20 favorite garden cottages & sheds
Creative ideas for backyard retreats, detached home offices, and reinvented sheds
Her secret? This tiny home office, housed in a converted potting shed in her Santa Cruz, California, backyard. Here she can steal away from her domestic responsibilities to write, study, and pursue breaking news stories for the Associated Press. "Being detached from the house is key."
In a moment of inspiration, she saw Cinderella potential in the 9- by 11-foot backyard shed. Kathryn and her husband, David, cleaned and painted it, put in a new terra-cotta tile floor, added schoolhouse (awning-type) windows, and trained Boston ivy on the outside walls.
Here they start seedlings, arrange flowers, raise tomatoes, store tools, and dry freshly harvested shallots on the warm brick floor.
“The first time I saw it, it was very close to falling down, but I thought it was fantastic,” says architect Geoffrey Holton. “It was like a little piece of history on a typical suburban lot.”
Builders stabilized the tower and added flashing to make it waterproof. They restored the windows and added a ring of transomlike windows at the base of the tower. After finishing the interior, the old ranch water tower is now a cozy home office.
“I had to put a clock in there because I have so much fun, I literally lose track of time,” she says.
A 'Cecile Brunner' climbing rose arches over the garden shed entry. The shed features a recycled door and windows that let in plenty of light.
She started recycling in earnest when she moved to a small farmhouse in Port Orchard, Washington. Like Virginia Woolf, Lisa wanted a room of her own. Money was tight, so she and her husband, Frank, used salvaged materials to build a shed.
The more you recycle, the more the ideas flow, Lisa says. “You just have to loosen up and have fun.”
Part of the challenge of the transformation was the backyard's tiny size ― barely more than 1,500 square feet.
When she bought her property, a shed that served as a studio sat in the far corner of the wedge-shaped backyard. In front of it lay a concrete patio surrounded by a large lawn.
But it had some good points. It sat at the end of the lawn and screened a view of the neighbors’ yards. The family wanted a play area for the kids, so it made sense to save it.
Now there’s room to relax on a daybed with a book, draw on a chalkboard, or play at a kidsize table. Later the family may turn it into a studio, office, or guest house.
Here she’s free to paint and do art projects without cluttering her little home’s living room.
Clerestory windows and glass doors fill the space with light; tall bookcases along one wall hold books. And there’s ample space for her easel and canvases.
"This space appeals to the little kid in all of us who always wanted a tree house," says designer Carleen Cafferty. "It's a cozy space, not a formal room. The denlike spaces are the rooms people gravitate to."
Read more about this backyard family room
“We love to come here with a bottle of wine and sit and enjoy the birds,” Dave says.
The handsome retreat was designed and built by stepson Andy McConnell, who heads his own garden-carpentry firm in Seattle. "It started off as a toolshed and then it just blossomed," he says. Instead of lawn mowers, the 8- by 12-foot structure houses books, a TV and stereo, and an L-shaped counter for orchids and crafts projects.
The project became an exercise in preservation and space planning.
They used Hardipanel, a cement-based exterior siding material, to cover the standard, uninsulated, 2-by-4 wood frame in an elegant grid pattern, and gave it a sloping galvanized metal roof, which creates the impression of a lid being lifted.
This cedar garden shed in Seattle, Washington, keeps tools and garden machinery safe, dry, and out of the garage and basement.
"Before the shed, we had to bring the mower up out of the basement every time we cut the grass," says owner Leanne Rubin.
The resulting guest suite and home office function separately as highly flexible bonus rooms. And combined with the outdoor entertaining areas, they offer a compelling model of minimalist living.