Think of a shed and you’d be forgiven for imagining shears, wrenches and the heady scent of oily rags – typically “blokish” pursuits. However, in the last six months, Homebase has reported a 50% growth in women buying sheds and the rise of the “She Shed” has made way for Facebook groups, Pinterest boards and even books dedicated to a place for women “to retreat for some quiet time, to create or grow, to write or paint, or just to contemplate the view”.
As the number of people working from home in the UK now makes up almost 14% of the workforce – and the number of self-employed women has increased by 34% since 2009, we meet five female “sheddies”, who have created business HQs from the bottom of their gardens.
43, jewellery maker in Reach, Cambridgeshire
When I walk up the garden, I’m going to work. I am leaving the house behind, even though it’s only about 10 metres away. I’m able to separate the rest of my chaotic, stay-at-home mum life and go. We live in a little cottage and we’re quite child-focused. It’s good to get up here because I can then be an artist rather than a mum.
It was my husband’s shed at first – I’d just had a baby so it was to let him have some time to work. We were inspired by the Southwold beach huts that we’d seen on our first date, back in 1998. I had never seen such a thing before because I’m a northerner. I loved the curtains and kettles.
Then our daughter Evie got a bit poorly and I wasn’t able to be as good a business technology consultant as I wanted, or as good a mum as I wanted. We had to watch her like a hawk when she got a cold – she used to have febrile convulsions. I’d been making jewellery and selling it at craft fairs as a hobby, so friends asked: “Why don’t you just do that?” Becoming a full-time jewellery maker fitted much better with being a bit more of a vigilant mum. Dealing with the stress of Evie being poorly, plus the stress of the job, was too much anyway.
I’ve made it into an inspirational space. I have made it as beautiful as I can, even though it’s not that big. I take inspiration from my collection of postcards, pebbles, shells and botanical reference books. I’m reluctant to use the term “branding”, but it’s a real part of it for my business – I am actually making up there. People are aware of it and often tweet to me saying: “It’s lovely to think of you sitting in your shed in your garden, among the birds and things.”
The jewellery I make is inspired by nature – I use the leaves from the garden to print into silver. I work a lot to commission and people request tiny narcissi and gerberas and daisies – lots of the flowers that people want in tiny silver versions are in the garden. The shed also acts as a hide. There are blackbirds, wrens and warblers – because it’s such a wild and woolly garden, it’s packed with robins, too. Perhaps I don’t have as much money for fancy trousers, but it’s about allowing myself to have that smaller life.
Mills & Boon novelist in Cley, Norfolk
I find it easy to access my imagination in here. My husband Alan can thump about in the house and I can cut off completely – I can’t tell you what it’s like trying to write a passionate love scene set in 1810 when Formula One is on in the background. But I sit here and I look at the weeds and I daydream a bit.
I don’t have internet in here – that’s on purpose. I took all the games off my computer so I can’t play Solitaire. I am tempted to put a kettle in here, but then I’d need the loo. I was a librarian when I first started to write. I thought: “Any idiot can write Mills & Boon – they go out by the armful.” I tried and discovered that I was the idiot – it wasn’t easy at all. It took me eight or so rejections, but now it’s a full-time job. I average three historical romances a year.
When we moved up to Norfolk, it was obvious I wasn’t going to shoehorn my thousand or so books about 18th- and early-19th-century history into the house. It was lose the books or lose my husband, so we got a local craftsman to build a shed. Every year when I put it on Shed of the Year, I get emails full of shed envy. People love it; all my writing friends want one.
When we were having it built, the workmen were falling off the roof laughing because Alan kept referring to it as “the shed” and I kept saying: “It’s my studio.” As far as they were concerned, sheds were for blokes to have a keg in the corner and play with something greasy. The walls have a rustic Scandinavian vibe; the pictures are all Regency or Georgian. I have a board of some of my foreign covers, including ones from Japan, Italy, Spain and Lithuania. They’re rather fun – I love this quite sexy one with an elegant corset slipping off. There are lots of old road books – for when I’m planning journeys in my books – complete with original notes such as: “Unfortunately there’s a very high wall around this property so you can’t see in.” There’s a shelf full of original cookery books. Sometimes Alan takes one and cooks a recipe from it for unsuspecting guests. “Have an 18th-century biscuit.”
Then there’s the massive replica Regency period dolls’ house that we made. I gaze at it and imagine that some of my smarter characters might live there. I bought this mobile of an Indonesian frog for Alan years ago with unkind references to his tummy. He bought me the Indonesian dragon in retaliation.
Charlie Le Rougetel
44, founder of Circus PR in Harlesden, north-west London
My clients know I work from a shed. Whenever I meet them, they always ask, “How’s the ‘shoffice’?” So far, nobody’s ever been here for a meeting, but I still made an effort to stamp the company identity on it – there’s my logo and circus-themed artwork. It’s just to give me a sense of purpose and ownership: it’s branded.
The decor is indicative of my slightly obsessive traits; I’m ridiculously organised. Pretty much everything is Ikea, just super cheap.
Yesterday I was on a conference call and the man next door kept popping out of the window to smoke [from the flat above], as he does six times a day, like a cuckoo clock. I just think: “This is really bizarre, I’m running a business out of my garden and he’s sat there with his makeshift ashtray.”
