I have spent a lifetime building and enjoying sheds. It all stems from my den-building childhood on a farm in the 1950s. Fond memories of secret tunnels in ditches where the weeds were over my head. Spaces under hedges, a posh den in a disused chicken house, with the sign ‘The Club’ over the door. Then there was the tree-house my dad helped me build in a yew tree, from where I could see the whole garden while hiding in the dark green foliage.
These special secret places were the fuel for rich fantasy and adventure, sometimes with my sister or a friend, but most often on my own. It was in these places that I felt free to really be myself and to be creative without being observed or disturbed, and herein lies the key to my adult shed habit.
It is no secret that men need a shed; somewhere to go and just be themselves without being observed, away from feminine interference. For me it is somewhere I can be master of my own kingdom, where I can make a mess without criticism. I can make things, repair things, store things that have no place in the house and most importantly it is the place to keep and arrange my tools along with all the jars and boxes that accumulate over time; screws and bolts, brackets and wire and string; offcuts of wood and all the leftover bits from DIY jobs that I can’t bring myself to throw away. I love to be amongst it all and know that with my hands, my tools and the right materials, I can tackle most DIY jobs.
But for me its not just the need for a shed to disappear into, its also the fun and labour of creating one. Chalets, garden rooms, dog kennels, goat sheds, retreat huts, compost toilets, store sheds, workshops – I’ve built them all and I’ve enjoyed them all. And what has been the most satisfying thing in their conception and their construction, is that in many cases I have used recycled and ‘found’ materials, letting the design of the structure dictate its form and appearance. Doing it this way creates a quirkiness and individuality that is so much more satisfying than an off-the-shelf shed, although I have nothing against buying a flat-pack shed. They are much quicker and easier to erect of course.
Although I have been an enthusiast throughout my whole life, I firmly believe that a shed is an essential accoutrement for anyone in their retirement years. Most young men want to use their spare time for sport, for socializing or for getting out and about. For many men the thought of spending hours in the garden or tinkering in a shed has little appeal. But as we get older and particularly following retirement, the whole of each day may involve being at home with the wife or partner for the first time, after years of being in a relationship. This is when a shed becomes an essential and very healthy option for the man of the house as well as for the woman, who may not want him under her feet all day and be happy to see him disappear into his den in the garden.
And for the man living alone, recovering from illness or depression, there is still great benefit from having a shed, where you can get away from the TV and computer, make and leave mess, learn a new skill, lose yourself in some new hobby, undergo a DIY project, develop a money-making enterprise, or just to do nothing at all and cogitate, dream and watch the world go by.
Of course some sheds are really garden rooms, studios, writers’ or artist’s garrets. Whatever they are they are, by my definition, sheds; and in my case they are for seriously practical use on the one hand and they are places of refuge on the other. Although I haven’t actually gone through with it, I have always included an imaginary sign on the door of all my personal sheds, which reads ‘NO GIRLS’, and I have often jokingly shared this fact with friends. There is a part of me that means it of course; my sheds are no place for women. I need to have my refuge, however much I love and get along with the fairer sex – and I do. But in as much as women need to have time away from men, us men need to have our sacred spaces outside of the shared accommodation of the home.
A final anecdote about sheds: Some years ago, while living in Herefordshire with my then partner, we became known as the Buddhists who lived on the hill. A friend came by one day when i was building a store shed for our logs and he said in his lilting Scandinavian accent, “Now I know what you buddhists mean when you talk about ‘shedding your worldly goods’; you build sheds to put them in. Ha Ha Ha!”
Amongst the variety of shed projects and shed indulgences that I have been responsible for, I have made my living as a wood carver, furniture maker and antique restorer, setting up several professional workshops from which to ply my trade, two of which were homemade sheds. I welcome feedback and personal anecdotes from any shed enthusiasts or tentative shed converts reading this article.