the sun was too bright to see my computer screen). I’ve written blog posts whilst eating breakfast, I’ve edited book chapters on the loo.
But over the last couple of years I’ve begun yearning for a specific workspace of my own. A place where I could think “this is where I work. Today I am going to grind out some creativity and get 2000 words written no matter how little I feel like it.” [There’s a big difference between grinding out creativity and the sparking of creativity which comes on long runs, visiting new places, chatting to interesting people.] I wanted somewhere to play Thunder Road on repeat very loudly. I needed to leave home, to go somewhere to work (‘I’m heading out of here to win!’) and then to come home again when I’d finished and to properly relax, like normal people do.
I couldn’t really justify renting an office when all I need is a computer. And, besides, I didn’t choose my direction in life in order to have an office. No. What I really wanted was a shed. Middle-aged male stereotype, perhaps, but I challenge anyone to visit the Cabin Porn website (it’s safe for work! Except that it might make you hand in your resignation…) and not feel a deep longing for a place of their own.
So when my royalty cheque arrived for my Microadventures book (due out this June) I decided to treat myself to a shed of my own.

HT: Shedworking

Bob Elder’s Writing Cabin

We love writing sheds (and cabins) here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. It seems more and more historians (see our interview with T.J. Tomlin of the University of Northern Colorado) are doing their work in these small detached structures and I hope one day I will be able to join them.

I recently learned about another shed/cabin worker.  I first met Bob Elder through my affiliation with the Lilly Fellows Program in Arts and Humanities at Valparaiso.  (I was a fellow from 2000-2002 and currently sit on the board of the organization).  Of all the young American historians working on projects related to religion in the American South, Bob is one of the best.  His first book, Sacred Communities: Evangelicalism, Honor, and Identity in the American South, 1790-1860, is currently under contract with the University of North Carolina Press.
After entertaining several job offers following his two-year stint at Valparaiso , Bob decided to take a job at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas.  He and his young family have taken up residence on his family’s farm and built a beautiful writing cabin on the property.

When I learned of Bob’s decision to move back to Kansas, take the job at Tabor, and build his cabin, I could not resist interviewing for the blog.  I caught up with him recently and asked him a few questions.  Enjoy!  –JF
JF: You just took a college teaching job in Kansas and moved to the family farm. Tell us a bit about the decision.
BE: We were very fortunate to have a decision to make at all in this job market, but in the end the choice to take the job near home hinged on certain things I believe about the importance of place, community, and one way to live a good life. I was lucky enough to grow up in a very distinctive place, a small community outside Wichita where my family runs an organic farm. Both my wife and I come from families that have lived in specific places for a very long time (hers in South Carolina), so when the opportunity to live and raise our kids near family presented itself, we felt like we had to try it. I’ve read a lot about graduate school as a form of socialization that instills unrealistic expectations in young academics and makes them think about their careers in certain, rather inflexible ways (although I think my graduate program and my advisor did a great job informing me and preparing me for the reality of the academic market). That tendency to idealize in abstraction a certain kind of career doesn’t die easily, but in my case two things helped me look at my academic career from a different angle. The first was a long exposure to the agrarian/communitarian intellectual tradition, people like Wendell

Berry and the Nashville Agrarians (we’re calling my cabin the Lytle Cabin in honor of Andrew Lytle, one of the Nashville Agrarians and my parents’ teacher at Sewanee). In particular, Berry’s address to the NEH last year really hit me hard at a time when I was very conscious of being subject to a job market that placed no particular emphasis on place or the importance of “affection,” to use Berry’s term. The second thing that helped me look at my career from a different angle was the Lilly Fellows Postdoctoral Program at Valparaiso University, where I was fortunate enough to spend two years learning to teach and thinking about my academic vocation in terms of a Christian calling (I’m working at a college in the Mennonite tradition). In the end, I think I could have put my ideas about place into practice nearly anywhere, but I feel very fortunate to be where I am.

JF: Why a writing shed/cabin?

BE: I’m living on (or around the corner from) the family farm, but I’ll be driving half an hour to work at least three days a week, so some sort of a home office seemed to make sense. Also, while I love the fact that my parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, and old friends can just stop by, and that we have a very active, some would say hyperactive, social life in that

regard, sometimes I’m going to need to get away from that. So I felt like I needed a separate place where I could work on the days I’m at home and in the evenings. Plus, my wife was happy to have all my books out of the house! I also felt that if I created the space I’d feel more obligated to use it, particularly for writing. Part of the rationale about living near family is that we’ll be able to spend more time during holidays and the summer at home, and hopefully I’ll be able to use those extra weeks to write. It worked out perfectly because there was an existing structure on the property, an old garden shed, that already had a concrete pad and electricity running to it. My brother runs a small sawmill and provided some of the wood, which he milled from local trees (yes, Kansas has trees!), and another friend who’s a general contractor helped out with other material and supervising the project (tip: you don’t want me drywalling your house). I’m really happy with how it turned out.    

JF: I know that you just finished the project, but I wonder if having a place like this to write has changed your writing habits?  Have you developed a writing routine?

BE: I started using the cabin this summer, and although at first it was a little weird walking out the front door (“Bye, I’m going to work!”) and just walking down the hill to the cabin, I really started to appreciate the routine and the ability to have a separate work space but still be “at home,” have lunch with the family, etc. I anticipate using the cabin during the evenings and a couple days a week during the school year. One thing I’ve already noticed is the difference it makes mentally to be in a place where you know, barring marauding children, that you won’t be interrupted. I haven’t had that sort of space since I wrote my dissertation in a tiny office at the very back of the top floor of the Emory library. It’s really great. I think I read and write differently because of it.
JF: Any drawbacks to working in a writing cabin? 

BE: The cabin is air-conditioned (this is Kansas) but there’s no bathroom, and given my coffee habit that can be a challenge. Of course, I can always walk up the hill to the house or, given the fact we’re on five wooded acres with no neighbors in sight, use the woods. Don’t tell my wife.

Thanks, Bob.

And I might add that my offer is still on the table.  If there is a contractor out there who wants to build me a shed (I live in central Pennsylvania–Cumberland County) I will be happy to provide his/her shed building company with unlimited free publicity and a permanent advertisement in the sidebar here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Let’s work out a deal.  Contact me at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu

Do you work in a writing shed or cabin?  We would be happy to consider featuring you here at the blog. 

10% of Brits Are Planning to Build a Shed This Weekend

From Shedworking:

According to Nationwide Building Society nearly half of Brits are planning to spend at least some time this Easter doing DIY [Do It Yourself]. And while 52% are painting/decorating and nearly four in ten are landscaping the garden or doing something to the fence, lawn or patio, a big 9% (ok, nearly 1 in 10) say they’ll be putting up a shed or outhouse.

Graham Pilkington, Divisional Director Banking, Insurance and Investments at Nationwide said: “Easter has traditionally been a favourite time for DIYing, and this year is no different with over half of us planning to break out the paint brushes and filler. The number of people moving house over the last few years has declined, so the increase in the number and size of personal loans suggests that homeowners are spending more to maintain and upgrade their current property rather than moving on.” 

Not all of these weekend warriors will be constructing writing sheds, but this is still pretty cool.