Designing the World’s Most Pretentious Garden Shed

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The new garden shed, under construction.

At the very top of my “honey-do” list is a much needed garden shed to store tools, pots, fertilizer and chicken feed. After years of dragging my heels for years, the project went from napkin sketch to construction in under a week.

I set as my goal to build the world’s most pretentious garden shed and, as much as possible, to use salvaged materials. Yes, I’m crazy. I have to admit that when British hedge fund manager Crispen Odey tried to build a $250,000 neo-classical chicken coop at the height of the 2008 economic crisis I couldn’t help but admire the design.

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For ideas I thumbed through a coffee table book of 18th century French revolutionary architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s oddball sketches But fabricating a waterproof sphere from used headboards and pallets is beyond my carpentry abilities. Nevertheless, I came up with a few scribbles:

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Thankfully, most of my thoughtstylings stay in the sketchbook like the idea of a 20-foot tall observation chair on top of the shed. Kelly pointed out that the neighbors might not like that idea.

After dashing off a few sketches I created a Pinterest board to gather more notions, mostly from Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden, Little Sparta:
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The garden shed design I settled on is a kind of mashup of Ian Hamilton Finlay and the front of an “airplane” bungalow (a common type of house in our neighborhood).

Next it was time to put the idea into Sketchup. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Sketchup rocks. All DIYers should know how to use it. With Sketchup I was able to come up with a framing plan that allowed me to cut all the pieces out of the hot sun in the comfort of my garage workshop. Then I just had to carry my stack of pre-cut lumber up the hill and hammer it together.

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Another goal of mine was not to hoard materials ahead of time. I’ve been aided by two great resources, Reuse People of America and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. They both hoard materials so you don’t have to. Those two resources have kept me mostly out of the big orange store. And all of the doors I needed came from the street.

I’ll post an update and maybe even a video tour when I finish construction. Rents are so high in our neighborhood that Kelly and I might just move into the shed and rent out the house!

Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Sundials

Sundial Print: Umbra Solis 1975 Ian Hamilton Finlay 1925-2006 Bequeathed by David Brown in memory of Mrs Liza Brown 2003 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P11953

Sundial Print: Umbra Solis 1975 Ian Hamilton Finlay 1925-2006.

On my long bucket list is the construction of a Root Simple sundial. Towards that end I’ve begun a short Sundial Pinterest board that, as of today, is entirely made up of Ian Hamilton Finlay sundials. Finlay’s poetry, art and gardening deserves greater recognition. The print of one of his sundials, above, is a clever meditation/pun on the distinction between the map and the territory.

You can own an original Finlay print for a modest sum. The perfect gift for the gardener in your life!

Office to Kayak

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Root Simple reader Kate alerted me to a boat building project that is both resourceful and poetic. London-based artist John Hartley figured out a way to turn some crappy office furniture and used suits, what he calls “post-industrial, post-bureacratic flotsam,” into a smart looking Greenlandic-style kayak. He has thoughtfully posted the project as an Instructable so that we can all make our own “Contingency Research Platform.”

Judging from the huge amount of post-bureacratic flotsam at my local Habitat for Humanity store, there’s a lot of potential in turning office furniture into building materials.

You should also check out his hilarious low-fi, DIY GoPro.

For more thoughts on building Greenlandic kayaks, Hartley suggests taking a look at Yostwerks.org.

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How to Build Walls with Pallets

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Adding 2x4s to the ends of a pallet.

Los Angeles is famous for its flotsam and jetsam. Mattresses, rotting couches and headboards accumulate, forming urban coral reefs under the blistering sun. It’s difficult to figure out a use for these objects other than as art. For utilitarian needs, such as building walls, we must turn to the many pallets that also litter our streets.

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Sketchup model by Ron S.

But pallets can be tough to work with. The wood splinters easily making disassembly a tricky proposition (watch the Garden Fork TV pallet breaker video if you want to go down that route). Famed internet pallet guru Michael Janzen, of Tiny Pallet House, proposes leaving your pallets whole and adding a 2×4 to the end to make them into a kind of building block. The 2x4s can be new or salvaged from broken pallets.

With the added 2×4 you can construct walls, fences, compost bins etc. It’s an elegant solution to the pallet conundrum.

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Sketchup model by Ron S.

Cutting pallets and staggering them with whole pallets adds to structural integrity in a wall.

Not all pallets are equal. Some are odd sizes and some are made out of better wood than others. For a wall building project like the one in these Sketchup illustrations, it would be best to find a stack of similar pallets.

Have you built with pallets? Tell us what you’ve made in the comments.

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Shou-sugi-ban: Charring Wood as a Preservation Method

Shou-sugi-ban 焼き杉 is a Japanese method of charring cedar boards. The method is simple. You char the surface of the wood, scrape it with a metal brush and apply a sealant. The charring creates a protective layer and also, surprisingly, makes the wood more resistant to fire. The technique extended the life of exterior cladding in a country where wood was a precious commodity.

The technique fell out of favor with the advent of modern materials but has seen a revival of late in the contemporary architecture scene. Designers, I think, are drawn to the dark color of the wood as well as the sustainability of the practice. I defy you to find a recent issue of Dwell Magazine without a Shou-sugi-ban wall.

The video above shows a modern method using a propane torch. You can see an alternate method, based on the traditional technique, here. Like most exterior wood projects, it’s a good idea to apply new oil annually. I’ve seen two recommendations: tung oil and Penofin.

I’m pondering the method for some upcoming backyard projects and am wondering if any of you have tried Shou-sugi-ban. If you have leave a comment!