First, there were kids’ tree houses. Then came the man cave. Now we have the “she shed.”
The growing popularity of stylish ladies-only backyard escapes signals a moment when women—often multi-tasking mothers—finally stopped feeling guilty about claiming space as their own. Erika Kotite, who has written two books about the she shed, describes it as a “refuge of comfort.”
Over the last five or so years, the idea of the she shed—at times also referred to as a “hen house” or “ladies lair”—has spread worldwide. Some have criticized its gendered name, but few can argue with the idea of a purpose-built haven.
Many she sheds start with a pre-fab kit (pre-made units are available on the internet, priced upwards of $1,000). Others repurpose an existing structure. Some turn their she sheds into writer’s nooks, art studios, or gardening sheds, but for others, a she shed is just a place just to take an uninterrupted nap—away from the chaos, clutter, and compromises of the main house.
“The idea is to be free of responsibility, using the space to unwind and to do exactly what you want,” Kotite writes in She Sheds: A Room of Your Own. “As women, we handle a heavy load of responsibility: jobs, marriage, children, household chores, and social obligations…Days will go by in which we must ask ourselves, ‘Have I had one minute alone, in the quiet, to myself?'”
Indeed, the she shed phenomenon comes at at time when women are working longer hours across the board. A recent World Economic Forum survey found that women work an average of eight hours and 39 minutes a day, while men clock out about an hour earlier. Women are also doing more unpaid domestic and caregiving chores.
The need for a respite at home is especially acute in the US. The latest IKEA “Life at Home” study describes 45% of Americans retreating to their parked cars to get some peace and quiet. The IKEA report also suggests that because most people don’t feel “at home” at their primary residence anymore, they’re seeking alternative spaces—physical, virtual, or imagined—where they can just be themselves. A she shed, in effect, gives a woman a sense of home just outside her own house.
The success of Kotite’s first book has spurred a how-to book, She Sheds Style: Make Your Space Your Own, in which she offers decorating tips for those pondering a fortress of solitude in their gardens. But even for those who don’t have the means or space for a she shed, Kotite’s books have served as the domestic goddess version of escapist design porn. “[If] you just feel like entering into these tiny homes…as fodder for your dreams, that’s fine too.” she writes. Even just looking at pictures of other women’s stylish sheds is reassuring.
In response to the “many, many readers [who] are loving looking at photographs,” Kotite’s publisher tells Quartz it has created a 2019 “She Sheds” calendar.