Debra Prinzing

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Revisiting our Stylish Sheds

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

Published in 2008, Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways is more relevant than ever!

In 2008, after a year of scouting the country for “stylish sheds” with my wonderful collaborator, Seattle photographer Bill Wright, and after months of interviewing shed owners, designers and builders, then writing 50k words or some ridiculous amount of text, Clarkson Potter (Random House) published Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways.

We loved that book so much. We loved how beautiful Bill’s photography was, capturing the personalities and stories of each shed owner, not to mention unique geographical and architectural characteristics of each shed. We loved storytelling through my interviews, conversations that dug deep into the psyche of hideaways, retreats and shelters.

Bill and I were truly ahead of our time. We saw around the corner and we believe that Stylish Sheds captured a shift in how people viewed their gardens and the once-neglected huts or sheds that stood there.

Our book documented that lovely shift toward viewing sanctuary not as somewhere you have to travel to, but somewhere that exists just steps away from your backdoor.

Stylish ShedsWell, 2008 was a financial disaster and the bottom fell out of the real estate market. Our timing could not have been predicted. Ten years later, a number of copycat books emerged on the marketplace. And Bill and I just sat their and thought: Wow, we were visionaries! The promotional machine we needed in the lifestyle media marketplace was in its own crisis when Stylish Sheds was published. That was the era when magazines like House & Garden, Cottage Living, Domino and others suddenly folded.

Eventually, nearly 20k copies of Stylish Sheds were shipped to booksellers, more than any other book I ever wrote. But then, it went out of print a few years later. You can still find this special title on your library shelf and through online sellers of used books.

We were quite suprised recently when Lyda Kay Ferree, a lifestyle writer for a group of magazines in the South, contacted us to see if she could excerpt a few of Bill’s photos and interview me for an April 2020 Home & Garden feature for VIP Jackson Magazine and one of its sister publications.

Lyda Kay definitely “gets” this book. When she contacted me to set up the phone interview, she wrote: “I am fortunate to live in an historic district in a 100-year-old home, complete with the original potting shed with brick walls. (It has electricity but no running water.) I had saved an article about your book as I am getting ideas for my potting shed.”

Well, we had a lovely conversation about Stylish Sheds, and Lyda Kay’s article appears here, with photography graciously provided by Bill. Seeing those beautiful and diminutive structures we documented brings back a flood of memories of that year — between summer of 2006 and summer of 2007 — when Bill and I produced 35 photo shoots in 52 weeks.

Itinerant seekers of inspiration, we felt like we were on a treasure hunt, gathering the best tiny architecture and design ideas to share in our book’s pages.

Lyda Kay has shared the PDF of her article and you can download or read it here. We’re so pleased that she reached out and helped to remind us of this special book and the memories of creating it. Thank you, Lyda Kay!

Flowers, friends and fun in Colorado

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Here I am with Arthur Williams, talented floral designer from Babylon Floral in Denver.

Where have I been lately? Last week, I hopped on an airplane and flew to Denver, which surprisingly is only 2-1/4 hours away from Seattle.

At the invitation of the Denver Botanic Gardens, my collaborator David Perry and I spent three lovely days giving talks and workshops about some of our favorite topics. We met some wonderful new friends and were inspired by the DBG’s beauty as a public space for all of Denver to enjoy.

Last Wednesday evening, I spoke about the “Personal Outdoor Dwelling,” aka “stylish sheds,” featuring many of Bill Wright’s gorgeous photos from our book Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways.

Then on Thursday, David and I made a joint presentation on “A Year in Flowers: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Ingredients.” We split the talk into two parts, an illustrated lecture and a flower design demonstration.

My arrangement from the demonstration, featuring Colorado-grown flowers and choke-cherry foliage from the Denver Botanic Gardens.

