Debra Prinzing

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Backyard Bliss: prefabricated sheds reviewed

December 19th, 2008

I’m honored to be the featured “expert” on prefabricated sheds in Dwell magazine’s upcoming February 2009 issue. How cool is that? (In September I wrote about the photo shoot with the very talented Los Angeles-based photographer, Amanda Friedman. . . now it’s finally appearing in print).

I received a sneak preview of the article when associate editor Miyoko Ohtake mailed me a few complimentary copies, which arrived in yesterday’s post. The article is also available online; not on, but on the very cool digital magazine site, Zinio. Even though the hip “prefab issue” isn’t out on the newsstand yet (because the December-January issue is still for sale), you can order it for the $5.99 cover price at Zinio. Check it out.

I love what Miyoko wrote in the Dwell Reports feature titled “Out Back.”

From city slickers to country bumpkins, homeowners have always longed for a special place from which to escape the toils of day-to-day life. In 1783, Marie-Antoinette notoriously commissioned architect Richard Mique to design a Petit Hameau (Little Hamlet) of small buildings on the grounds of Versailles. Feeling the scrutiny of the royal court, Marie and her attendants would run off to the mock farm, dressing up as milkmaids and shepherdesses and pretending to live “normal” peasant lives – which we can only assume involved eating cake.

Nearly 150 years later, British author Virginia Woolf heralded the benefits of a private abode in her 1929 book A Room of One’s Own with its famous phrase “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

A more modern, unisex version of backyard escapism comes in the form of miniature prefabricated outbuildings. “The traditional definition of a shed is a lean-to or stand-alone structure that provides shelter or storage,” says Debra Prinzing, a freelance garden and design writer and our expert reviewer this month. “I tried to come up with a contemporary definition: a space that contains whatever you’re passionate about.”

Dwell rounded up five of the mini-modulars that make the perfect homes (but not to far) away from home.

They sent me around Los Angeles to visit and inspect each design and asked me to critique each one. The four-page article features photographs, elevations, floor-plans and my opinion on each design. Dwell’s editors shared their opinions, too.

It’s tough to give a fair evaluation of each of these sheds in 50 words or less, but I tried to highlight the most appealing features.

These mini-me’s of prefab architecture are the newest garden “accessories.” They improve and enhance how home-dwellers use their living environments. Driven by pure function or by a yearning for a personal haven, there is something very appealing about adding a few hundred square feet, just steps away from your back door – or even off-the-grid. Now, with such a variety of prefabricated designs on the market, there is an alternative for everyone. I like the term “designer pre-fab”

I will write more about these and other prefab structures in the future, but here is an introduction to the “fab (prefab) five”, followed by my unedited comments:

KITHAUS (K3) – 13 ft. wide x 8 ft.-9 in. deep x 9 ft.-10-in. high

I love the crisp, clean lines of the Kithaus shed – it’s the fashion-forward version that is perfectly suited for contemporary architecture and landscapes. This is the shed that I could see myself living in. There’s an appealing balance of materials – between the aluminum framework and the Ipe decking, floors, louvers and canopies. Also, I like the flexibility of rearranging sliding doors, windows, screens and canopies to provide privacy or ventilation where needed.  

The engineering reflects the practicality of how people will use their sheds (including a pre-wired data port electrical connection box). The deck is essential for extending the space and tricking the eyes to visually double the square footage.

MODERN CABANA (Standard Cabana) – 12 ft. wide x 10 ft. deep x 9 ft. high

If you want a vacation in your backyard, this is the shed to build. It feels like being inside a self-contained spa. One of my friends has a massage garage – and I could see her using this space for her serene, mellow massage treatments. Or, you could use this organic setting for a mini-yoga retreat.

One of the greenest prefab shed choices, Modern Cabana uses FSC certified lumber (cedar with redwood trim), recycled denim insulation, sustainable wheat board interior panels, low-VOC paints or natural finishes. It is also livable and inviting, with cedar siding, exposed rafters, full-height windows and a sliding door to ensure that this is a warm, but not dark space that draws natural light from every side. The Standard Cabana would look perfect next to a ranch, mid-century, cottage or bungalow.

