What is a she shed?

What is a she shed?

Move over man caves, she sheds are now all the rage. They’re springing up in backyards everywhere. Just check out the number of Pinterest boards and Facebook groups devoted to them. But what is a she shed? Why do you need one? And how can you create one of your own? 

Colour photo of white painted shed with door open showing floral chair for article on what is a she shed
Photo by Arno Smit

Traditionally male territory, the humble shed has been appropriated by women. Stressed at work, and worn out at home, women around the world are commandeering huts, shacks and outbuildings and transforming them into ‘she sheds’.

But if a shed is a means of escape, a space in which to find self and voice, why was it always a male preserve? Or was it? 

Prompted by creating a new workspace for myself during Lockdown – in my garden shed – I decided to find out. And discovered that, for women, shed-working is nothing new. What’s more, some women didn’t just work in theirs, they built and lived in them too.

We’ll get to that later in this article. First, here’s all you need to know about she sheds, including:

What does she shed mean?

She shed, lady lair, fem den…they’re all terms used to describe the same thing. A space that’s solely for a woman’s use. 

It’s often in a shed or outbuilding but it can be any structure — a garage, shepherd’s hut, caravan, or tree house. And you don’t have to convert an existing building. You can build your own she shed from scratch. 

The term was first coined in April 2016 when the reality TV show He Shed, She Shed aired in the States. Presented by Luke Barr and Sarah Ferrell each episode followed two homeowners, friends or neighbours as they designed and built their own unique he/she sheds.

What is the point of a she shed?

The point of a she shed for a woman, is the same as a man cave is for a man. It’s somewhere to escape to, that men are banned from, and where a woman can do whatever she wants. In peace.

Now that can be anything, from penning a novel to painting portraits and potting plants to stitching quilts. The point of a she shed is it can be used for whatever a woman wants. It’s her choice.

For many, it’s simply a place to do nothing at all. A place to be, away from the daily grind and the demands of domesticity.

Who started the trend?

Sandra Foster is credited with starting the she shed trend. Back in 2010, she turned a Catskills hunting cabin into romantic, Victorian cottage. Into it went Limoges china, chandeliers, a sofa, books and a fireplace. It even has a sleeping loft.

“I did it to save my marriage and recharge my life,” she told reporters who flocked to see it, The New York Times included.

And what’s even more impressive is Sandra renovated the 9 x 14-foot cabin herself. How much did it cost her? Around $3,000. Almost everything in the cabin is salvaged.

Follow her for ideas and inspiration. You’ll find Sandra on instagram @my_shabby_studio

How big is the average she shed?

Prefabricated sheds typically range in size from 7 x 5 to 20 x 10 ft (35 sq ft to 200 sq ft). But there’s no such thing as an average-sized she-shed. They can be any size, shape, colour or design you want. That’s kind of the point. Your she-shed is unique to you and designed to fit your needs.

If you’re converting an existing hut or outbuilding, the decision is made for you. But who’s to say you can’t add an extension, a verandah or an upper storey housing a sleeping loft like Sandra Foster’s? Just remember not to go too large without planning permission.

If you’re building a shed of your own, its size will depend on the amount of backyard space you have available and what you plan to use it for, as well as your budget. Anyway, size isn’t everything. It’s what you do with it that counts.

Is it cheaper to buy or make a shed?

I was lucky. there were three sheds to choose from in my garden. All it cost me to convert one was a pot of paint and the cost of a doormat.

If you don’t have a structure in your garden already, sitting there unused and ripe for renovation, what are your alternatives?

Essentially you have two options:

  • Build your own shed from scratch
  • Buy an off-the-shelf shed and assemble it.

Building your shed yourself, is the way to go if you have the time and you’re sure your DIY skills are up to the job. If not, buy a prefabricated one and assemble it (or have it assembled for you). But which is cheaper?

That depends on how much you value your time. It works out cheaper to make your own, but it’s a more labour-intensive option. Not only will you have to source the materials, it usually takes longer to build your own.

If you decide to build a hut of your own, there are women doing it for themselves on Youtube.

