When the idea for my book arose, I keyed in the words 'Women’s Sheds' on the internet, which led to the digital universe scratching its patriarchal head. The initial response was that 'shed' meant losing weight. A second attempt brought the reply, 'Do you mean 'Men’s Sheds?'' No, I did not! I tried again. There was more scrunching of the massive labyrinthine lexicon wrapped around the whole of our e-planet and reaching into the stars. 'Do you mean 'Women’s Shoes?''
The invisibility of women’s sheds began to raise a challenge. Are women’s private and working spaces meant to be invisible? Are they so private that we succeed in hiding them from the rest of the world? Do we enjoy the assumption that sheds are for men, and thin women like shoes a lot?
In the West, for the last 200 years or so, women have been primarily identified as 'homemakers', even when they have also been engaged in paid work outside the home. Women have snatched moments and spaces for their own creativity, while dealing with the demands of everyday domestic and working lives. Nevertheless, in this context, the shed has been a sanctuary for men to 'retreat' to or for women to be 'banned' from. Thus the shed has never been known as a space for women. It has been seen as a non-domestic male space for male activities—absolute privacy away from the female domain.
Women as gardeners may be the exception to this generalisation but what's certain is that, historically, women have built, bought, and converted spaces for themselves for a whole variety of reasons and for a wide range of uses. And they still are.
Traditionally, women have taken time for moments of creativity within their demanding everyday lives wherever they could. They have always used small domestic spaces, and that sometimes included sheds, for their own practical and creative needs. These humble or not so humble sheds have, undoubtedly, been the places for inspiration, for the creation of novels, paintings, and the making of gardens.
Going to the shed is both a physical removal of ourselves to 'another place', and a retreat to a space where our emotional needs are met and we can be ourselves. Our sheds are often the one place we can call our own and where we can do what we like!
Here are a few examples of our favourite sheds owned and designed by women for working in.
Jenny is outnumbered as her house is full of males (her partner has three sons). Her shed, on the other hand, is a man-free zone, and it’s the only place where she can leave her work on her desk without it being moved around, or put down a pen knowing that it will still be there at the end of the day. After leaving the teaching profession, Jenny now works as a plantswoman. Her tidy desk looks out onto the vegetable garden surrounded by leafy trees, creating a magical place to be and to work. But her shed is not just a workspace. It’s also a bar, a shrine, a retreat, but, above all, a woman’s space. It has an old-fashioned cottage feel about it, with its pale green and white walls almost covered by various treasures, from vintage plates and platters to pictures and photographs. Even the back of the door is decorated with bunches of herbs, dried leaves, and the odd postcard or two. There is a small bar in the corner, with her choice of tipple, and glasses at the ready on top of a shelf.
Jenny makes effective use of mirrors, in the vegetable garden as well as in her shed. Inside, they serve to increase the sense of space and introduce an air of mystery. Dotted around the garden, they reflect light and colour, and the two on the outside of the door, together with the painting, turn the tiny veranda into an outdoor room. Strings of fir cones and shells from the beach festoon the veranda, where two mismatching rustic chairs bid visitors welcome, to sit down with Jenny and, perhaps, relax with one of her favorite tipples.
The Poet And The Artist
Three generations of friends have owned this house, which backs onto a cricket pitch. Each of these women has left her mark, not least on the sheds that they have built.
The shed featured here is Paddy’s, where she writes poetry. Her work is mainly political, sometimes comic, but it also speaks of love and loss. It was originally her partner Gilly’s studio, where she painted and drew until she became too ill to continue. But her sketches, watercolours, and pastels remain pinned to the wall, holding precious memories of Gilly’s skill and vibrancy.
The clever use of paint, inside and out, reflects Gilly’s and Paddy’s love of mixing colours, to wonderful effect. The doors, windows, and clapboard walls are dark blue, but when the doors are opened out, they reveal a harmonious pastel mix of green and pink, which bring the interior to life. The windows inside are painted the same pastel green, complementing Paddy’s rustic chair. Rich cream paneled walls are a warm and neutral backdrop for Gilly’s work, and the wooden floor is softened with rugs.
Diney’s shed, in a corner of her small garden (yard), is primarily her office where she sees psychotherapy clients. It is a minimalist space, absolutely pristine, with just two armchairs, a bookcase, three tiny tables, and white-painted walls. For those seeking help dealing with life’s challenges, it is just right.
For Diney, the shed is also a memorial to two dear friends. Elizabeth, a gardener, first suggested to Diney that she build her therapy shed and where it should go. And Len, a local builder, who knew all there was to know about his trade, made it a reality. Both have since died but the shed is a constant and welcome reminder of their friendship. As you approach the six-sided shed, with its porthole window, it appears to be in some idyllic grove, far from its urban home. Painted white inside and out, it has a serene atmosphere, perfect for client and therapist. The design was inspired by a small, white chapel on a minute island in the bay in Malia, Crete. As the finishing touch, Diney wanted a dome for her shed, just like the chapel, which would be visible from the outside. Perhaps not surprisingly, the proposal was thrown out by the local planning department. Len then devised a large circular skylight instead, which lets in lots of daylight, and tiny blue lights were installed around it, to create a pretty effect at night.
A Woman’s Shed by Gill Heriz is published by CICO Books at £19.99 and is available from all good bookshops or call 01256-302699 quoting GLR 9OX to purchase a copy at the special price of £13.99 including free p&p.