Cabin Fever


GUEST CABIN, SHE SHED, WRITING ROOM, LOVE SHACK…whatever it’s called, it’s the latest project to be (nearly) completed at my Long Island, N.Y., beach house, and I think it turned out pretty cute.

Here’s what the 14’x17′ cedar structure looked like a month or two ago:


In the two years I’ve owned the property, the shed had become a very handy storage unit for leftover lumber and bits and pieces of furniture I didn’t know what to do with. I had a yard sale in June and got rid of most everything. Then, the same two-man team who painted the house last spring and whipped up bookshelves and a closet for me removed the trio of aluminum windows, above, replacing them with a pair of French doors left behind by the previous owner.


A casement window went into the side of the building where no window had been before (above). In this photo the French doors are merely primed; I later had them painted brown to coordinate with the house. I was going to have the shed painted Aegean Olive to match the house as well, but after it was power washed, I decided I liked the look and would keep it that way, at least for now.

Naturally my little folly ended up costing a lot more than expected; the shed required a whole new roof, not just a patch job, including replacement of some rotted rafters. (The two skylights were salvageable, happily.) I sacrificed a deck for budgetary reasons, but I had the guys build three four-foot-wide steps leading to the French doors, using stringers from Home Depot.

The furnishings are all things I had on hand, including a rustic hutch from my previous house that had no place to go. It was all done in a feverish couple of days at the end of June, as the house is rented out for July. I hear the shed — no, cabin — was a great success with young visitors over the 4th.

IMG_8379 IMG_8388  IMG_8386

Shed Dreams


MY SHED IS A VERY VERY VERY FINE SHED…no, not really. At the moment, it’s a stark cedar box, above, with a shed roof — as in shed water, I now realize — but it will be a very fine shed when my son Max gets through with it. In fact, it will no longer be a shed; it will be a guest house/studio with its own deck and maybe even an outdoor shower.

There’s a pair of French doors and a casement window left behind by the previous owner of the house, which we’ll use, and I’ve got a folder of inspiration pics, below, collected from various sources.

Simple things, sheds. For some reason — memories of prehistoric shelters imbedded in our DNA? — their small size makes them very appealing. Though it’s twice the square footage of the tiny house written up recently in The New York Times. My shed will be a very fine palace by comparison.


Fine Homebuilding magazine

Loren Madsen Best Reader Submitted Bedroom, Remodelista Considered Design Awards12

Loren Madsen, Remodelista




An ad I’ve misplaced


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.

Walking and Stalking

UPDATE, April 2011: The photos that originally accompanied this post, which I took while looking over the moon gate of this cottage as described below, were accidentally deleted from my WordPress media library, along with the photos on several months’ worth of other posts from 2009. (Don’t ask.) I have been gradually restoring the bad posts, but in some cases, I can no longer retrieve the original photos to use in my fixes. This post is one example, so I’m using images from the Zillow listing of sold properties, because I want to preserve the post for reference. The cottage sold in September 2010 for $520,000.


THERE’S NOTHING ILLEGAL about taking pictures of other people’s houses, is there, and publishing them on a blog? What about courtyards, if you have to peek over the fence to get the shot? Well, let’s hope not, because today, on a brisk stroll around the neighborhood, I saw the charming, simple courtyard, above, and had a vision for my own front yard.


I found this corner property in the Maidstone Park area awfully inspiring. It’s a bit uber-cottagey for me, but I love the concept and the execution: a moon gate, an arbor, boxwoods, a shed with French doors, and a sunny brick dining patio. There’s no driveway, just a parking pad covered with pea gravel in front of the moon gate, big enough for one SUV.

It’s all going into the mental hopper as I continue my extended decision-making process regarding a place to park the car(s) and whether/what kind of gate and fence to have at the entry (to exclude deer, or simply to provide a sense of enclosure?)

My ultimate solution will be quite different from this one (I have no need for a dining table in front of the house when I have almost half an acre in back), but the symmetry of this scheme really appeals to my orderly side.

It’s a magazine cover if I ever saw one.

House Progress

DAY 2 OF GARDEN CLEAN-UP by Tri-R Services, otherwise known as Marcello and his crew. There’s been a lot of sawing, chipping, weed-whacking and leaf-blowing – in other words, noise. They seem to be doing a wonderful job of reducing my overgrown Eden to a pared-down version of itself, minus a few dead trees and the wisteria that had, in some cases, literally strangled trees and shrubs to death ($800 just for the wisteria).

My overgrown Eden

My overgrown Eden

Of course some of it will come back. They can’t have gotten it all. But I can deal with wisteria from the ground – I can’t reach 100 feet into the trees.

Tomorrow the shed goes. It’s actually kind of romantic, like Robinson Crusoe’s hut, sheltered by an old low-hanging cherry tree (not the flowering kind, apparently), which I’ve been agonizing over. First I asked Marcello to cut it down, since one of its three trunks is broken and with just two it will be hopelessly asymmetrical. Then I decided they should just prune it, because it’s graceful and dramatic and the well-established bed of ferns underneath — my favorite feature of the garden — won’t be happy suddenly exposed to full sun.

Last day

Last day

(Re the shed: I went to the Town of East Hampton Building Department and, on the advice of locals, looked up my property  records to make sure the shed was on the survey they had in their files, so that I can replace it in future with an equal size structure if I want to. It is. I hoped to find out when the house was built, but all I discovered was that it was erected “before adoption of zoning,” which happened in 1958, I was told. Also found out that the previous owners were here nearly 40 years. I hadn’t known that. Somehow, it makes the house feel more loved.)

Somebody loved this house

Somebody loved this house

Inside, I’m puttering around, making things looks homey on a budget of zero. I counted 15 existing pieces of furniture I’ve kept and am using. A surprising amount of the rest is things I found on the street in Brooklyn.

Zero-dollars decorating

Zero-dollars decorating

Table and chairs were here

Table and chairs were here

I ordered a stove and fridge from Sears. I was salivating over the blue Smeg for $1,700 but decided on a white Whirlpool for $400. It’s small — 9.2 cu. ft. — but I didn’t want a monster in the room. I’ll paint the lower cabinets blue instead. The stove is electric, a first for me. But there’s no gas in the house and I don’t want to bother with propane – where to put those bulky tanks? It’s a Kenmore with a radiant glass cooktop, black, no beauty and $1,100 by the time all is said and done.


Randall Rosenthal, a well-known artist who lives across the road, painted my porch ceiling, I'm told

Randall Rosenthal, a well-known artist who lives across the road, painted my porch ceiling, I'm told

Note the rhododendrons, not the condition of the roof

Note the rhododendrons, not the condition of the roof