That old backyard shed? DIY’ers give it makeover
The Tuff Shed, which has humbly sheltered lawnmowers and bikes in suburban backyards for decades, is becoming a new summer Pinterest project for a small but proud group of DIY homeowners. Custom sheds are the newest trend in home improvement. From recording studios to gardening centers, man caves to she-sheds, cat houses to giant tortoise shelters, homeowners are limited only by their imaginations. A few have gone so far as to turn their sheds into full-time residences — mirroring the “tiny house” craze.
Denver-based Tuff Shed and others in the business are capitalizing on the growing backyard-living movement. After the first began to pop up in the early 2000s, custom sheds for alternative uses such as home offices and guest rooms have gradually picked up steam.
Custom sheds are boosting sales and expanding Tuff Shed’s customer base, company officials said. They account for about 20 percent of its business and the company, which started in Idaho in 1981 and moved to Denver in 1986, has nearly doubled its number of factories since 2003. Other companies, like Louisville-based Studio Shed, have built entire business models on the trend.
Shed owners range from astronomy enthusiasts to wine aficionados, but Tuff Shed Marketing Director
Phil Worth said there is one thing the industry leader’s customers have in common: They are homeowners.
As home prices across Colorado rise, many homeowners find themselves “stuck” in a smaller home than they would like to be, because to move up is out of their price range. As a result, the state has seen an increase in home remodels and additions — sheds included.
“A lot of people want a traditional home, but people are re-evaluating the need to live in a large home,” said Jeremy Horgan-kobelski, Studio Shed co-founder. “People real- ized they can live a little smaller, but smarter at the same time.”
One such addition to the traditional home is the “she shed,” a concept that picked up when women started turning backyard sheds into private retreat spaces for their hobbies. The term is now a popular hashtag on Instagram and Pinterest.
“The ‘she shed’ is all the rage right now,” Worth said. “We started hearing the term being bantered around in the middle of 2015, and I think it was really elevated by social media. It’s about claiming space for your own.”
Some customers go further — much further. For Texas “DIY-ER” couple Mandy and Blake Lowry, a shed was their solution to an overcrowded Austin, Texas, neighborhood.
“”I’m sure a lot of our friends and family thought we were crazy,” said Mandy Lowry, who, with her husband, turned a 900-squarefoot shed into their fulltime home. “But, last year, everything just fell into place perfectly.”
The couple were looking to move to a sustainable home powered by solar energy but were unable to find one in the Texas market. They found that adding the modifications to an existing home was going to be out of their price range.
“We live in Texas, and the sun beats down on us constantly,” said Mandy Lowry, who works from home as a video game developer. “To not harness that power is ridiculous to us. I don’t want to say we’re hippies, but we try to conserve as much as possible for things that seem logical.”
The couple purchased a Tuff Shed and added the sustainability features themselves. With a couple contractors to do the electric and plumbing work, and a $120,000 budget from the profit they made selling their last house, the Lowrys found themselves with their dream home four months later.
“We had a Pinterest board dedicated to everything we wanted to do in the house,” said Mandy Lowry, who also described using a VR headset to make a mock version of the house. She added, “We wanted it to be a pretty hands-on project.”
For ultimate Diy-ers like Lowry, Pinterest is the social media platform of choice. Another shed designer, Shannon Sisler of Greenwood Village, drew inspiration from the site while designing a shed as a play area for her kids. What her children now call “the club house” includes a queen size bed, a mini fridge and a couch.
An average Tuff Shed costs about $3,800, according to Worth, and they start at $1,500. Tuff Shed provides the foundation and the structure — the customers do the rest. In contrast, Studio Shed’s most popular products range from $15,000 to $20,000, but the interior and electrical work is included.
Customers spend the majority of their time and money on the interior work and decor, Worth said. Tuff Shed customer Chris Wright spent a year and a half researching and developing a plan for his cabin near Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins. He expects it will take him four to six months to finish the interior after Tuff Shed installs it on his property.
“I want to get my hands dirty, but without the scary stuff, like the structure,” said Wright, whose shed will be fully livable for visiting friends and family.
Custom shed companies boast that the prices correlate to the quality – Tuff Shed uses old-school rollers to paint, order the exact amount of materials needed to reduce waste and say their sheds have survived hurricanes. Studio Shed integrates weather and vapor barriers, uses high efficiency glass and helps their customers meet building permit regulations.
“There’s a surprising amount of technology that goes into it,” Worth said. “We’re not winging it.”
Horgan-kobelski said though the tiny home movement gets a lot of attention, it is not practical for the average person — instead, HGTV fans happy with their not-so-tiny home can turn to sheds for a project.
“It’s been a steady ramp up,” said Horgan-kobelski, a University of Colorado engineering graduate. “As the trend has grown we have tried to tailor our product offerings to meet that need.”
Shannon Sisler designed her own Tuff Shed and decorated it as a playroom for her kids in her backyard.
The inside of Sisler’s Tuff Shed in Greenwood Village has plenty of homey qualities about it.
Shannon Sisler could be opening a door to a home, but it’s really the Tuff Shed that she designed and decorated.