I was so fortunate that Denver floral artist and designer Arthur Williams, of Babylon Floral, helped procure locally-grown cut flowers for me to work with. Not only that, but he lent me some vases to use. We so enjoyed meeting Arthur and visiting his colorful shop (he’s pretty colorful, too – check out his arms!).

The following morning, Dave taught a hands-on photo workshop that wowed his students with new-found skills for their point-and-shoot digital cameras.

David's photography talk included practical, hands-on training at the botanic garden.

While Dave was with his students, I wandered along the Botanic Garden paths and through the various themed displays, taking in early Rocky Mountain spring day.

We found that the pace of spring’s unfolding in Denver is quite similar to Seattle’s this year. In other words, cooler than normal and later than normal. You’ll see what I mean in the photos I took.

On Friday, we spent a delightful afternoon with my friend and former editor Marlene Blessing. Marlene was my editor on The Abundant Garden and she also created the Pacific Northwest Garden Survival Guide and asked me to write it in 2004. She is an awesome writing coach and an encouraging advisor from whom I learned a lot about storytelling and book creation. I gained much confidence as a writer while working with this dear woman.

Marlene is presently the editor-in-chief of Interweave Press Books. After all the hue and cry about the publishing world falling apart, we took great comfort in the inspired, aggressive and confident approach to niche publishing embodied by this Loveland, Colorado-based imprint. With an emphasis on fiber arts and craft books, Interweave is led by a highly creative and innovative group, including Marlene. You can only imagine the compelling topics we covered during dinner later that evening. Marlene calls Interweave Press founder and creative director Linda Ligon her “Sensei,” but we kinda want to call Marlene our very own Sensei — what a breath of fresh air in a world of book-making!

Chet Anderson (center), with his mom Belle (left) and wife Kristy (right) at their Boulder County Farmer's Market booth.

After eating a delicious meal at Sugarbeet, a hip Longmont restaurant, we retired rather late and incredibly satisfied with our productive day. Bright and early Saturday morning, I picked Dave up at his hotel and we drove about 30 minutes to Boulder. There, we met up with Chet and Kristy Anderson, owners of The Fresh Herb Co., at their Boulder County Farmer’s Market booth.

Chet and Kristy’s farm is actually in Longmont, and they sell most of what they grow through Whole Foods and other retail outlets, but they still bring herb plants, hanging baskets and cut flowers to this market every Saturday. It is the only market in this part of Colorado that requires its vendors to sell what they produce. No dealers or re-sellers here. You meet the growers, purveyors and farmers who have raised or produced their goods – from amazing mushrooms to colorful Easter egg-colored radishes, to beautiful bouquets and more.

Rows and rows of luscious lilies fill 15,000-square-feet of covered growing area at The Fresh Herb Co.

It was fun to walk the market with Chet, who, I swear, could easily be called the “mayor” of the Boulder County Farmer’s Market. His popularity seems second only to his mother Belle’s popularity. She is there every week, helping at The Fresh Herb Co. booth, talking with new and returning customers, and greeting other vendors as longtime friends. It was fun to meet her!

David, Leesly Leon from the Denver Botanic Garden, me, Kristy and Chet Anderson - a group portrait at The Fresh Herb Co.

We followed Chet back to the family’s homestead and farm so that David could do some photography before a tour group from Denver Botanic Garden arrived. Leesly Leon, the DBG’s adult program coordinator, lined up the field trip so that some of the students in our workshops could have a first-hand visit to a flower farm. Chet and Kristy are very successful at what they do, but they are also passionate and humble about their role in bringing flowers from their fields to the customer’s vase.

 “When you know and meet the grower, and when the flowers are fresh and locally grown, there’s no better flower bargain,” Chet told the group. We couldn’t agree more!

Here are some more photographs from our trip – I loved every moment, every visual impression, and the great people we met.

