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!

Stylish Sheds is noted in Gardens Illustrated

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

My ego has been stroked quite a bit recently, thanks to Dwell Magazine’s four-page feature on prefabricated sheds that cites me as a “shed expert” in its February 2009 issue. Okay, so it’s my 15 minutes of fame – and I’m going to make the most of it.

However, another big magazine mention – an INTERNATIONAL one – appears in the January 2009 issue of Gardens Illustrated magazine. And I have Tracy Schneider and Van Schilperoot to thank for sending a letter to the editor that includes details about Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways.

Here is the background: Tracy and Van, old friends from Seattle, are passionate about design (Tracy) and horticulture (Van). They are also (like me) longtime subscribers to Gardens Illustrated, the top gardening magazine in the U.K., published by BBC Magazines.

They saw an article in the September issue by contributor and English designer Andrew Wilson, called “Accommodating Sheds: a garden shed plays a vital role in the garden, either for the storage of equipment, or as an important work space.”

Unbeknown to me, Tracy and Van sent a letter to Gardens Illustrated to tell the magazine’s editors about a must-read American book on design-savvy sheds that do more than just store tools and flowerpots. In December, an editor at Gardens Illustrated contacted them to say theirs was the “Star Letter” of the month.

 Yeah! Not only did my friends win a Mira trowel and Nunki weeder – copper-bladed tools with long beech handles – they accomplished what no PR campaign could do: Snag a mention about Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways in the must-read British gardening publication.

Here’s their letter:

And all I can say is, thanks my friends. We need our friends more than ever these days. I’m convinced that grassroots book-promotion is the only effective way to get out the word and raise interest in little-known authors and photographers and the labor-of-love projects they create.

Another great garden shed – with a new slant

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Literary agent Charlotte Gusay has a delicious secret. She recently shared it with me and gave me permission to write about it here.

Charlotte 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. So disappointed we did not find each other before this article and/or your book . . . .

“I have a swell little ‘postmodern shed’ that my husband Bobby Milder and I built about 5 years ago. . . .”

She sent along a few photographs to tempt me. What else would a nosy reporter such as me do next? I called Charlotte and invited myself over for a visit. Paula Panich, my writing mentor and friend, came along last week when we drove over to Charlotte’s after lunch.

Her house sits quietly on a tree-lined city street, just a block or so away from a major thoroughfare. It is nice to know these inviting residential pockets exist here in LA, right in the city. I love it!

This irresistible 10-by-14 foot haven is tucked comfortably into a far corner of Charlotte’s urban lot, hidden from everyone’s view but hers. Because of the way it has been sited, the shelter is first seen “in profile,” its longer side and angled shed roof-line emphasized. When glimpsed by newcomers (such as Paula and me) the shed reveals its see-through quality, thanks to a wraparound glass “corner” that connects two outer walls. The white-painted framework around the windows and door outlines and emphasizes vertical and horizontal lines of the design (almost Mondrianesque in its geometry).

I like how Charlotte described the shed to me in her first email note: “It floats elegantly in the backyard, just beyond our 1944 mid-century house in West Los Angeles.”


Backyard Bliss: prefabricated sheds reviewed

Friday, 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.”


Oh, it’s different when you’re in front of the lens

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

One of Amanda’s Polaroids from tonight’s photo shoot

I’m used to standing just slightly behind and a smidgen to the right or left of the photographer. That’s my comfort zone, where I can quickly hop in and peer through the lens to check out the composition of a shot, see how it’s framed, look for wayward electrical cords to hide or crooked picture frames to adjust.

I’ve been taught well over the years, working with talented shooters including Bill Wright, Andrew Drake, Mike Jensen and all those clever newspaper photojournalists (well, to be honest, newspaper guys rarely allow me look through the lens, but I do try to make suggestions!) 

So tonight the table was turned. And the lens was on me. Oh, for only 100-plus frames or so! And thanks to the very talented Los Angeles-based Amanda Friedman (seen above), it was painless. Actually, it was quite fun!