Backyard hideaways support
creative pursuits and pure relaxation.
— by Jeanne O’Brien Coffey
It’s been nearly 100 years since Virginia Woolf first made the plea for women to have a private space for creative pursuits, in her essay “A Room of One’s Own.” In the ensuing decades, women have increasingly taken seats in boardrooms while continuing to manage responsibilities at home, so it’s no wonder demand has skyrocketed for a detached space to unwind.
“At work, you are taking care of your team and your clients. At home, you are taking care of your children and your spouse,” says Diane Lowy, founder of New York at Home, a home coach and professional organizer for CEO families. “Having a she shed is a place to fill your own cup.”
“She shed”—the tongue-in-cheek answer to a “man cave”—likely passed into the vernacular in the early 2000s, says Erika Kotite, author of the first book to use the term in its title, She Sheds: A Room of Your Own. Kotite thinks the first such structure to draw national attention was perhaps a tiny Carpenter Gothic cottage in the Adirondacks, featured in the New York Times in 2010. “It captured the imagination of women who dreamed of finding a little peace and quiet that might have been missing from their busy homes,” says Kotite, who founded She Shed Living with Sabrina Contreras in 2018 to help women pursue that dream.
She sheds are not just for escaping: Women use backyard shelters to pursue hobbies like gardening and crafting, Kotite says. “A dedicated private space, detached from the house, where you can start a project then put it aside for another day without anyone coming in and moving it around is priceless,” she says.
Which is not to say she sheds are only for solo pursuits. “I entertain in mine all the time,” says Elizabeth Georgantas, principal at Georgantas Design + Development, who has her own she shed and also designs them for clients. “I love the space. It feels magical and transformative, away from the doldrums of the kitchen breakfast table, covered in Cheerios and pancake syrup residue.” Because it’s strictly for grown-ups, Georgantas can use heirloom pieces that may be endangered in the main house, like her grandmother’s china and her antique brass candlesticks.
The she shed can also display the furnishings of your dreams, says professional organizer Lowy. “Nothing says ‘This is an adult space’ like furniture upholstered in white linen,” she notes, adding that this is the spot to let your style shine through. “I often see loved artwork in basements, garages, and attics that a spouse doesn’t like as much,” Lowy says. “Your she shed is the perfect place to finally enjoy these pieces again.”
While decorating, don’t forget the lighting. Kotite suggests a chandelier or elegant pendant light. “Sheds are small, so scale your lighting to match,” she advises. “The exposed roof—please, no drop-down ceiling—provides just the right height for a dazzling fixture.”
Above all, aim for flexible functionality. Georgantas hangs extra chairs on the wall so she can easily accommodate impromptu entertaining, but keeps them out of sight when they’re not needed.
Easy-to-move pieces are important if you hope to indulge a variety of interests, Lowy agrees. “A she shed is a place to enjoy your favorite pastimes, and you probably have more than one,” she says. Furniture that’s easy to move allows you to change your space depending on your needs and interests.
Whatever the design, Virginia Woolf ’s plea rings as true today as it did a century ago. “Sometimes a door you can close isn’t enough of a barrier between your family and time to yourself,” Lowy says. “You are entitled to time and space for yourself to use as you please. A she shed is a beautiful place to spend this time.”