Debbie Travis: Backyard shed more than just storage space

Your backyard might have an old shed that has fallen into disrepair, just good enough to stash the lawnmower and a few bikes. With some inspiration and a bit of TLC, that could be your new favourite place to be. That shed could have many purposes. In her new book, Shed Style: Decorating Cabins, Huts, Pods, Sheds & Other Garden Rooms, published by Ryland, Peters and Small, Selina Lake demonstrates how to turn small backyard buildings into spaces that enhance your time outdoors. Rather than use it as a catch-all for stuff that might be needed but not wanted in full view, re-purpose that garden shed so it becomes a pleasurable destination.

Existing sheds take little to spruce them up. Ensure that the roof doesn’t leak, repair loose boards and apply a few coats of weather-resistant paint. Lake prefers natural earthy tones such as black, brown, rust, honey and green for the exterior so it blends into the surroundings. Curtains add a homey ambience to the shed. Inside, erect shelves from old boards making sure they have a sturdy support. A large workspace is handy for seeding and repotting and arranging cuttings.

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Hang a botanical print or two that showcases your favourite flowers. In the example shown here, the walls are painted a deep blue, which is a quiet background for the wood and greenery.

Lake notes that all manner of garden buildings can be turned into a hideaway. It may have started life as a potting shed but can also be a writer’s cabin or a yoga studio. In Italy, I converted a tiny shed-sized cabin that was previously used for massages at our Tuscan retreats.

Between retreat weeks, I remove the massage table and add my writing desk and an old leather chair. The rustic surroundings inside and out are ideal to get me inspired and writing

Lake makes good use of every garden space she showcases. For greenhouses, she shows how to create the ultimate retreat under glass where you and your plants can flourish. With glass walls, be mindful that you have two views, one from inside and one from the garden. Plan shelves and hanging plants for easy maintenance and provide arrangements that draw the eye. If space allows, set up a table and chairs where you can relax and take in your garden or enjoy a cup of tea or a meal al fresco.

There’s lots more to discover, beautifully photographed, in Lake’s book. Small guest houses and cabins nestle into larger properties, decorated in rustic style and ready to serve you and your friends. An acquaintance has transformed an old horsebox to create a cosy nook at her country home.

In smaller spaces, a tiny hut built just for you is separated from the house with plantings. Vintage and country décor are highlighted with castoffs and secondhand finds fixed up for a new life. Some innovative thinking, too. Classic camper vans show up for a more stationary life in the back garden for those who have the space to reposition without intruding on neighbours. Decorating these vans gets more eclectic with Boho-style fabrics and rainbow colours.

More than a decorating book, Shed Style provides unique ideas and solutions for adding to your personal space.

It conjures up dreams of a private place to write, paint, do crafting or just be.

Written by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please email decorating questions to Follow Debbie at,,

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