More Stylish Sheds: Old House Interiors story + review

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

STYLISH SHEDS AND ELEGANT HIDEAWAYS: “A charming, happy, very pretty book full of ideas for building, furnishing, and enjoying your backyard shed or writing den.” — Old House Interiors review, July 2009.

ohijuly09001My Stylish Shed partner, the very talented Bill Wright, is a frequent contributor to Old House Interiors magazine. His photographs of luscious historic interiors and architecture are always a treat for the eyes. So when we learned recently that editor Patricia Poore planned to feature Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways in the magazine’s July 2009 issue, Bill and I were thrilled.

Patty decided to excerpt a chapter from Stylish Sheds, one about Michelle and Rob Wyles’s dreamy garden shed in Eastern Washington.

We called our chapter “Sun Catcher,” which aptly describes the shed’s design that utilizes ample antique windows to draw sunlight into the 20-by-20 foot cedar-shingle-clad structure. OHI titled the chapter “Garden Hideaway” and I’ve included the edited story here, along with Bill’s images:


GARDEN HIDEAWAY: In Washington, friends meet in this sun-catching sanctuary of glass and cedar, where tended plants thrive amidst old furniture and favorite collections.

By Debra Prinzing | Photographs by William Wright

More summer cottage than glass house, this hideaway in Washington State is the centerpiece of what Michelle Wyles calls her “farmer’s wife’s vegetable garden.” It functions not only as a greenhouse, but also a place for collectibles and friendly gatherings.

Two Gothic windows, which Michelle and her husband Rob hauled home from Hayden, Idaho, are bracketed by fifteen-light French doors installed as windows. Besides being a master gardener, Michelle is an antiques dealer who’d stockpiled architectural fragments. More Gothic millwork appears above a doorway, and vintage stained glass is mounted at the peaks of two of the building’s four gables.

ohijuly09003Her design process was anything but logical, Michelle admits. “You can be unrealistic and impractical when you’re making a garden building,” she says.

“The beauty of this one is the juxtaposition of its fanciness with its humility. It’s not supposed to be la-di-da . . . it’s a manifestation of things that make me happy.”

In the summer, doors and windows are flung open to infuse the garden house with the fragrance of roses and lavender.

Rob and Michelle host parties here, and benefits for charities such as the Yakima Area Arboretum, their local public garden.

When the stars are shining above, the music is playing, and revelers are gathered at the large round table, Rob says it’s magical: “people and plants in their glory!”

Mission: Hideaway

ohijuly09004Challenge: To build a sun-filled garden sanctuary that emulates a greenhouse – lots of light, air, circulation, and humidity control – without mimicking its structure.

Program [Must-haves]: Big windows, running water, floors of native Cascade mountain rock, display shelves for pottery – and “room for a party.”

Inspiration: A plain, Nantucket-style cottage of weathered shingles with lavender trim.

Design features: Four symmetrically placed gables and four window-filled walls. Salvaged Gothic-style windows and French doors. Hinged panels for air flow, and a ceiling fan for circulation.

The story ends with this sidebar, featuring three other of our favorite Stylish Sheds:

“A room of one’s own” doesn’t have to be in the house. Backyard structures sometimes bear no resemblance to the cobwebby garden sheds of suburbs past; today people are using them as studios, writing rooms, playhouses, dining pavilions – hideaways of all sorts. Look for lace curtains and window boxes, and cedar shingles instead of corrugated walls. Even toolsheds, of course, can be artistic.

Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Stylish Sheds, a featured book at University Bookstore's display

Stylish Sheds, a featured book at University Bookstore's display

I’ve just returned from spending three days at the fabulous-but-possibly-final Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle where I saw many, many gardening friends, hung out with my Hortus Posse pals and enjoyed a week of Seattle Sunshine (Seriously, folks. It was raining in Burbank when we flew outta here on Feb. 16th and sunny when we landed in Seattle!).

Of course, I was preaching the message of Stylish Sheds, and I’m happy to say, my “Shedar” (that’s like Radar, but it’s my own version of being alert to shed-spotting all around me) zoomed in on several fantastic garden structures, sheds, arbors, pavilions, shelters and enclosures.

