Debra Prinzing

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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.”


In Praise of the Modern Shed

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Irv and Shira Cramer created a backyard destination in an otherwise unused section of their hillside property. They bought and personalized a prefabricated shed-studio from Seattle-based Modern Shed.

[All photographs by William Wright]

There’s a huge media spotlight on prefabricated sheds these days, and much of it is shining on Ryan Grey Smith and Modern Shed of Seattle. While I would prefer to have a bit of those bright rays focus on Shed Style and our book, Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways, I can’t help but be pleased to have media outlets participate in the conversation we began. As more stories rave about Modern Shed’s innovative and affordable design solutions for people in search of stylish space, I think everyone in the shed world will benefit. “The Shed,” an online magazine published by Alex Johnson in the UK, ran my story about Ryan earlier this year, called “Shedquarters.”

One of Ryan’s projects is featured in our book, a chapter called “Rec Room” that profiles a young Los Angeles artist and designer named Lin Su (seen at left, in front of her Modern Shed). But originally, a second Modern Shed structure was also slated for Stylish Sheds. It’s the sad reality that books have space limitations. Ours did, and in the end, that meant we had to cut seven chapters out of the final version of Stylish Sheds. It was P-A-I-N-F-U-L to say the least!


So many sheds, so few pages. Now it’s time to share one of those “lost” chapters. It includes the story and photographs of a bright green structure perched on a Berkeley hillside. Designed and built by Modern Shed, the haven is owned and used by a warm, artistic and fascinating couple named Irv and Shira Cramer.

Here’s their story, illustrated by a gallery of Bill Wright’s wonderful photographs:

Hillside Hideaway

A couple descends twenty-five steps to a garden far below their home to enjoy this separate and soulful place for music, books, and conversation. 

Irv Cramer doesn’t take the gift of sanctuary lightly. While some might consider the 13-by-14 foot shed installed at the foot of their garden to be a modest, humble structure, to Irv and his wife Shira, it is an oasis, for both body and mind.


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!