Self-expression has found a new avenue in the most unlikely of places—the backyard. Women across the state, and the country, are creating the woman’s equivalent of a “man cave.”
The origins, styles and purposes of these “she sheds” are as unique as their owners. Yoga and art studios, outdoor living and entertaining areas, home offices and workspaces—women have a myriad of reasons for creating these designated spaces.
Take, for instance, Myra Bennett’s she shed, affectionately named “Aunt Red” after her close friend’s aunt. Bennett, after retiring from a career in social work, found herself restless and needing an outlet.
“I decided to write a children’s book about a little dog we’d had, and I was going to sell it to make money for our local humane shelter. So I [needed] a place where I could write,” she says. “In one end, there is a little writing and reading area. On the other end, I’ve created an old-fashioned farm kitchen. I have girlfriends come for lunch, and we just have the best time.”
Bennett, who lives in the southernmost part of the state, says her first guests were Southern Illinois Electric Cooperative lineworkers who came to run power to Aunt Red. “I think it was the first time they’d heard of a she shed,” she laughs.
The daughter of a World War II veteran who was a banker, Bennett attempted to do things as inexpensively as possible. She says she was pleased with her experience at EZ Portable Buildings, which has locations in Anna, Marion, Mt. Vernon and Carmi.
“Anymore, [she sheds] come in all different color combinations, and you can get different colored tin roofs.” She selected a red 12- by 24-foot shed with a green tin roof. “In time my husband built me a front porch,” she adds. “It’s the front porch that really makes it.”
She has enjoyed decorating Aunt Red with antiques and items from her childhood, like her parents’ china and coffee percolator. “I like old linens and things like that. I had been having fun purchasing these items, but I really wasn’t using them in my home. So it just all started coming together.” Other adornments include a portrait of Aunt Red’s namesake and a series of license plates from Colorado, one of her favorite places to visit.
“[The shed has] double barn doors, which I open up wide in the spring and fall,” she says. Bennett has equipped her shed with outlets, galvanized lights and electric fireplaces, and her husband built an accompanying outhouse they have named “Uncle Johnny.”
Aunt Red has been a perfect fit for Bennett’s needs. She finished her book, “The Life and Times of Hurricane Charley Bennett,” and is now working on her next project, a book based on her favorite saying that has become even more poignant amid the pandemic—finding your happy medium.
Char She Shed on Wheels
Charlene Shallow had different reasons for her “Char She Shed on Wheels.” She describes it as a retirement transition for her and husband Maurice. The couple currently lives on Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative lines.
Childhood memories of camping on family land in Ontario prompted the idea. Although the couple has not yet retired, they already enjoy the she shed in their backyard. “We ended up pouring a cement pad in the backyard. … We go and sit, and it feels like we’re at camp, even though we’re just steps away from our house. It feels like we aren’t home.”
Shallow, a self-proclaimed HGTV binge watcher, says she did a lot of research before selecting her she shed. Eventually she decided to work with Doug Schroeder, owner of Timbercraft Tiny Homes. “It was the right build and right style for me,” she says.
“I knew I was looking for certain things,” Shallow adds. “Doug was very specific. ‘What do you want this for?’ I said, ‘Well, I want to be able to pick it up and go and drop it off and live out of it for a while.’”
Based on their discussion, Schroeder advised her to go with a slightly smaller version than she originally wanted (from 10 feet to 8.5 feet wide) to avoid the need for special permits required by different states.
Shallow, inspired by the tiny home movement, went with a Craftsman country look for the 36-foot-long and 13.5-foot-high space. Keeping storage and portability in mind, she had Schroeder outfit her RV-certified she shed with lights and hookups, a composting toilet, tiled shower, washer and dryer, stove, refrigerator, fireplace, and a catwalk for their pets. It even has a walk-in closet.
“When my mom and niece come to visit, they love it. It’s like we’ve built a cottage,” Shallow says. “I love it. It’s everything I had hoped for. We use our backyard much more.”
Both women have advice for those looking into getting a she shed of their own.
“[You] really have to think about storage and maneuverability around the space and how that fits for you,” Shallow says. “The neat thing about [she sheds] is that they’re used for different reasons. They come in different styles and have different capabilities. Some are more modern, and some are more eclectic.”
She advises others to be purposeful in the decision-making process. “Determine what’s important to you, what kind of investment you want to make, and what will make you comfortable in it. Pay attention to specifics.”
Bennett says one of her goals was finding less expensive options. She advises women not to overlook premade sheds but to also price building materials. She recommends perusing online and print resources for ideas, particularly Pinterest, blogs and magazines.
She encourages women to embrace their creative side. “Don’t let anybody make you feel silly if it speaks to you. Create your special place,” she says. “You want yourself a she shed, you get yourself a she shed.”