It’s very different to working in an office. I worked in PR for about 20 years until I took voluntary redundancy last year. I was travelling to Holborn every day – it was pretty much bang on an hour door to door. I worked out that I could even run in the same amount of time as it took me to get the train. At first, I was working from the spare room, but it was hellish. I would get up in the morning and stay in my pyjamas or go for a run and sit in my – it’s horrible to admit – sweaty training gear. Then I’d just sit there until 11 o’clock at night, trying to set up a website, talking to Companies House, talking to the tax man. At the time, my husband was working from home as well. We would shout “Tea!” – it was just the most awful existence, neither of us really went out.
I think the fact that the journey from the kitchen to the sitting room meant passing the spare room-turned-office, as it were, made it far too easy to pop back in there. Now the difference is that I unplug my laptop every night – work closes at 6pm. Next year, I’ll be in a good position to take someone on and I worry what that will mean for me and the shed. The idea of having to give it up and maybe move into an office makes me sad. There’s plenty of room for two people, but one of the reasons it works really well is because it is your space. I’d be very much involving someone in my home life as well – you have to pass through the house to get to the shed. What happens at lunchtime?
I had the conversation last week: “What if the best candidate was male?” I think that would be weird. I have no idea why. I think there’d be more camaraderie … I just think it would be nice to work with another woman in the shed.
The fact that there are women working from sheds is indicative of women in the economy at the moment. There are a lot more female start-ups, a lot more female entrepreneurs; there was a thing last week that “mumpreneurs” were generating £7bn for the economy each year. Women are setting up proper businesses that are making proper money and contributing to the economy. It’s not something you can belittle with, “Oh, the little woman in the shed.” Sitting in the spare room did feel a bit like playing, pretending at running a business. Now I feel like I’m sitting here and running a valid operation. It’s something to be proud of.
25, founder of Laura’s Lodge beauty salon in Glastonbury, Somerset
It’s a miracle in this day and age to have a new successful business. The shed has played a big role in that – it’s different, people love it and they feel safe in here. I’ve been in the beauty industry since I was 16. I worked in salons over the years but I decided to go self-employed because I like to do things my own way. At first, I turned the spare room into a makeshift beauty room, but I have a chihuahua and a pomeranian who bark when people enter the house and sometimes I work late so my husband couldn’t really cook himself a curry because of the smell – it wasn’t great.
With the shed, you’ve got the luxury of working from home, but you’ve got the luxury of being away from it, too. I can lock the door and that’s it, I’ve finished work.
My husband built it from scratch. He just came out here one Sunday and started digging holes. It’s basically a glorified summerhouse, so we didn’t need planning permission. He would finish work and come out to the garden until it got dark every night and all weekend. We started it in March last year and it wasn’t finished until December. I based it on natural beauty therapy (my parents own the Glastonbury Natural Health Centre) and it’s in my garden, so I have a green theme. The colour on the walls is called “dried rocket”. Most people think it’s a Farrow & Ball colour, but it’s just from B&Q.
I’ve got a massage couch in my relaxation corner, where I do facials, waxing and massages; there’s a nail bar area and then a wet room for spray tans.
It sounds very Glastonbury, but we did use feng shui techniques when designing it – it’s just to make sure the energies are all in the right place so you come in and feel really grounded. I mainly have female clients. I do have a couple of men that come here, but they’re people I know. It’s not that I’m sexist, but I don’t meet people before they come here so it’s more of a safety thing, plus my husband didn’t really like the idea.
I explained to my grandad that I would be working out of a shed and he was like, “What, so you’re going to keep your garden fork in there as well?” And I said: “No, just my cuticle clipper!”
44, founder of Awards 4 All Occasions in Eggleston, Country Durham
I don’t have children and I live here on my own, so I don’t have the need to separate work from home in that way. But, for me, it’s my playground – it’s where I go and play with my tools. I work in steel, pewter, copper, brass, aluminium, mild steel glass, acrylic and wood. The likes of Sir Alan Sugar, Dame Shirley Bassey, Westlife, Jonny Wilkinson, David Tennant and Billie Piper have all received awards I’ve made. I did work from a rented workshop for years, before moving to my shed 11 years ago. I wanted my own space to be able to do things in my own time, to have my two Staffordshire bull terriers, Bonnie and Clyde, pottering about.
It’s a lifestyle business that I have. I do it in my time, but I work very hard and that’s the convenience of it – if I want to work overnight, which I often do when I’m engrossed in a project, I can do that because it’s just next door. I’m a bit of a workaholic – I find it hard to sit and do nothing, I’m always tinkering with something.
I have four horseshoes on the door for good luck. I’ve got quite a few other charms about the place – a Chinese waving cat plus two Hindu gods, Krishna and Ganesha, for prosperity.
I’ve got signs around that just give people a bit of a tickle when they come to see me: “A woman’s shed is her castle”, that’s a good one; “To you it may only be a shed, but to me it’s a sanctuary”; “Female welders always keep it hotter”; and “Yes, I’m a girl – I’m a quick-ass welder”.
Some people are pretty taken back when they first meet me, but people generally just say: “What a lovely place to work from, I’m really envious.” I suppose people see a shed with tools and they think it’s a man’s shed – I’ve proven that wrong. It’s definitely my shed!