Working from home has its perks, but it’s easy to lose focus when surrounded by distractions. Three Canadian women found a unique solution to increase their productivity—they took their home office outside. Tour the pint-sized structures below.
Purcell’s Cove, Nova Scotia
Unable to fit a dedicated workspace into her small home, author Michelle Elrick called on friends and family to help build a charming 77-square-foot shed in her Purcell’s Cove, N.S., backyard, which now serves as a studio. “I wanted to have a space that was separate from the house, somewhere that was just for me—a room of my own, as Virginia Woolf would say,” explains Elrick.
With large windows offering views of a terraced garden and local wildlife, author Michelle Elrick’s cozy shed allows her to reconnect with nature, with herself and with her work. “I try to be intentional with how I use the space,” says Elrick. “When I enter, I know I’m here to think, write and create,” she says. Elrick describes her decorating style as modern and eclectic, favouring clean lines, a neutral colour palette and natural materials, as well as vintage finds and unique knick-knacks that remind her of loved ones.
On her desk, Elrick keeps objects that spark inspiration. “I like to surround myself with objects that induce positive feelings and associations,” she says. “When I was writing my novel, I kept photographs of the landscape where the story was set, and I’ve also used mementoes like stones and shells, magazine clippings and scraps of writing to inspire me.”
Elrick changes up the decor depending on what she wants to feel or remember, but she keeps a few of her favourite pieces close. Of all the treasures in the studio, Elrick’s favourite is a doll that belonged to her grandmother. “It used to sit on her bed,” she remembers. “Now, it lives on a shelf with some of my early notebooks and copies of magazines I’ve been published in.” Another favourite is her typewriter—which now holds a running list of all the books she wants to read—that was once used to share notes and jokes back and forth with a former housemate. “Reading these scraps of text is like looking at a photograph or watching a video,” she explains. “I treasure them.”
Some of her favourite objects came into her life by chance, like the beat-up clock radio that was left by the previous homeowners. It provided music and background noise during a months-long renovation of the house. “It was dropped from ladders, and coated in drywall dust and wood shavings, and somehow still works,” notes Elrick. “I believe in reusing and repairing, and many of these objects have been with me for 15 or even 20 years—roughly half my lifetime.”
As Principal, Regional Leader of Consulting at HOK, a global architecture and interior design firm, Susan Chang was used to working in her company’s Toronto office. When the pandemic hit, she struggled to find space to work without distractions in the bungalow she shares with her husband and youngest son. She tried setting up shop in her eldest son’s bedroom and in the family’s den, but none of these spaces were conducive to productivity.
Chang realized that if she wanted a usable space, she was going to have to create it herself. “I wanted to create a more long-lasting and satisfying work-from-home environment,” she says. “Since our boys are basically grown and no longer holding soccer and hockey matches in the backyard, it became an excellent setting for creating a dedicated studio space for me to work in.” Chang intends to continue using the space with colleagues when lockdown restrictions are lifted. “The studio can accommodate three people for future collaboration.”
Chang designed her shed to be comfortable in any weather, with heating, cooling and a wall-mounted heater for extra cold days. Hidden double-screen doors let fresh air in and the space gets plenty of natural sunlight, doubling as a greenhouse of sorts for Chang’s collection of 35 houseplants.
“I designed the studio to have a very clean, crisp, and contemporary backdrop with cool white painted shiplap walls and ceilings,” says Chang, noting that she included a few pops of colour in the form of vivid coral French doors, artwork and sculptural planters. “I chose white as the perfect background for my hand sketched artwork and to not compete with the verdant colours of my garden outside.”
Author and editor Nicole Bross was ahead of the game in the shed office department, creating her space several years before the pandemic hit. As a work-from-home parent, her 1,000-square-foot bungalow in Calgary—which she shares with her husband, two kids and three cats—simply wasn’t big enough for her to carve out space to get work done.
Inspired by a book titled My Cool Shed, Bross built an office in her backyard using a prefab garden shed kit. “It took about a week to put together, working in the evening and on the weekend,” she says. “We had to put down a gravel pad and build a platform first.” While the shed is not equipped for winter, Bross plans to add insulation to make it more comfortable in colder weather.
The shed is just big enough to hold a small desk, a futon and a couple of chairs. Bross decorated with vintage flair, dotting it with thrift store finds and other knick-knacks Bross has collected in her travels, such as antique bottles, inkwells, books, seashells and beeswax candles. The shed is also home to a few pieces from Bross’ typewriter collection, one of which she is convinced is haunted. One of her favourite piece is a bright orange upholstered chair she rescued from her father-in-law’s basement. “It is gloriously garish and makes me smile every time I see it,” she laughs.
For Bross, having this space for herself is vital. “My shed is the only place I’ve ever had that’s just for me. Everything is just the way I want it, and I love the atmosphere I’ve created for myself in there,” she says. “Even if I could have an office inside the house, I’d never give up my shed.”
Originally published in 2021; updated in 2022.