NEOSHED (Type 03) – 14 ft. wide x 12 ft. deep x 11 ft.-4 in. high

When I saw the lines of the Neoshed, with the low-slung slanted roof (traditional or inverted), and exposed rafters, I thought: this is a perfect choice for California ranch architecture. The rectangular shape is an appealing alternative to most of the squarish sheds we’ve seen. It feels livable and could be the perfect guest room, office or studio.

The upper clerestory windows (front and back) ensure lots of natural light will flood the interiors. The unique roof line, awning-style windows and rectangular shape make this a standout. Hardie-Panel exterior siding and OSB (oriented strand board) interior walls. There is an alternative exterior of corrugated metal siding.

MODERN SHED (Studio Shed) – 10 ft. wide x 12 ft. deep x 10 ft. high

I’m a big fan of Ryan Grey Smith and his Modern Shed phenomenon. One of his mod-pods appears in our book, Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways – see page 48.

Cleverly designed in its simplicity, this highly efficient shed looks like a box with a tilted-up lid. It is the classic “shed roof” shape. I love the way Ryan has taken the most prosaic of shapes and given it surface ornamentation and texture using the cement board (Hardiboard) siding. There is a grid effect to his design that makes this contemporary but knowing that he’s from the Pacific Northwest, I could see the Modern Shed looking perfect with cottages and bungalows, as well.

This structure is designed to be bright and bold, offering owners a blank canvas for painting the sides and adding accent color to windows and doors (all parts come pre-painted). I love the glass transom at the top, the square tilt-out windows, and the way the design accommodates flexibility (French doors on fronts or sides). The interior finish is very appealing – maple veneer walls, ceiling and floor. There is also an eco-option using additional sustainable materials. Modern Shed has a very adaptable design; it’s a very livable option for a weekend cabin.

MAGIC BOX – custom dimensions (version shown is 11 ft. wide x 11 ft. deep x 11 ft. high)

The luxury-level prefabricated Magic Box is like the Lamborghini of sheds. In a class by itself, it has been designed and engineered for high-end use with powder-coated stainless steel and glass. The showroom rep used the term “bespoke structure,” and that is fitting. It is prefabricated, but it is also highly tailored for each specific client.

Japanese architect Jun Ueno wanted to create a space that transforms its occupants – and he has definitely succeeded. He fused art and architecture to fashion a human-scale box, a perfect cube. Pierced with glass openings on all four walls and the ceiling, the piece “reads” as a transparent, glowing sculpture, especially when lit from within. Its drama and scale, not to mention its cost ($93,000 and up), makes the Magic Box ideal for a public space (gallery, studio, café/coffee) but its design could land it in a residential setting if the budget allowed.

11 Responses to “Backyard Bliss: prefabricated sheds reviewed”

  1. Dee/reddirtramblings Says:

    Debra, what an interesting magazine and how fun to be the authority on which prefab would work best. I love the quotes from your article. The comparison of Marie Antoinette and Virginia Woolf as two shed dwellers made me smile.~~Dee

  2. Jayme Says:

    Congrats on the Dwell shout out! I love that magazine. Great to see you in so many different style mags.

  3. Jayme Says:

    Oh, BTW I want the Studio Shed so bad. I have even been thinking about another house to fit my dream shed/workspace. Your book could potentially cost me a higher mortgage fee. Just kidding… but I want the life you so eloquently write about.

  4. Shed Style: Architecture, Interiors, and Ornamentation In The Garden » Blog Archive » Another great garden shed - with a new slant Says:

    […] contacted me after reading about my shed expertise (also known as an “obsession”) in Dwell magazine: “[I] saw the recent issue of Dwell (Feb. 09) with your article on ‘backyard’ sheds. […]

  5. Shed Style: Architecture, Interiors, and Ornamentation In The Garden » Blog Archive » Stylish Sheds is noted in Gardens Illustrated Says:

    […] ego has been stroked quite a bit recently, thanks to the February 2009 issue of Dwell Magazine’s four-page feature on prefabricated sheds that cites me as a “shed expert.” Okay, so […]

  6. Joel Leitson Says:

    Great stuff here! Sheds could be lived in by the poor in the world.
    Modular / prefab homes will offer solutions to the world’s housing shortage for the deprived, under-privileged and low income populations in society by providing a total system for basic, low-cost, quality built housing. The modular housing constructed with sandwich panels is the lowest in cost, most rapidly erected, simplest in design, and most structurally sound basic housing in existence today. Plus, you can ship 21 houses in a 40 foot container.

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