Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

I am secretly a bit of a shed fetishist. I'm fascinated by garden sheds - their design (or lack of it), their smell (that aromatic whiff of cedar that you get in a new shed; the damp, woody odour of an old one), and the uses to which people put them. I even fantasise about sheds; or at least, the sort I'd have if money were no object.

My current shed is small, 6ft by 4ft, and rather scruffy. I have tried to tart it up - a homemade bamboo trellis adorns the door and the (broken) window, while the leg of an old stool, fished out of the river Wandle, serves as a finial. The corner most visible from the rest of the garden is decorated with a thick column of bamboo. In my mind, it looks like a Thai pavilion. In reality, it probably looks like a heap of junk.

I plan further decoration, though, in the form of some metallic beetles made from old drinks cans that I bought at the Chelsea Flower Show last year. I'd love to create a green roof with stonecrop, but I'm afraid the shed would collapse under the weight. (It does tend to sway slightly if you lean against it.)

I'm not one of these people who works or lives in a shed, or goes in for wallpaper or chintz curtains. Inside, mine is strictly utilitarian, housing things like the lawnmower, pots and seed trays, though I have added a couple of shelves and some hooks to hang garden tools on.

Looking out over the back gardens that border mine, I'm always astonished by how many people have huge sheds in quite small gardens. Quite a lot of neighbours have two sheds, both big enough to house a Boeing 747 if one happened to land in Wandsworth (which, given that we're under the Heathrow flight path, is only a matter of time). What on Earth do they put in them?

What strikes me as most strange about these sheds, however, is the fact that neighbours who have spent thousands of pounds on chic rear extensions and paved, minimalist gardens then go and plonk down a rather uninteresting wooden building in full view of the fashionable folding glass doors.

You can't really blame them, though. Shed design is not so much still in its infancy as positively ante-natal. Most have a depressingly shallow pitched roof, doors that never shut properly and a rather drab window that runs straight up into the roof-line. The worst design as far as I'm concerned are those ugly things that are a combination of a shed and greenhouse, with a window that juts out to one side. There are lots of attractive "garden buildings" on offer, but they tend to be summer houses or gazebos, which are very pretty but completely useless for storing junk as they have too many windows.

The shed designs I lust after most are created by designer Phil Game, who has a company called Pure Folly (www.purefolly.com). Game's creations have graced show gardens at Chelsea and Hampton Court and as the name of his company suggests, he specialises in garden follies. Some of his designs are reminiscent of the Witch House at Hestercombe Gardens in Somerset - all twisted branches and thatch, and with that feeling of having grown directly out of the ground.

If you're looking for ideas that are a little more DIY, then the shed fetishist's internet porn can be found at www.readersheds.co.uk. This extraordinary website features pictures of, erm, readers' sheds. It's subtitled "Share your Shed" - perhaps you have to put your car keys into the ashtray before you can go inside. Yes, there are some pictures of wives, but as far as I can see, they appear to be fully clothed and always adjacent to or inside a shed.

My favourite at the moment is Lex and Carly's Modern Shed, from Brighton. I don't know Lex and Carly, but I imagine that if I met them, we'd be soul mates. They, too, were depressed by the lack of aesthetic in the shed world and designed their own, which looks slightly Japanese in style, with louvred doors, a pent roof, and glass inserts between the roof and the top of the walls.

There's also Bert's Most Unstable Shed, from Tenantry Down Allotments, also in Brighton (what is it with Brighton?), which slants at an interesting angle, and the Warp Speed Shed, submitted by C C from Orpington, in Kent, who is a Trekkie as well as a Sheddie. Fabulous.

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