What is it about a good garden shed? Cracked, fogged over glass, cat peering out of an ancient pane. There’s just something about those small buildings in your backyard, and they’re not just for storing your terra cotta pots and rakes anymore.
Turns out more and more residents in the 24/680 are opting for the look and feel of Ye Olde English potting shed in their backyards, eschewing the readily available rubber and plastic variety for something with more… character. Gabled rooflines, cobblestone entries, rain chains, windows and skylights crafted from architectural salvage and reclaimed lumber.
“There’s no end to what you can have in them,” said Henry “Hank” Linstrom, an Oregon transplant who has made a living building custom sheds for persnickety customers in search of a certain look and feel for their backyard refuge. “Some are pretty simple – a potting sink, racks for tools. Others I’ve done are fully plumbed with lights and all. One woman wanted a bathtub in hers.”
Linstrom said he understood what homeowners are trying to do when they approach him to build their sheds.
“A garden is a really personal, private space for a lot of people,” he said. “A potting shed, if it’s done right, can be a home away from home.”
That’s what “Darinna” (she asked that her last name not be used) was looking for when she set out to build her garden getaway in Alamo.
“I have friends in England and they all have these wonderful buildings in their gardens, some of them really elaborate with slate roofs and fountains and statuary,” she said. “Others are quite plain – but they all just ooze charm and style. I knew I had to have one for my yard.”
Cost for a custom garden shed can run as high as $40,000, builders who have erected the structures say. Custom pre-fabricated versions with green “living” roofs, rain-catchment systems and lighting can be had for as little as $12,000, with prices varying according to the number of upgrades requested.
“We built ours out of recycled lumber and old windows and doors we found in Berkeley,” laughed Danville resident Terry Manuel, who built a shed initially to store his garden tools. “I ended up spending so much time back there I started adding things: electricity, water. Pretty soon I was having my tea back there every morning, and before I knew it I had pretty much moved in.”
Many local shed owners eventually repurpose their structures, turning a place originally intended to house the family lawn mower into a yoga studio or office.
“It’s just that it’s such a quiet place,” said Walnut Creek resident and shed builder/owner James Flood. “I’ll grab a cup of coffee and head out back when things get too crazy with the family.”
Ben Bassinger of Walnut Creek said he found it easier to look for plans for his shed online, buying materials locally and customizing the structure to fit his needs as he built it himself.
“The plans were for a slant-roof, Asian-style shed I liked because it had really clean lines,” Bassinger said. “I added a custom floor and French Doors and put in a comfortable chaise lounge. It’s the only furniture in there. I found that it was the perfect place to relax. The animals will come and sprawl on the floor when I’m in there and my wife will use it to read her books. It was one of the best things I’ve done to the house.”
Shed designs are limited only by their owner’s imaginations, Linstrom said, though most people have very specific ideas of what they want when they come to him.
“They usually just hand me a picture of a building they’ve seen somewhere,” he said. “It may be a 300-year-old shed they saw while on vacation in France or someplace. And they always want their shed to look just like the one in the picture.”
Business, the builder said, remains brisk despite the current recession.
“It’s an affordable upgrade, not a major re-model,” he said. “And the owner gets a lot out of the addition.”
NOTE: If you have a garden shed you’ve built or had built please send us a picture with a brief description of your project and a general description of its location and we’ll include your photo in a future story.