A shed can be a useful addition to your yard, especially if you need to store outdoor-living gear (such as patio furniture) during the winter. But the structure doesn’t have to be strictly utilitarian — a well-built shed can also make a great summertime entertaining spot or an inviting private retreat.
Take for example this storage structure, which I nicknamed “Willow House” because it sits close to a large, shady willow tree in my backyard. With 120 sq. ft. of space, it provides plenty of storage. But open up its French doors, light a few candles and turn on some relaxing music and it becomes the ideal place to throw a summer get-together or enjoy a cool drink on a balmy evening. Its cedar-shake exterior looks great in almost any neighborhood, and its warm pine car-siding interior beckons you to escape for a few hours with a good book.
If you have the basic skills required to build a ground-level deck and frame a few walls, you can create your own double-duty shed/getaway. Here’s an overview of the process.
Click here to download this complete article as a pdf.
Build the base
We built our retreat on a free-standing deck, but you can also build a structure like this on a poured-concrete slab or a paved patio. If you choose to build on a deck, be sure that it’s strong enough to support the weight of the structure as well as additional weight such as snow loads. (Check with your local building inspector for framing requirements in your area.) To keep bugs out, staple screening to the top of the framed deck structure before you install the deck boards.
Build the walls
The walls of this structure are built with 2x4s using standard framing practices. Start by cutting the base and top plates to length. (For the front wall, don’t worry about cutting away the base plate to allow for the door opening yet – just let the plate span the entire width of the front wall.) Mark the locations of the 16-in.-OC studs on the base plates and top plates; then nail the studs in position, first attaching them to the base plate and then attaching the top plate to the end of the studs.
Recruit a helper to assist in lifting the framed walls into position. Brace the walls, check for plumb and then use lag screws to fasten the walls to the base. To lock the walls together and to further increase overall stability and strength, install a second set of top plates that overlap the first set. Finally, use a handsaw to remove the base plate from the door opening.
Cut the rafters
The curved roof of the shed is made up of seven 2x12 pine rafters; the front and back rafters’ exterior faces are clad in cedar 1x material. To build a roof like this, first create a hardboard template of the rafters’ shape. Clamp the template to a 2x12 and trace its outline. Remove the template and use a jigsaw to cut the rough shape of the rafter, keeping your cut just outside of the pencil line; then clamp the template to the underside of the rafter and use a router outfitted with a bottom-bearing straight-cut bit to make the final cut. Be sure to set the router depth properly so that the bit’s bearing rides against the template.
Because the roof needs to not only curve to the sides but also slope toward the rear of the structure (for proper water runoff), you’ll need to shorten each rafter. Start with the rafter that will be second from the front of the shed, and use a power hand planer to remove 1/16 in. of material from its bottom edge; then continue the process for the remaining rafters, working toward the rear and increasing the amount of material you remove by 1/16 in. for each rafter. (By the time you get to the last rafter, you’ll be cutting off 3/8 in.)
Attach the roof
The next step is to properly space the rafters and fasten them to the top of the walls. Begin with the rearmost rafter. Position it flush with the outer edge of the rear wall’s top plate; then toescrew through the outer face of the rafter and into the framing below.
To position the remaining rafters, first measure the distance from the inside face of the installed rafter to the rear face of the next stud in the wall and cut two 2x4 spacers to that length. Position the spacers on edge against the installed rafter and toenail them to the side wall top plates; then set the next rafter in place on top of the walls tight against the spacers, and toenail it to the top plate and the spacer. Continue installing rafters in this way – measuring the distance to the next stud, cutting and installing spacers and toenailing – until you get to the last rafter that will overhang the door.
To build the overhang, first cut seven 16-in.-long 2x4 spacers and nail them to the inside face of the remaining rafter. Position two spacers flush with the bottom of the rafter so that they line up with the side wall top plates just like the other spacers you’ve already installed. Position two more spacers flush with the bottom of the rafter and equally dividing the space between the first two spacers. Position the remaining three spacers so that they’re flush with the top of the rafter and equally dividing the distance between the rafter tails.
Lift the overhang assembly onto the top of the walls. Use long pipe clamps to hold the assembly in place; then toenail the assembly to the top plates and drive nails through the previously installed rafter and into the ends of the rafter-assembly spacers.
At this point you could use traditional roof-construction techniques and install decking, ice-and-water membrane and asphalt shingles, but we opted to use corrugated roofing material that comes in large sheets. This material offers several advantages: It conforms easily to the curved rafters, it’s lightweight and easy to lift and it has few seams, so when properly pitched, it has very little chance of leaking. Special nails are used to attach the panels to the rafters, but different types of corrugated roofing have varying installation methods – be sure to follow your roofing manufacturer’s instructions.
Sheathe and wrap the structure
Use exterior plywood to sheathe the walls. For the soffit panels, cut strips of exterior-rated bead board paneling and nail them to the underside of the exposed rafters. For the fascia, nail lengths of 1x6 cedar (smooth side out) to the rafter tails.
To sheathe the exposed pine faces of the front and rear rafters, cut fascia from 1x12 cedar just as you did to create the rafters. Apply liberal amounts of exterior-rated construction adhesive to the exposed rafter faces; then nail the cedar fascia to the rafters. Finally, cover all exposed walls with house wrap.
Install the windows and door
To save money, we opted to forgo custom-made insulated windows and instead built our own window units out of cedar 1x4s and clear acrylic panes – after all, this shed is not intended for year-round occupancy. If you’d like to do the same, start by cutting cedar 1x4 strips that will frame the window openings – the top and bottom frame pieces go in first, followed by the side pieces. Fit the frame pieces so that they protrude 2 in. past the outer edges of the window openings; then nail them in place.
Use a table saw to cut sections of clear acrylic to fit into the rough openings and against the inside edges of the cedar window frames. Apply a generous bead of clear silicone caulk to the window-frame edges; then press the acrylic tight against the caulk. Once the caulk is dry, nail additional strips of cedar to the insides of the windows to hold the acrylic against the frames.
The shed is designed with a standard-size door opening, so installing the inward-opening French door is a pretty straightforward process. Lift the door in place into the opening, check for level and plumb and then follow the door manufacturer’s instructions for securing the door to the framing.
Attach the trim and siding
The last steps in construction are to install the cedar trim and siding. For the trim, simply nail and glue lengths of 1x4 cedar to the shed’s corners, along the bottom and top edges of all four walls and around the door and all of the windows.
To simplify construction but still create a high-end look, we chose Shakertown cedar-shake panels for the siding; their overlapping end joints and ability to conceal nails make for a very straightforward installation. Start by carefully nailing the bottom run in place, constantly checking that the panel remains perfectly level. Once the first run is installed, work your way up the wall, using the panels’ built-in placement edge to create the proper overlay.
Finishing the Interior
The original idea for this project was to simply create storage for seasonal outdoor-living gear, but as the structure progressed, we decided to dress up the interior so the shed could be used for entertaining as well. We hired a licensed electrician to run power to the shed and install a couple of outlets and an outdoor-rated switch-operated ceiling fan and light. We also insulated the structure with Roxul rock-wool insulation. Made from volcanic rock that’s superheated and then spun into fibers, Roxul cannot rot, mold or hold moisture – perfect characteristics for installation in a structure such as this. After installing the insulation, we added cedar car siding on the walls and ceiling to create a storage space that looks more like a cabin than a shed.
Roxul (rock-wool insulation)
Shakertown (cedar shake panels)