Garden Shed Becomes a Backyard Retreat

See how a garden designer turned an old toolshed into a place to work, play, and be inspired

Photo by Thomas J. Story; written by Debra Lee Baldwin
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Backyard bliss

A party is under way at garden designer Rebecca Sweet’s house in Los Altos, California. But while the guys hover around a buffet table near the kitchen, most of the women have followed Sweet across the back garden to the woodsy cottage she jokingly calls her “chick shack.”

Inside, the sunny, inviting spot bears little resemblance to the run-down toolshed it was when Sweet and her husband, Tom Urban, bought the property from her parents in 2000. “It was nearly a man cave,” Sweet says. “I decided to take a stand against all that nonsense—ha!” Besides, she adds, she needed an office for her landscape-design business, Harmony in the Garden.

Happily, Urban agreed, and together the couple converted the structure into the backyard retreat it is now. They pushed up the ceiling to create a peaked roof; installed skylights and recycled windows; hung window boxes on outside walls with planting beds beneath; and created an outdoor potting table and tool storage area behind the shed near the back fence.

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Before: In need of love

The flat roof needed fi, but the 12- by 18-foot shed was structurally sound. (That’s Sweet as a child, sitting on the steps with her mom.)

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After: A space for fun

Sweet and her daughter, Emily, 17, frequently hang out in the space together. (Emily has hosted sleepovers here for friends.) Click ahead to see how Sweet made the space the inviting backyard getaway it is now--both indoors and out.

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Interior design

Sweet painted the shack’s walls a soft lemon yellow, and filled the space with family treasures, favorite photos, and natural objects. “In order to feel relaxed and inspired, I need an environment that soothes all my senses,” she explains. “Here I’m surrounded with things that bring me joy.”

White ceiling and trim, along with floorboards painted pale green, help brighten the interior. Sweet uses a plastic laminate countertop for reviewing plans ().

As the sounds of birds chirping and a fountain burbling come in from outside, more party guests wander into her little oasis and plop down on the big sea-grass sofa. This shack, it appears, truly has become a chick magnet. “When my girlfriends come over,” says Sweet, “we invariably end up here with a glass of wine.”

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Lush plantings

A path winds around the back of the shed to a workspace and potting table. Camellias, hydrangeas, and grasses flank the path.

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Green walls

Filled with spidery and trailing succulents, a wall-mounted pot raises the greenery to eye level and helps soften the exterior.

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Vintage finds

Found in an alley, an old mantel is secured against the back fence, where it displays container plants. Sweet dressed it with shells.

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Garden view

Sweet fitted the formerly windowless space with windows from flea markets and salvage stores so she could look out onto her yard.

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Eye candy

A fuchsia outside the window above the desk attracts hummingbirds. “I love watching them sip nectar a few inches away,” Sweet says.

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Garden art

A wooden trellis from an antiques shop creates the quilt-patterned graphic above the sea-grass sofa.

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Storage as décor

A tall barrel beside the desk is perfect for holding rolled landscape plans and fits with the room’s aesthetic.

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Windowsill garden

A collection of tiny tillandsias (air plants) nestles in glass bowls filled with multicolor pebbles and sea glass.

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Outdoor gallery

Antique tools, a birdhouse, a hive, and other favorite finds hang on an exterior wall near the work area.

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Perfect theme

The words etched into the front window indicate not only Sweet’s business name but also her idea of happiness



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