Home & Garden

Need some ‘me’ time? Build your own backyard escape with a ‘she-shed’

Vanessa Henson’s she-shed in Los Osos has a large window built from a salvaged door that sits sideways and opens to create an outdoor bar, with views of Morro Rock.
Vanessa Henson’s she-shed in Los Osos has a large window built from a salvaged door that sits sideways and opens to create an outdoor bar, with views of Morro Rock.

Consider it the grown-up equivalent of the “no boys allowed” clubhouse. Feminine retreats, commonly called “she-sheds,” are increasingly popular. They’re the answer to the “man cave” and, some say, to the pressures of society.

“In the 21st century, women everywhere are stepping up and demanding more for themselves,” said Dana O’Brien, owner of A Place to Grow, who noted that the pressures of home, family and work require “some true ‘me’ time.”

A Place to Grow is a San Luis Obispo company that builds sheds, greenhouses and other outdoor structures from recycled materials. At the moment, about 98 percent of its clients are women.

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A feminine retreat doesn’t have to be a shed, however. San Luis Obispo interior designer Yvette Chaix said that an attic space, a spare bedroom, even a walk-in closet can do nicely.

She recommends letting function dictate the design of the space. A craft room needs a large table and plenty of storage. A reading room wouldn’t be right without a comfy chair and bookshelves. Will you have friends over? If so, a larger space with more seating will be in order. Or, if your aim is to simply relax, a cozy sofa and a spot to set a cup of tea may be all that’s needed.

Here’s a look at why, and how, four local women created she-sheds. No matter their original intent, all use the space as their quiet place.

Vanessa Henson — for ‘me and the dogs’

Vanessa Henson’s Los Osos she-shed was a gift from partner Pete Riolo. It was a pre-built shed by A Place to Grow. “As soon as I saw this structure I knew that it would be perfect in our yard,” she said.

Although she had the right spot, she realized that surrounding landscaping needed a boost “to help frame the shed,” she said. They hired Botanica Nova to build a rock retaining wall, which also serves as a front patio for the shed. They added raised vegetable beds, plantings and wood chips. They ended up with a complete backyard revamp, “all if it inspired by the shed,” she said.

The shed has a large window built from a salvaged door that sits sideways and opens to create an outdoor bar. This feature made Henson envision intimate get-togethers, with views of the bay and Morro Rock. But for now, “it’s just me and the dogs,” she said, “a quiet place to read, study, enjoy the outdoors with the comforts of home.”

Zoe Sunderland — a greenhouse

Zoe Sunderland of Shell Beach started out designing a greenhouse — a simple place to keep her collection of potted succulents and cacti. It evolved into “a space where I can decompress and get into my Zen mood,” she said.

Careful material choices took it from utilitarian to inspirational. She found old windows and doors that give an aged look. Skylights add brightness and air circulation. She decided to wire the shed so that she could enjoy it well into the evening. Two antique chandeliers add elegance and contrast nicely with the shed’s rustic character.

Several features simplify tending to her plants. There is a faucet for washing tools and watering. Shelves have pans mounted beneath to catch water and let them drain outside. The shed has plenty of space to store tools and a potting station mounted outside at the back of the structure.

Susan Unkel — a place to read, do yoga, drink tea

One day, Susan Unkel of Los Osos realized she hadn’t had a space just for herself since she was a teenager. Her wish was simple — a “quiet place where I could read, do yoga or art and drink tea,” she said.

Her retreat, built by A Place to Grow, sits on a rarely used backyard deck that has a view of Morro Rock. Two walls of windows allow her to enjoy that view. Other windows are decorative. A round “moon window” was inspired by one she admired in a tea house. It was made from stacked glass by local glass artist Ted Emrick. There are also two antique colored glass windows from India. Together, they add to the Asian ambiance that Unkel wanted for her space.

She finished the retreat with a large comfortable sofa and a space to make tea, “which I’m often drinking when I read,” she said.

Kathleen Spencer — a display room

When Kathleen and Bill Spencer downsized, Kathleen had no space to display her collections of handmade dolls and antique glass. So they sat in boxes for four years, and she began to contemplate selling it all.

Then she discovered the she-shed concept, which was less expensive than a room addition and also less disruptive; her shed from A Place to Grow was built offsite and assembled in one day at their home in Los Osos.

The shed was designed around Spencer’s hutch, which she uses to display her antique glass. Dolls sit on structural beams along the walls.

But the space isn’t just for displays. Kathleen added a table and seating so she can read, do puzzles or steal away for a private phone conversation. She enjoys sitting there, listening to rain beating against the tin roof.

She invites her sister and mother over to have coffee and “giggle like girls,” she said. And, once in awhile, she even lets her husband visit. “Then it becomes a we-shed,” she said.


SHED BASICS: According to Dana O’Brien, a shed requires a level space such as a concrete pad or deck. It can also be built on a decomposed granite or gravel pad with a wood perimeter.

FIND A PLACE: Carefully consider where you will put your shed. Do you need lots of light, such as with an art studio or greenhouse? Or will light be damaging to collectibles? Will shade from trees make the shed comfortable in a sunny yard, or too cool and dark? Where should windows be placed to take advantage of the best views?

SHED ALTERNATIVES: A she-shed doesn’t have to be an actual shed. Consider repurposing a spare room, attic or basement. Even a large closet can be transformed with comfortable seating, a cozy rug, some art and a lighting upgrade, such as a vintage chandelier.

CONSIDER THE VIEW: You may be blessed with an amazing view — but consider that the view from a backyard shed will mainly be your landscaping. Building a shed may be a good opportunity for a landscaping upgrade. You might add a front patio to your shed, surround it with garden beds, add a water feature, or install plants for screening and privacy.