Debra Prinzing

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A POD in the Garden (POD=Personal Outdoor Dwelling)

Saturday, March 14th, 2009
San Francisco's hottest garden and plant emporium, Flora Grubb

San Francisco's hottest garden and plant emporium, Flora Grubb

A great gathering of Shed-Fanatics joined me at Flora's

A great gathering of Shed-Fanatics joined me at Flora's

After my exhausting trip to the wintry Philadelphia Flower Show, I returned to LA for a quick overnight to recharge my batteries with my family.

Then, last Thursday, I returned to Burbank to fly north to Oakland.

My friends at the Garden Conservancy invited me to share my fascination with sheds and hideaways at an evening benefit lecture.

Hosted by horticultural celebrity Flora Grubb at her eponymous urban emporium, the after-hours event included cocktails and hors d’oeuvres among Flora’s awesome collection of palms, succulents, Mediterranean and drought-tolerant plants – and more.

Flora and Debra, smiling in this great garden setting

Flora and Debra, smiling in this great garden setting

She curates this environment with an eye for design, style and presentation. Furniture selections, displayed among plant groupings really “pop” – from avant-garde concrete chaises to retro-salvaged circle lawn chairs (see below for specifics).

The playfulness with which Flora and her staff have created this plant-centric lifestyle just puts a smile on my face. I’ve heard and read about this cool SF destination nursery for a few years and am thrilled to have been given a great excuse to travel and speak there.

Thanks for the experience begins with my friend Margo Sheffner, who is Flora Grubb’s book buyer extraordinaire. Margo, who is also the business manager for the Pacific Horticultural Foundation (a nonprofit of which I am board member), was an early fan and supporter of Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways. She brought it to Flora Grubb’s and continues to update me about how Flora’s customers “get” the notion of backyard sanctuary, habitat and haven. And that translates into book sales (which is so reassuring in this non-print phase we’re in). Yeah! It makes me happy to see our book in this cool environment.

Here’s a little gallery of Flora Grubb’s Garden. You will love every image:

Credit for my lecture title, “A POD in the Garden,” goes to Garden Conservancy west coast program manager and all-around horticultural go-to gal, Betsy Flack. She came up with the idea of using the acronym P-O-D (as a personal-outdoor-dwelling). I love it! This is my new buzzword. Stylish Sheds includes a chapter about Loretta Fisher’s “Mod Pod” in Austin, so Betsy’s title is apropos. Betsy and her assistant Maria Martinez (along with several Garden Conservancy staff, friends and volunteers) put on a lovely evening. I felt welcomed among so many kindred spirits.

The following morning, I stopped by Dwell's editorial offices to say hello to Miyoko

The following morning, I stopped by Dwell's editorial offices to say hello to Miyoko

Before I started my talk, Betsy invited Miyoko Ohtake, associate editor at Dwell magazine, to share a few words. Miyoko is a talented young architect-journalist who joined Dwell last summer after impressive gigs at Wired and Business Week.

She contacted me in August to ask if I could serve as Dwell’s guest expert for a review of prefabricated sheds (February 2009 issue). It was great to finally meet her in person and to also have the audience meet Miyoko and hear her enthusiasm for modern outdoor design. Dwell supported the event and Miyoko blogged about my talk in advance of the evening.

Then, Flora invited her architect-friend Seth Boor, AIA, of SF’s Boor Bridges Architecture, to comment on the city’s zoning issues relating to shed construction.

It was a stroke of brilliance to include Seth on the program. He and Flora (and her partner Kevin Smith) recently collaborated on a very cool planted-wall installation at a hip, new Napa Valley hotel called Bardessono. The project was recently documented by Stephen Orr in the New York Times. So we were in excellent company (oh, and how cool is this? Stephen was in the audience – what a sweet guy to come hear my talk).

Among other remarks, Seth touched on the permit and installation parameters for anyone wanting to add a backyard shed in San Francisco:

  • No permit is required if you build an outdoor structure under 100 square feet in size and no taller than 8 feet high.
  • The configurations can vary. For example, the structure can be 10-by-10 feet or 8-by-12 feet in size.
  • As for height, as Seth pointed out, “Eight-feet-tall is a little short” but you can work with it.
  • Working without a permit “frees you up to do anything within that size,” he says
  • Also, if the structure isn’t permitted, the typical setback rules do not apply. However, there is the “good neighbor” rule and Seth recommended that shed-builders think about how a 100-sf structure will appear to a neighboring property.

