Debra Prinzing

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“Cottage Ornee” for Solitude and Sociability

July 24th, 2008

On July 3rd, my friends at Garden Rant invited me to be their guest-blogger. This kind and generous opportunity gave me a platform to share a little essay about my shed odyssey, the fascination I hold for tiny backyard architecture, and the experiences Bill Wright and I had creating “Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways.” I was tickled to see that Amy Stewart titled the piece “In Praise of Sheds.”

I asked Garden Rant readers to share their thoughts, ideas and inspiration in response to the question: What is your dream shed and how will you use it?  More than 30 clever readers sent in their answers, vying to win a copy of our book, and a set of note cards with our wellies-under-glass photograph (seen at left), taken by Bill while we were on location at Brenda Lyle’s outside Atlanta.

I was touched by reading so many awesome posts – you can go to Garden Rant to read them for yourself. It was a tough call, but I chose as the winner of this small contest a wonderful gardener and writer in rural Massachusetts.

Pat Leuchtman has a blog called Commonweeder. She and her husband created their “Cottage Ornee” (pronounced Cott-aaagh Or-Nay, preferably in a heavy French accent, Pat says), a stylish shed imagined first in their minds and then built by their hands. This little gem of a building resides at their “End of the Road Farm,” in Heath, Massachusetts. I was struck by Pat’s written description of its design and charmed by the narrative of how she and her husband use it. Here is Pat’s post about winning our little contest: “Cottage Ornee is a Winner”

Cottage Ornee  [Pat Leuchtman photos, here and below]

Here are some photographs, provided by Pat. I was so curious about the cottage’s creation and sent Pat several questions. Her comments appear below. I hope you find this little hut as alluring and enticing as I do. I am already scheming about how to get myself up to visit Pat one of these days. In the meantime, I am enjoying reading her delicious words, so make sure to visit Commonweeder.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BUILD THE LITTLE STRUCTURE? There is very little shade around our house.  We wanted a place to be outside, but protected from the sun.  And from bugs. We also wanted a place for people to sleep in the summer. Lots of family visits in the summer.

HOW DID YOU ‘SOURCE’ THE MATERIALS? Four large boulders from our own land became the foundation. A friend, who acted as our consulting architect, said that we didn’t need to try and dig holes in our stony soil for cement footings.  We could rest the building on the boulders and it would ‘float’ during seasons of frost and thaw. Devoted to supporting local markets we bought locally cut and milled hemlock. The roof is metal chosen for its durability and because we like the music of a metal roof in the rain. The plexiglass pyramidal skylight was bought through the Internet. My husband built it almost single handed, although I pounded and few nails, and was periodically called on to hold the other end.  Our son Chris came and helped with the metal roof.  After measuring and re-measuring, the frame for the skylight was the first part of the roof to be constructed. It was with a great trepidation that we finally slipped the skylight into the frame – and it fit perfectly.  “Why, you’d think it was made for it!” my husband laughed.

A LITTLE ABOUT THE NAME – COTTAGE ORNEE – AND WHAT WAS THAT INSPIRATION? According to my ‘Oxford Companion to Gardens’ a Cottage Orne (or Ferme Ornee, both with l’accent aigu which I can’t do on my computer) is a ‘small, usually asymmetrically designed building containing elaborate rustic features . . . It is generally associated with the picturesque style in England.’  I had heard of this kind of building which is sometimes a sort of folly, and I liked the term.  We are also known for our folly, in general, I suspect.

WHAT WERE YOUR ‘MUST-HAVE’ DESIGN CHOICES? The Cottage had to have a long built-in ‘bench’ which could act as two single beds so that people could sleep there.  More than two people have slept there from time to time with mattresses on the floor.  It is wonderful to be able see the sky through the skylight.  It had to be small enough so that the two of us would be happy there on Sunday mornings or hot summer afternoons, but big enough to handle guests for al fresco meals.  Our 15 x 15 [foot] square has worked perfectly this way.  Just this past weekend we had about 25 people here for a surprise birthday party on the lawn and when a sudden squall and torrential rain began, nearly everyone arranged themselves quite happily in the Cottage.  (Some of us were in the house getting more food and waited out the brief storm.)

I NOTICE THIS IS A SHED THAT ISN’T ELABORATE OR LAVISH. DOES THAT HUMBLENESS HEIGHTEN THE SENSE OF ENJOYMENT FO RYOU – TAKING YOU CLOSER TO NATURE OR JUST FEELING DIFFERENT AND SEPARATE FROM YOUR MAIN RESIDENCE? You have to know that we are out in the country with the nearest movie 25 miles away. We live in a small New England town and I periodically re-read Thoreau’s Walden.  Simplify! Simplify! Simplify! I like the bare simplicity of the Cottage which I find restful.  It doesn’t shout that it needs to be maintained, dusted, organized or redone.  It is Away in the sense that Susanna Susanka of ‘The Not So Big House’ books uses the term, space for solitude.  When we are in the Cottage we are not reminded of all the chores waiting to be done, meetings to prepare for, or deadlines.

HOW/WHEN DO YOU USE IT? DO YOU WRITE OUT THERE? DRAW? DAYDREAM? ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO ADD? I go to the Cottage when I am home alone (I am now, at 68, semi-retired) to read, or rest from working in the garden. My husband and I love Sunday mornings out there with the newspaper and breakfast, in good weather, or in the afternoon for a nap or tea time. We play cards or games with our young grandsons. It is a great place to go with neighbors who stop by; it is always neat and ready.  Guests join us there for cocktails, or dinner. Everyone loves how comfortable it is, how beautiful the view.  We think it is absolutely perfect whether we wish solitude or sociability.

 Quite perfect, indeed, Pat. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you’ll be in our next book!!!

One Response to ““Cottage Ornee” for Solitude and Sociability”

  1. Anna Says:

    Great interview and I enjoyed reading it. You are so gracious to be the guest on Garden Rant too. You are one very talented lady.

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