A space solution may be in a chic shed

  • The unit is outfitted with hardwood flooring and a drop ceiling. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Douglas Hill for The Washington Post. Douglas Hill—Douglas Hill

  • Unit has sofa, sliding-glass door and artwork on the walls. Douglas Hill / Washington Post

  • Several companies are offering luxury shed units that can be used for art and music studios, entertainment rooms or offices. Douglas Hill / Washington Post

  • Chelsea Hadley relaxes outside her luxury storage-shed conversion in Beverly Hills, Calif. She uses it for a retreat and for an office. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Douglas Hill for The Washington Post. Douglas Hill—Douglas Hill

Washington Post
Saturday, October 21, 2017

About six years ago, Chelsea Hadley left her job as a fundraiser for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and started running a small arts foundation from her house.

In theory, the idea was a no-brainer – she had two school-age children; her husband, the film scorer and hip-hop musician Justin Reinhardt, already worked from home; and the flexibility was seductive. Practically, she discovered one hitch: Her house, in a canyon in Los Angeles, was not designed for that kind of lifestyle.

“We live in a 1950s midcentury modern post-and-beam house, which is, like, very L.A.-feeling, but it’s one big, open space,” Hadley said. “So we realized really quickly that with him working at home and me working at home and having two young kids, I was never going to get any work done and neither was he.”

Adding a room would have blasted through their budget and changed their home’s footprint, but they did have an 8,360-square-foot lot and a backyard – littered with outgrown toys – that needed updating. The answer to everything was a $60,000 luxury shed by kitHAUS, a prefab maker that has created sleek spaces for clients including comic actress Amy Poehler.

Backyard sheds long ago morphed from dusty storage shacks or scroungy domains of gardeners and grandpas to swoonable spaces that let people fulfill needs and fantasies for a fraction of what it would cost to trade up or remodel.

They are the heart of the yard and sometimes the home, serving as offices, meditation rooms, writing nooks, bars, saunas, guest suites or crafting cottages, and sometimes a combination of the above.

Deep down, the appeal of the backyard shed, and the many ways the space has been interpreted, can be explained by that primordial need for intimate, secluded snugness, said Debra Prinzing, author of Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways.

“It goes back to our visceral memories of having a little secret place,” Prinzing said. When she used to ask people about their dream sheds, the answers “were all over the map in terms of architecture.” But they all evoked the “excitement you had as a child, putting a blanket over a card table and climbing underneath. You had your own little space. I think that’s what everyone is going for.”

Perhaps nothing consecrates the status of sheds more than a reality TV show on the topic. He Shed She Shed on FYI.TV pits pairs of amateur shed designers with competing visions.

The popularity of the units is evidenced in the growth of shed companies. Business at Modern-Shed has increased 20 percent per year for the past six years, said Tim Vack, general manager of the Seattle-based firm. A mix of factors is driving demand: Awful traffic and the rise of flex policies means more people are choosing to work from home. That’s especially true in the Pacific Northwest and in California, where jobs in design, tech or entertainment are common.

Construction and real estate costs mean it’s hard to move or remodel, he added. An unfinished Modern-Shed typically starts at $18,500 to $25,000 (not including delivery or installation). He estimated that a room addition would cost four to eight times that.

People with 3,000-square-foot villas aren’t his typical clients – it’s those that live in “tight but wealthy” urban areas such as downtown San Francisco and Seattle.

Jeremy Nova, a co-founder of Studio Shed, outside Boulder, Colorado, said there’s a key advantage to building small: The structure might not need to be permitted, depending on local building codes. “We’ve done installations in very small back yards,” Nova said. One yard in San Francisco was so tiny the builders had to carry panels in through the house.

Studio Shed has averaged year-over-year growth of almost 50 percent since inception in 2008, Nova said. His sheds are most popular in California, where “you have a lot more acceptance of integrating indoor and outdoor living spaces, and part of that is the climate.” He and other shed builders have clients across the United States.

The backyard shed as retreat is far from a North American concept – they’ve been a fixture in Great Britain for decades and they’re the crux of a social movement in Australia.

While they come in many styles and prices, from mass produced or customizable units in the low four figures to architect-designed showpieces, high-end sheds tend to use durable and ecologically responsible materials, and they have bespoke details that help them match the main house, such as custom paint or curated lighting. Adding a bathroom or kitchen can send costs up, in part because of permits.

Tom Sandonato, who co-founded kitHAUS in 2004, said coveted upgrades blend inside and outside: Outdoor kitchens or showers, hardwood floors that transition into decks, open air passages connecting enclosed spaces. His business has grown about 5 percent yearly in the past two years, he said.

Eric Enns, owner of Modern Spaces and Sheds, based in Northern California, is working on another concept that merges indoors and outdoors: A treehouse shed in Santa Cruz. Enns said people – including himself – are increasingly wanting multipurpose sheds.

“I have four kids, two dogs and a cat, and I can’t get anything done in my house. It’s not even an option,” he said. “I have mine set up with a little Ikea desk back there, (and) we have a loft with a bed.” His kids use it for sleepovers. He uses it for work.

Clients of the real estate start-up Cover are also asking for hybrid spaces: A pool house/guesthouse, a sound editing room by day and a lounge after hours, said its co-founder, Alexis Rivas.

The company, whose investors include General Catalyst, is trying something new: Clients answer 50 to 100 questions online, and an algorithm designs their space. Cover trims costs by automating manufacturing and design. Its units cost $55,000 to $400,000, including permits and installation, Rivas said.