By Elizabeth Holmes
Amy Spearing has a five-bedroom, 3,000 square-foot home outside of Richmond, Va. But when she needs a break from her husband and three children, she high-tails it out the back door to her "she shed."
"You know how men have man caves? This is like that, but for women," says the 42-year-old interior designer, whose children are ages 10, 13 and 16. "If I was inside, someone would be screaming, 'Mom!'"
After years fighting for a seat at the table, some women now want their own place. Ms. Spearing converted her backyard pool house into a Parisian-theme oasis with a brass chandelier and bistro table. She retreats there every day.
"It's something women didn't know we needed until someone said, 'She shed,'" Ms. Spearing says. "I feel a lot calmer out there."
She sheds are havens to paint, read, do yoga, host a book club meeting; a place to leave behind the demands of daily life while staying close to home. In contrast to the man cave -- all flat-screen TV, wood paneling and beer fridge -- the she shed leans toward the bright, cheery and thoughtful.
What they have in common may be motive.
"I come out here to get away from my husband," says Ramona Jarvis, a 59-year-old resident of Austin, Texas.
The couple has been happily married for 38 years, says Ms. Jarvis, a certified public account, but in their house "every design decision, every chair, I have to think about him." Ensconced in her she shed, which doubles as a home office and meditation center, "it's just me, all me," she says.
Marta Benson, of Marin County, Calif., converted a storage shed into a rowing studio. Ms. Benson, an executive vice president and general merchandise manager at Pottery Barn, is there by 5:30 a.m.
Her husband tried to store some bike equipment there, but she blocked the move. Now, she says, her family members "respect it as my sacred little space."
Diane Schaefer, 64, was a she-shed pioneer when she started on hers in 2010. Ms. Schaefer, of Des Moines, Iowa, applied for a city permit to build a playhouse. "The guy behind the counter said, 'Look, you are going to need to call it something else,'" Ms. Schaefer recalls. He suggested "Victorian garden shed."
Together with her husband, Bill, Ms. Schaefer spent six years working on what is now a 20-by-22 foot "sunshine-yellow" painted Victorian-style she shed. It has a raised front porch and window on the front door. Inside is a gas fireplace and a spiral staircase leading to a second-story loft.
"I can walk 35 steps across the driveway and be in this whole other fabulous space that is so calming and quiet andpretty," says Ms. Schaefer, a retired college admissions director. She decorated with what she described as shabby-chic antiques, including a purple armchair and a pink-painted brass bed. The project cost somewhere north of $80,000, she says.
Mr. Schaefer, 77, did the heavy lifting to build his wife's she shed, but he usually knocks before entering. "It really is not a man's space," he says.
Home-improvement companies see she sheds as a new way to reach women, and some offer step-by-step guides. Home Depot Inc.'s website has a she-shed configurator to customize designs. Lighting ideas include French doors, transom windows and skylights.
Window boxes or concrete planters "make the shed not look like a shed, and look like a mini home," says Eddie Zielinski, the manager of a Lowe's Cos. store outside of Detroit.
The website of Best Buy Inc. has separate offerings for the ultimate man cave and ultimate she shed that highlightpresumed taste preferences between the sexes.
For men: PC gaming station; kegerator with 3-D printed tap in the shape of a tiny boombox; and a "smart" putting green. For women: a "smart" door lock operated with a phone app; special lighting controls; and a hidden refreshment cabinet for espresso maker, electric tea kettle and wine cooler.
Building a she shed from scratch is a sizable undertaking. Cities usually require a building permit, and most she sheds don't have running water or a bathroom, due to zoning restrictions.
Creating a she shed doesn't have to be expensive, however. Sonya Barker, a 46-year-old home-décor blogger and stay-at-home mom, asked her husband to clear out his woodworking tools from the shed at their house in Piedmont, S.C., and store them in the garage.
As part of the deal, Ms. Barker keeps an open-door policy, allowing entry to her husband and children, ages 16 and 18. Her 16-foot by 20-foot sheshed has two leather pullout futons, a flat-screen TV and a dartboard.
Ms. Barker's she shed is about 25 yards from the kitchen -- and a million miles from her daily routine. "I don't feel like I have to load the dishwasher," she says of her moments of respite.
"Most women don't go away for the weekend," Ms. Barker says. "They just need to go away for an hour on a Wednesday."
Ranger, the family's Irish Jack Russell Terrier, also has a spot there. "We built a really big doghouse," the husband says, of the space.
Not exactly, Ms. Barker says: "Once we put a big screen down there, and he had all of his friends to watch the football game, he was good to go."
Tess Harper, a mother of two who lives in Wyoming, Ohio, designed her she shed as a home office. The prefabricated structure has a combination cooling and heating unit that was overwhelmed by Ohio winters. It's no problem when the temperature is 40 degrees, she says, but not when it falls to minus 18. A portable space heater saved the day.
Ms. Harper, who works in the medical device industry, says it took some time for the family to adjust to the idea. She had to explain to her sons, ages 7 and 14, that it wasn't a playroom.
Her husband asked about installing a cigar fan. The request, Ms. Harper says, was denied.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 31, 2017 13:09 ET (18:09 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.