And plenty of ‘how to’ books too:

Building on a budget

In Cornwall, rural writer and poet Natasha Carthew, works in a little cabin she built from scrap wood in her garden.

Natasha Carthew's cabin built from scrap wood with lantern and notebook for what is a she shed
Natasha Carthew writes in a cabin she built out of scrap wood in her Cornish garden.

To build her miniature house, “a one-room affair set in the ivies and vincas” of her backyard in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Mary Oliver raided the town dump. The only bit she had to pay for was a ridge beam. It cost her $3.58.

Unlike Natasha Carthew, Mary Oliver hardly used her tiny wooden house. She wrote a poem or two inside it and then discarded it. “I built it to build it,” she said, “stepped out over the threshold, and was gone”.

This year’s Cuprinol Shed of the Year winner is most definitely using hers. Kelly Haworth built “The Potting Shed” entirely out of second-hand materials. Made from old doors, pallet wood and Facebook Marketplace finds, the 10 x 6.5 ft cabin took five weeks to complete and cost her £200. It even has a bathroom.

Do she sheds have bathrooms?

Some do, yes. It’s best to check local planning regs before you put one in though. Putting in a flushing toilet can be expensive. There’ll be a lot of disruptive groundwork and you’ll need a water supply, sewerage connection or a septic tank/cesspit. A waterless, compost toilet may work out cheaper. It’s more eco-friendly, too.

Kelly Haworth’s prize-winning shed is on her allotment not in her back garden. She doesn’t have a bathroom nearby so she’s installed a composting WC and a handbasin.

Of course, nowadays we’re used to having bathrooms indoors. But up until the twentieth-century outdoor privies were the norm. When Leonard and Virginia Woolf bought Monk’s House in 1919, there was no bathroom. When her income from writing finally outstripped her husband’s, Virginia paid for improvements to the house, including an upstairs bathroom.

Then in 1934, she moved her writing lodge further down the garden, so she had a better view. There was an outside toilet (it’s now a gift shop). But rather than break her writing routine by trudging through the garden, ‘water was laid on’ at the lodge, too.

Can I sleep in my shed?

In a traditional, garden shed? No. And before you ask, the same applies to living in one.

You can take naps in it, for sure. So sling your hammock from the rafters, or add a mezzanine for resting. Barbara Hepworth had a summer sleeping hut in her St Ives garden to escape to between sculpting stints.

Summerhouse painted white in Barbara Hepworth's garden with her sculpture in foreground
Barbara Hepworth’s summer sleeping shed, St Ives, Cornwall

But if you’re using a garden building as an extra bedroom it must comply with building regs. You’ll need planning permission too. Rules vary. It’s best to check with your local authority.

Sleeping in a little wooden shelter sounds fun in the summer months. In winter? Not so much, even with insulation.

She sheds ideas

Pinterest is full of ideas and inspiration. Instagram too. Try searching hashtags like #sheshedliving. You’ll also find a whole community of ‘she-shedders’ in Facebook groups.

There are some great books to inspire you. Here are just a few:

Join me on my tour of women’s sheds

Now, remember at the start of this article I mentioned I’d discovered some remarkable early she-shedders? Well, how would you like to find out more about them? Subscribe to my blog and you can join me on a tour of the sheds, shacks and shanties of writers, artists, photographers, inventors, astrologers and scientists.

What happens to a woman when she has a space of her own? Does it affect her identity? How does it shape her work? Peering through windows and flinging open doors, I’ll share what I discovered and the story behind each shed.

It’s easy to subscribe. Just type your email address in the box below and click the subscribe button. No spamming, I promise. You’ll be pinged every time there’s a new post.

In the meantime, read about Nan Shepherd’s Cairngorms shanty, Virginia Woolf’s garden lodge and Vita Sackville West’s tower. And please do leave a comment below. I love feedback and your suggestions are always welcome.

What is a she shed?
Article Name
What is a she shed?
Move over man caves, she sheds are now all the rage. They’re springing up in backyards everywhere. Just check out the number of Pinterest boards and Facebook groups devoted to them. But what is a she shed? Why do you need one? And how can you create one of your own? 

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