Narnia at the bottom of an English country garden

Jack O'Sullivan meets a 15-year-old designer whose neo-classical shed has made it into the `World of Interiors'

A shed is, of course, but a few sticks of wood, well-creosoted. It can be a workshop, full of tools and paint. A store for mouldering deck chairs and a rusty lawnmower. A child's imaginary world. A sewing room, a place to meditate, an artist's studio, a home for that model railway, a refuge from the world, a study, even a place to sleep. But never before, surely, a neo-classical palace.

Yet, when you step, or more accurately stoop, inside Philip Cooper's shed, you feel like a character in a CS Lewis novel walking into the wardrobe and out into Narnia. One moment, you are among the rambling honeysuckle, rose bushes and mess of a suburban garden in Exeter. The next, you are in a tiny drawing-room of which Robert Adam would have been proud.

Dancing cherubs, moulded plaster work and gold panelling are set off by a cool Wedgwood blue background. Look up at the ceiling and Botticelli's Primavera gazes down, beside a chandelier that casts light on a frieze of Bacchean debauchery. Recalling the decadent opulence of Dangerous Liaisons, you can almost imagine John Malkovich and Glenn Close, like so many shed- seduced lovers, caught in flagrante among the bedding plants.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is discovering that the architect and master craftsman of this Tardis-like world (the shed measures 6ft by 5ft) is just 15.

Philip Cooper's peers prefer pop stars to plaster angels. They would rather ogle Pamela Anderson than enjoy a classical Venus. But that hasn't stopped him pouring as much energy into his shed (which he has had since he was five) as Jacques Gabriel devoted to Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon at the bottom of the Louis XVI's garden in Versailles.

The detail is exceptional, right down to the curtains, made from muslin, edged with trim and pyjama cords at the top, and decorated with scrunched up wire ribbon, set against a gold decorated pelmet.

His father, Peter, sculpted the capitals, which Philip then moulded with latex. Much of the plaster work is Philip's own. What he has bought in is inexpensive and might, in a different setting, be dismissed as tat - the chandelier from Argos, costing pounds 14 raised from selling toys, the plaster niches from Wickes, the cherubs from the Christmas decoration counter in BHS, the Botticellis from Athena posters, the wall lights from a downmarket store in Exeter. But, placing them in the right context, he has created a diminutive stately home.

Philip's work has earned him a four-page spread in this month's the World of Interiors, an extraordinary accolade from a magazine which is to DIY what Capability Brown was to garden centres. The feature on Philip's shed is sandwiched beside a piece extolling the beauties of The Charterhouse of Padua, a fabulous medieval Carthusian monastery.

"Philip is amazing," said Min Hogg, editor-in-chief at the World of Interiors. "I've never seen anything like it from a boy of that age or a girl. Children are given those horrible little Wendy houses with their awful Wendy furniture and curtains. He's made his own thing 20 times better." Philip is not, however, at first sight, a particularly extraordinary young man. He remains, after all, half-boy, his bedroom still with a box full of teddies half hidden behind a curtain. He wears Doc Martens, likes surfy clothes and listens to indie grunge - Radiohead, the Manic Street Preachers, Garbage and the Cranberries.

But when he talks interiors you realise you are in the presence of a sophisticate. Why, I asked, is he so enamoured with classical style? "It's the drama of it," he said. "The plaster work, the draping curtains. There are nice curved lines, not necessarily symmetrical, but balanced. I love rococo, the leaping figures of clay on the ceiling all shouting at each other. It feels like there is movement in the room even though everything is still."

"Robert Adam is my favourite interior designer, the way he used complementary colours, like mint green and pale pink," he added as he reached under his bed for thick, colourful books to show me German examples of the styles he admires.

It's a hobby that wins little favour among the shaggier tendency at school. "They say, `Shut up, Philip, you're so sad. Shed boy,' they say, `we're going to burn it down. You're so gay.' So, these days, I keep quiet about it. They ask me, `Do you still do that gay little shed?' I say no. And they say, `Why don't you burn it down.' I just ignore them."

But he doesn't let his teenage critics get him down. Philip hangs out with his friend, Ruth Wilde, at the Picture House, Exeter's arty cinema. "We don't like going around swearing and shouting saying we snogged so and so. We like going to art galleries. We're interested in poems, adult things."

So is Philip Cooper just an extraordinary one off? His parents' 1930s pebbledash homegives no sign of spawning a design guru.

Philip, in that great tradition of children letting you down in public, describes it: "Beige walls, original carpet, carelessly painted with the cheapest emulsion, the furniture neither nice nor nasty, just practical. They say, `Philip, you'd better start on the house,' but when I say what I'd do, they can't afford it. They'd rather go on holiday to Venice."

His mother, Susan, who is studying for a history degree, struggles to find the source of her son's inspiration. Her maternal grandmother was a designer as was her father-in-law. Her husband paints, sculpts and is a photographer.

But then the crucial clue emerges from the family history. Sheds. This is a shed family, a home that has a thing about huts. Many of us have one of these little wooden structures lurking in our background. "I was in Uruguay," said Min Hogg, "where almost everyone lives in a shed, one more beautiful than the next".The Coopers have the shed-bug on an almost Uruguayan scale.

"I used to have a shed when I was a child," Mrs Cooper said. "I liked to make tea in there on a little methylated spirits stove. Being a woman, I had the idea of trying to work out what I could cook on it. I had bits of china, which eventually ended up in my daughter's shed." That is Philip's sister, Elizabeth, 22, whose shed adjoins his, but which became filled with garden tools once she left home for university. As children they pretended they were running a global business, using pre-First World War Bakelite telephones with a taut wire running between their two sheds.

Philip's father has annexed the sister's shed and also has another - or rather the garage. "He locks it up and doesn't let anyone in," Mrs Cooper said. "He brings out his paintings, but we don't see the progress. He's a private person, who likes to get on without intrusion."

Philip, unlike his father, is clearly a member of the exhibitionist school of shed person. Like Tony Goble from Roath, Cardiff, who complained about exhibits at the National Museum of Wales and was challenged to do better. So he lined up his favourite hammers, chisels and garden tools and displayed his shed to the public. Dozens turned up to view it.

Philip, likewise, has a steady stream of visitors constantly wishing to see his hut, an irritation sometimes because it makes redecoration difficult. And there is much to be done. Making a neo-classical palace out of a traditional, wooden slated shed creates problems that Robert Adam was spared.

"You have to battle with the elements," Philip said. "The wind and damp in the winter makes the wood rot, so you have to treat it in the spring. In the summer it gets too hot, so it cracks and you get wasps, spiders and wood lice and ants' nests under the carpet. You have to fill the gaps in with concrete every year so nothing can get in."

He nearly gave it all up for a new summerhouse, with lots of windows. And he is giving more attention to his bedroom, creating a more modern style. But he's staying faithful to his shed. "Some of my personality has been put into it. My flamboyance, all my pride. If it got blown down I would be devastated."

His advice to admirers? "Everyone should have a hobby. What else do you have to live for apart from your passions?"

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'
tv
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit