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April 11, 2017

The future of the great Australian shed

There’s a better use for your shed than long-term storage. Architect Damien Chwalisz shows us how to make a home away from home in your own backyard.

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  • Words: Johnny von Einem
  • Pictures: Julian Cebo

It’s the most important piece of the picture that makes up that iconic Great Australian Dream – a cute little mortgage cottage in the suburbs is nothing without an accompanying shed.

If you are one of the lucky ones, staring from your kitchen at the tin-roofed structure in your well-manicured backyard, you’re probably wondering if the shed ever had a purpose, prior to our obsolescent manufacturing culture, beyond being a storage area for objects you no longer want but that are too large to fit into the red bin.

You’re not alone.

Increasingly, architect Damien Chwalisz is taking calls from clients looking to reclaim the shed as an inhabitable piece of their property. One such call was about an 1880s-era home in Kensington.

“There was an existing shed; it was 12×6 metres… [and] it was a carport which extended into a tools-for-the-garden scrapheap, really,” Damien says.

What we’re toured through is remarkably different to that; a light-filled grey concrete and timber bedroom and en suite that, despite being completely disconnected from the main house, feels like home.

“They just wanted a robust space that is outside the limits of the house that they could retreat to,” Damien says.

“A lot of people are looking to downgrade their cars, going to a one-car family or cars and bikes, which is exactly what these guys are doing, so they had this left over shed space.

“We’re finding almost all of our clients want to create… studio spaces, creative spaces on a relatively low budget, trying to create a pretty ambitious architectural identity, so it’s exactly what this is.”

Adding something new to a house with such heritage does present some design issues.

“The biggest challenge to the project… was day one when I rocked up and the language of the existing cottage was very specific,” Damien says.

“There was a shed in the backyard, and they wanted something – they were very hot on this point – they wanted something that was subtle in the backyard, which didn’t fight the existing cottage materially or architecturally, which was somehow empathetic with it, but had its own architectural identity.”

To achieve this, Damien has made use of the garden that lusciously obscures the repurposed shed, and where the new structure does show through, he has taken cues from the existing house.

“The 1880s cottage has very narrow windows, and they have fairly tightly-spaced window mullions forming part of their façade, so that’s why [these] vertical steel elements are quite tight, they’re quite close to each other [and] have got a certain rhythm,” Damien says.

“Although they’re not materially the same, they’re not constructed the same, the rhythm of them from a distance is empathetic to the existing building.”

For all its challenges, this is Damien’s favourite kind of job, and it’s bringing back purpose to the long forgotten and sorely ignored Great Australian Shed.

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