It seemed as if every display garden at the show featured a fanciful structure in the garden. That goes to show you how important it is to design with not just plants, but architecture in mind.

Bill Wright, my collaborator on Stylish Sheds, and I kicked off the week with a Tuesday lecture for his peers in the Seattle chapter of American Society of Media Photographers. We participated in “The Odyssey of a Book,” a panel with two other book-savvy photographers, Dick Busher, of Cosgrove Editions, and Rosanne Olson, creator of a beautiful new book called “this is who I am — our beauty in all shapes and sizes”. The audience included fellow photographers, some of whom are also members of Garden Writers Association (David Perry, Mark Turner), friends Marcia Gamble Hadley and writer Robyn Cannon, as well as my former cohort from Seattle Post-Intelligencer days, Steve Shelton (what a treat to see him in the audience!). While we writers were definitely in the minority in the crowded room at Seattle Central Community College’s photography studio, it was a great experience talking books with kindred spirits.

Rosanne Olson, Bill Wright, Debra Prinzing and Dick Busher

Rosanne Olson, Bill Wright, Debra Prinzing and Dick Busher

On Wednesday, I took a tour through the Flower Show and snapped a bevy of shots to document the veritable bevy of sheds and shed-like structures featured in the show (see below). I was particularly gratified to see two Modern Shed structures by the talented Ryan Grey Smith and his team. Ryan adapted his awesome prefabricated shed architecture for two display gardens, including Michael Hancock’s “Serene Scapes” garden and Tony Fajarillo’s “Collaborating with Nature” garden.

Bill and Debra at their book signing

Bill and Debra at their book signing

On Thursday, I was back on my soapbox, speaking about backyard architecture in “Your Personal Escape,” my lecture illustrated by many of Bill’s awesome photos from our book. Bill joined me for a booksigning afterwards and we’re pleased to say that University Bookstore sold out of copies of Stylish Sheds. Hopefully, they’ll order MORE books next time!

The week went by way too quickly, but upon reflection, it was a perfect moment in time; a perfect experience to savor for months to come.  I’ll close by sharing some of my favorite structures: A Gallery of Garden Architecture from the 2009 Northwest Flower & Garden Show’s designers.

“Cottage Ornee” for Solitude and Sociability

Thursday, 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.


July “shed” report

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Lots has been happening in the media this month as Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways appears in print (newspapers and magazines) and online. We’ll even be featured on TV later this month, when Central Texas Gardener (Austin PBS station KLRU) airs a half-hour segment and interview (click here for air-dates).

GARDEN RANT invited me to post today as “guest blogger” and I was thrilled to participate. Thank you to Amy Stewart, Susan Harris, and their partners-in-crime, Michele Owens and Elizabeth Licata, for the wonderful opportunity. Click on over to read my essay, “In Praise of Sheds,” and to see which reader-post wins the free copy of Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways. I’ll choose the winner who gives the best answer to my question:

“What’s your dream shed and how will you use it?”

SUNSET magazine: Thanks to my friends at Sunset for embracing the Shed-Lovers Lifestyle! Kathy Brenzel, garden editor, with support from editor-in-chief Katie Tamony and executive editor Irene Edwards, commissioned a version of the book’s “Newsroom” chapter for Sunset’s July issue. It’s titled: “Home Office With a View.”

The mini-profile about Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press reporter Martha Mendoza, featuring Bill Wright’s photographs of her closet-sized shed-office, allowed me to include details that didn’t make it into the book. The piece captures a-day-in-the-life of this talented, versatile writer and mom, as she moves effortlessly between the Santa Cruz bungalow she shares with husband Ray and their four children, and her 64-square-foot potting shed-turned-office.

Kathy Brenzel also produced a vibrant sidebar about Stylish Sheds, including photographs of three west coast sheds in Bellingham, Wash., Los Angeles, and San Diego County. We couldn’t be happier with the coverage!