Debra’s note: Creative shed-owners are already aware of this issue. I’ve seen shedistas carefully paint, embellish and artfully adorn the side of their structure that faces a neighbor’s lot. Good shed policy!

Shed Spotting in Pasadena

Saturday, February 14th, 2009
The gate leads to a Shed Surprise

The gate leads to a Shed Surprise

If you’ve been following Shed Style for any period of time, by now, you know that I use the term “SHED” quite broadly to describe “a shelter in the garden.”

And so, here are two very different, but equally enticing, glimpses of garden shed architecture that I had the good fortune to tour earlier this week. The occasion: a preview of the Feb. 28th study tour that Betsy Flack of Garden Conservancy has designed to accompany the Feb. 27th seminar: Gardens that Re-Make Themselves.

The seminar will examine the restoration of historic gardens to reflect the original architecture and period, as well as sustainable design practices that today’s garden makers can use to ensure their landscapes endure for future generations. Several really incredible established gardens, mostly in Pasadena, will be open to seminar participants who take the study tour.

The garden structures I visited are relatively new, but they were designed – in the spirit and character of the property’s origins – to fit into older landscapes .

M's Garden House

M's Garden House

“M’s” Garden House stands at the back of a long, narrow garden in an historic Pasadena neighborhood.

The 1926 residence, a one-story Mediterranean-style bungalow, is situated near the front of the 50-by-195 foot lot. Because her house is closer to the sidewalk, the parcel behind the house is very park-like. She has preserved and enhanced the original hard-scape and bones of this Italian-inspired garden. It is truly amazing to see the setting and realize it is 83 years old.

At the far end of the garden path stands a scallop-topped swinging gate. According to the owner, the gate originally led to an old tool shed for garden storage.

But she had other plans for this underutilized space and asked her architect to design a garden structure in keeping with the garden’s vintage.

Hugh Maguire, an architect who does work in Pasadena and Palm Springs, designed the 11-by-13 foot structure in1995. “I had seen an old English train station ‘storefront’ at a salvage place in Pasadena,” Maguire told me when I contacted him by phone. “It had the words ‘Waiting Room’ on it”

An urn, in the garden court

An urn, in the garden court

He thinks the fanciful storefront dates to the 19th century.

Maguire discovered it years ago at Across the Street from Alice, a Mission Street salvage dealer and has had his eye on it ever since.

M’s request for a garden structure presented the perfect opportunity to use the beautiful architectural element with mullioned windows, an arched transom and detailed mill-work panels. Maguire spent around $1,200 for the salvaged facade. “Can you image what it would cost to have something like this custom made?” he asked me. No, I can’t. And that’s why I love it when designers and builders utilize materials from the past. Salvaged architectural fragments are a high art form when it comes to shed-making.

In order to build this pleasing space, a “collapsed shed” was removed. However, architect and client salvaged doors from the old structure and recycled them as cupboard doors on interior bookcases. In between the bookcases is a perfect-circle porthole window. It echoes the perfect-circle recycled brick “carpet” that now serves as the garden foyer to the little house.

a cut-away in the roof to wrap around the tree trunk

a cut-away in the roof to wrap around the tree trunk

On top of the new stucco building, Maguire added a standing seam metal roof. In one corner of the four-sided roof that caps the garden house, they had to make a cut-out – to accommodate a stately eucalyptus tree that M did not want disturbed by the construction. That’s showing serious concern for her garden and the plants she inherited!

Redwood and river rock form a rustic gazebo

Redwood and river rock form a rustic gazebo

The second shelter-shed I visited is from a different architectural era altogether. It was designed by architects Conrad Buff and Donald Hensman in 1993. Carol Soucek King, its intuitive and creative owner, calls the structure a “gazebo.” It is far from a wimpy, ultra-feminine Victorian gazebo. This is a rustic, natural edifice that is situated at the upper edge of a creek.

Using local Arroyo Seco river rock for the foundation and side wall (notice the wonderful niches that allow for pedestal candles – imagine how meditative this space will feel at twilight!) and leaving the structure covered, but open-sided, the design is a study in native, organic architecture.

According to Carol, when the gazebo’s construction was completed, the builder, stone mason and architect gathered with the Kings for a Bento box lunch “to bless it.”

“We all sat here and were very conscious that this would be a sacred place,” she told me.

In a magnificent book about Buff and Hensman’s architectural careers, the structure is described as a “lineal redwood gazebo” . . . “conceived as a refuge.”

A refuge indeed. No one could wish for a better way to experience sanctuary, solace, spiritual respite and beauty.

Here are a few more images: