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Time to escape! The rise of the ‘She Shed’

Gone are the days when garden buildings were the preserve of men. The 'She Shed' has arrived and not a moment too soon. We talk to three women about theirs.

It was once the unspoken truth that any hut lurking at the bottom of the garden was a man space, harbouring manly peripherals such as weathered garden tools, a wind-up radio, and potentially a tiny model railway with bridges, signals and waving 1950s school children.

Well, how times have changed. Turns out that that distant hut nestled in the undergrowth is now being rediscovered by the female of the species, intent on carving out space away from the family to be creative, purposeful and, you know… alone. They can be architect-designed units or repurposed summer houses but they all have one thing in common: they give us a room of our own.

LIZZIE OWEN – is a PR guru turned artist. She lives in Marlow with her husband, two kids and puppy Willow.

Photo: Mel Matthews

Why did you want a space outside?

It’s always something that I wanted to have when we moved out of London. I designed it myself and had it build about eight or nine years ago now. Originally the plan was to use it as a family room but I’ve now claimed it as my creative space. It’s my escape room!

What do you use it for?

It used to be an office but the Wifi was rubbish as it’s at the bottom of the garden, so now I paint all my oil paintings and illustrations in there. There’s no computer, emails or digital distractions so I can focus competently on my art.

What problems did you want it to/hope it would solve?

I wanted to have a space where I could enjoy time to myself, there’s no dishwasher, washing machine or kids asking me to make dinner. It’s been an absolute godsend during lockdown, it’s a sacred space for me.

Does it have a theme?

Photo: Mel Matthews

It’s perched in the corner among the elderflower and laurels so I’ve kept it an earthy, woodland theme and filled it with plants. The outside I’ve kept natural wood and then I’ve painted the interiors Wood Ash from The Little Green Paint Company. I love the bifold doors, the space completely opens out into the garden for inside/outside living which is lovely in summer.

What did you decide for the decor?

I wanted the inside to have a Scandi feel with woody, neutral tones and soft furnishings. A lot of the furniture is vintage, reclaimed or up-cycled. I used to run the PR for Home Barn in Marlow, and now I sell my paintings there, so a lot of the furniture I have in the summerhouse and my kitchen is from there. We’ve re-painted the floor white which can be a bit of a nightmare with my puppy Willow and her muddy paws!

Is there an item that holds particular significance?

Photo: Mel Matthews

I have two easels that were originally used by an art teacher at the Saatchi Gallery in London and the fact they came from there means so much to me. I found them on Ebay!

How do you set the mood?

I have my own little routine, I usually take a coffee down with me in the morning, maybe do some yoga before I start work in there. I like to burn incense, or if it’s cold I’ll make it cosy with the log fire. I listen to a lot of podcasts whilst I work, my favourites are The High Low with Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes, Fearne Cotton’s The Happy Place and Under The Skin with Russell Brand on the Luminary.

Describe your She Shed in three words

The three Cs – calming, creative and cosy!

lizzieowen.co.uk @lizzieowenartist

MEL MATTHEWS – is the owner of marketing consultancy MM Design Studio. She lives in Marlow with her husband and two kids.

Photo: Mel Matthews

Why did you want a space outside?

The garden is a sun-trap, but when we moved here it was horrible and we didn’t use it for about five years. I met an amazing garden designer at yoga and I did some work for her in exchange for designing our garden, which included the studio – I love the power of women working together! I love the feeling of the sun soaking through the windows when I’m working.

What do you use it for?

Photo: Mel Matthews

It has multiple uses, but it’s mainly my office space. My husband isn’t allowed in here, he’ll sit outside on a chair but he won’t come in! We both work from home so it would be too intense to live together and work in the same space. I like the fluidity of the space, one day it will be a product studio and the next I’ll have clients in here taking photographs for their websites. It’s been my mental saviour during lockdown, I can come here and get lost in my creativity. I also use it as a social space, or we’ll move the furniture out and turn it into a cinema room for the kids.

Does it have a theme?

So many people have grey houses but I like eclectic pops of colour, it’s representative of the work that I do with branding and photography which always starts with a colour palette. I designed the interior to be an extension of my home. I love how fluid the space is and I’m constantly changing the layout and moving furniture around, especially over lockdown. It can look like a whole new room.

What did you decide for the decor?

Photo: Mel Matthews

The wallpaper is leftover from the snug in my house, I put it up during lockdown as I wanted a more exciting background for Zoom. It’s designed by Matthew Williamson and I love its fun, vibrant energy – my friend actually has a bikini in the same print! The doors are also recycled, I saved them from going in a skip. I’m obsessed with chairs and bought the outrageous pink petal one from Home Sense, it’s like TK Maxx but for furniture with one-off high-end pieces. I managed to squeeze it, and another electric yellow one, in my tiny Fiat 500, it was hilarious – or embarrassing if you ask my teen!

Is there an item that holds particular significance?

One year at Wilderness Festival we found a man who collects and restores cameras. My husband bought me a beautiful vintage one which I keep on the side as decoration.

What can you see from inside looking out?

The perfectly manicured astroturf lawn and plants – the planting is stunning with a mixture of colours, birch trees and other flowers, I have no idea what they’re called, I’m not that grown up yet. Over lockdown my husband ran a marathon in the back garden, he raised £8,000 for Tom Kerridge’s charity, so I could see him doing laps. He did 14,000 in total!

How do you set the mood?

Candles definitely! My go-to brand is Neom.

Describe your She Shed in three words

Eccectic, colourful and inspiring. 

@mm_design_studio www.mmdesignstudio.co.uk

ALEX CULLEN – is co-founder and director of BLA London, a marketing consultancy with a strong interest in sustainability. She lives in Chesham with her husband and son.

Why did you want a space outside?

Well, it was more that we were building a shed and as we were building it, I thought, “Hmmm, this has potential to be more than a storage place for bikes”.  Because of the windows at the front, it would have looked really ugly with too much stuff in it, and that’s when the ‘aha’ moment happened. It was my father-in-law’s originally and my husband agreed to take it off his hands. But it was awful; very brown inside and out and a bit grim. However, we dutifully shipped it down from Lancashire three years ago and finally re-erected it this spring. 

How did the build go?

It was pretty quick. We painted it in pieces before we constructed it, which is so much quicker – I chose Cuprinol Country Cream and Willow – and then we had a mad timetable to felt the roof in May. I think it was a Tuesday night and we knew rain was a few hours away so we were up ladders, with our head torches on, until 11pm. And then, of course, we got told off by the neighbours for hammering so late at night. It’s also not connected to the mains in any capacity but my husband is super handy so he bought a solar panel off Amazon and wired it all up, and that powers my laptop and the lights. And we have a water butt too as water was starting to come up through the floorboards, so we realised pretty quickly we needed to collect it from the roof.

What do you use it for?

I use it for work and long catch-ups on the phone with friends! My husband is home on Fridays with our son and it’s been really useful because my son knows mummy is at work and I’m left alone. I’m far more productive than I would be tapping away in the lounge but the biggest thing for me is when I finish at 5pm, I walk down the garden and I feel like I’ve left my office. Work and home are two separate zones, which is lovely. 

Does it have a theme?

Scandi minimalist was my Pinterest inspiration. A friend introduced me to the concept of the ‘she shed’ and I put that term into a pinterest search and suddenly there were all these scandi white references, with lots of shelves and books. I wanted white flowers outside too so I’ve planted Cosmos.

What did you decide for the decor?

Had we not had lockdown, I guess I would have had a mooch around TK Maxx to find some nice bits but as it was, we couldn’t go out. So, I just basically found loads of random stuff in different bedrooms and took that. For instance, I have my Year 10 resistant material woodwork project here, a little stool covered with old Liberty fabric my mother gave me at the time. I have a futon on a wooden pallet that I found in the garden and brushed down. There’s an old rug that we had in a drawer somewhere – I think  it came with me to uni to be honest. But, you know, it’s a repurposed shed with solar panelling and a water butt. I wanted it to be as eco as possible because I’m a marketing consultant who works in sustainability. This is the circular economy in action.

Do you have one item of particular significance?

I love the desk. My husband made it for me from old scaffolding so it’s the perfect height and also has a little smidge of orange spray paint on the corner from when we used this particular plank to mark out our new beds in the garden.

How does your day pan out? 

I come down the garden with a cup of tea and it’s usually quite cool in the mornings so I shut the doors straight away. There’s no heater – so we’ve got to work out what I’m going to do for autumn/winter  – we might have to retire it until spring. And I have a cagoule here too because if it’s raining and I need to rush back to the house for the loo and a cup of tea between meetings, I don’t want to host a presentation with a wet fringe. And I feel like I’m ‘at work’. I’m currently working a 9-5 structure and for that, it’s been really effective.

Describe your she shed in three words.

Homey, breezy and variable (in regards to the weather). 

www.bla.london.

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