BOOK REVIEW: Shedworking

IN ENGLAND THESE DAYS, “working in the garden” has new meaning. Apparently it’s very popular there for people who work at home — a growing number of them — to set themselves up with a separate little office in the backyard. These can take the form of quaint cottages, modernistic pods, Victorian gazebos, Airstream trailers… the possibilities are endless, as they say in the real estate ads.

There’s a longstanding website about the movement, founded by Alex Johnson, a freelance journalist, who has also written a new book, Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution to be published this June by Frances Lincoln. Naturally, it was written in a little green wooden office in the author’s Hertfordshire garden, pictured on page 19. “I can watch blue tits whizzing in and out of the bird box next to my window, check on the development of my onions, and then start up a video conference on my laptop with a business contact in upstate New York,” he writes. Who wouldn’t prefer that to commuting?

The main point, I suppose, is the simple phrase that kept cropping up as Johnson interviewed shedworkers around Britain about their garden offices: ‘I love it.’

There’s something exciting about the open-ended design possibilities of a 10’x10′ building that larger structures, with their greater functional demands, cannot provide, and this book is chock-full of inspiring images.

My favorite part of the book is the chapter on historic sheds, most used by famous writers and artists as places to work undisturbed. There are pictures of Mark Twain’s 1874 octagonal garden office in Elmira, N.Y., Edvard Grieg’s composing hut in Norway, Dylan Thomas’ clifftop writing shed in Wales, and the revolving office where George Bernard Shaw wrote his masterworks. There’s also a comprehensive guide at the back to suppliers of pre-fab sheds here and in the UK.

Shedworking, to the office-bound, must be an irresistible concept. I actually have plenty of room in my garden for such a shed. But my kitchen table is pleasant enough for now, with its view into the woods, and I can’t help thinking that if I had a garden shed, I would use it…as a garden shed.

FSBO: 1830s Huguenot House in New Paltz 360K


A READER alerted me to this very vintage cedar-sided cottage on 9+ acres, five miles from the town of New Paltz in Ulster County, N.Y. It’s on the market with an asking price of 360K.

Built for tenant farmers in the 1830s, the original deed has the names of early Huguenot settlers on it (the Huguenots were French Calvinists, many of whom settled in the New Paltz area in the 17th and 18th centuries).

The house has 2BR, 2 baths, hand-hewn beams, wide-board floors, and a barn with an upstairs studio. There’s a beehive oven in the basement, as well as an ice house.

According to legend, slaves were smuggled along the creek at the base of the property during the Civil War, and in the 1920s, locals say, the place was used as a brothel.

Sounds worthy of an archaeological dig.

The current owner is Diana Salsberg, a onetime puppet builder for Jim Henson, who purchased the house in 1991 and lived there full-time for 14 years.

For further information:



BEFORE I MOVED TO SPRINGS, L.I., I figured the area’s reputation as an artists’ colony — established in the days when Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and their friends made mayhem at local bars and beaches — was a thing of the past.


Not so, it turns out. The neighborhood is still full of accomplished artists working in various media. Two of them — Rosalind Brenner, a painter and poet who has a longstanding art glass business, and her husband, Michael Cardacino, who makes large-scale art by digitally manipulating photos, among other techniques, spent 3-1/2 years designing and building a sprawling contemporary villa of wood, glass, stained glass, and cultured stone in a highly original style. They’ve recently configured it so they can rent out two of the luxurious bedrooms and baths as a B&B.


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Dean Riddle’s Japan


I VISITED JAPAN LAST SUNDAY, through the eyes of Dean Riddle. A garden designer based in upstate New York, Dean spoke at Madoo Conservancy here in Sagaponack about his trip last fall to Kyoto (that’s Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion, top and below) and Tokyo.

Though the highly controlled and obsessively manicured Japanese gardens, some centuries old, couldn’t be more different from Dean’s own exuberant, ever-changing gardens here in the Northeast, they share the same essential purpose: to showcase the beauty of nature. Dean mentioned tearing up more than once at gardens as uplifting as a symphony or great work of art.


Beyond the pristine plantings, Dean showed pictures of the stone block paths he loves for their “homemade feeling” and dry gardens of stone — the most famous being the Zen rock garden of Ryoan-ji, below, with rocks still in place where they were positioned 500 years ago. Considered by some the greatest masterpiece of Japanese culture, there are 15 stones at Ryoan-ji, though you can never see more than 14 from any vantage point.


As Dean presented his photos, carefully shot to avoid crowds of people, he pointed out elements of traditional Japanese garden design, like the use of borrowed scenery to make designed gardens “look like they melt into the mountainside,” and the extensive use of moss — almost exclusively at the otherworldly Siaho-ji, below, where 150 species of lovingly groomed, emerald-green moss long ago took over two acres.


At the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, a fallen cherry tree, instead of being chopped up and hauled away, was protected with mounded soil, surrounded by a small fence, and allowed to remain, where it put out new branches from the fallen trunk, and is revered.

“Everything is so highly aestheticized,” Dean says. “Sometimes I feel I was born in the wrong country.”

All Hail the WPA

SO WE’VE GOT NATIONAL HEALTH CARE, a step in the right direction. Now if only Obama would put under-employed artists to work, like FDR did back in the New Deal days.

The legacy of art produced by the enlightened Works Progress Administration, from Post Office murals to posters promoting everything from adult education to zoos, is nothing short of fantastic.

The work turned out under WPA auspices seemed to cohere into a graphic style of its own, melding social realism, Art Deco, and sometimes Cubism, with distinctive typography and brave color.

I was alerted to this online collection by garden blogger extraordinaire Margaret Roach, who was in turn made aware of it by Pam of Retro Renovation. No way am I going to miss the chance to get some of these stunning images onto my own blog for your delectation.

Go here to browse the entire collection of 908 posters by subject or keyword, and enjoy.

The By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943 collection consists of 908 boldly colored and graphically diverse original posters produced from 1936 to 1943 as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Of the 2,000 WPA posters known to exist, the Library of Congress’s collection of more than 900 is the largest. These striking silkscreen, lithograph, and woodcut posters were designed to publicize health and safety programs; cultural programs including art exhibitions, theatrical, and musical performances; travel and tourism; educational programs; and community activities in seventeen states and the District of Columbia. The posters were made possible by one of the first U.S. Government programs to support the arts and were added to the Library’s holdings in the 1940s.