Budget Breakdown: A Moldy Shed Becomes a Lively Backyard Hangout for Less Than $40K
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Budget Breakdown: A Moldy Shed Becomes a Lively Backyard Hangout for Less Than $40K

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By Lauren Jones / Photos by Rafael Soldi
Once a dilapidated garage, this flexible garden studio in Seattle now serves as an all-weather hub for a mother and daughter.

Ella Dillon, who had moved into her Craftsman-style home in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood in 2006, was ready to expand into the garden studio. She envisioned a place for her 10-year-old daughter, Isabelle, to do arts and crafts, and for friends and family to gather—all while providing storage for games, gardening tools, and exercise equipment.

Roofing & Flashing Repair
Siding Repair
New Doors & Trim
Exterior NanaWall
Schoolhouse Electric Lighting
Interior Trim & Millwork
Cedar Interior Paneling

Grand Total: $39,892

Jim Friesz and Kristen Becker of Mutuus Studio added three-foot-deep storage along the whole back wall, so now the Dillon family has room for gardening tools, party supplies, and crafts. 

In its original state, the run-down shed wasn’t very functional at all. The roof leaked, the carpet had sprouted mold, and the narrow quarters were sectioned off as two parking spots and two office spaces. "It wasn’t working well," says Mutuus Studio co-founder Jim Friesz. "It might have as a place to write, perhaps, but it wasn’t [positioned well] within the landscaping." 

Mutuus Studio jumped on board to help Ella figure out an optimal design for the 360-square-foot shed—one that would encompass garden shed, exercise room, office, playroom, and outdoor dining space while staying within a modest budget.

The simplicity of Ballard Garden Studio makes the space feel larger than its 360 square feet, and allows it be versatile for a variety of uses.

Friesz and co-founder Kristen Becker planned to completely revamp the shed by adding a steel plate to the center roof beam, taking down the partitions, and including a back wall with cleverly hidden storage. They also suggested a folding window system to open up to the existing garden, which included a stone-paved seating area and planters.

The built-in nook is the perfect spot to read, while the shelves mimic the shape of the hideaway staircase on the left side. 

While indoor/outdoor retreats, she sheds, and similar concepts have become popular in recent  years, this wasn’t something Friesz or Becker had designed before. Coming from experience with larger, more high-end projects, they took the brief and ran with it, viewing it as opportunity to think outside the box and exercise their design chops. 

"We had to be thoughtful—and a little scrappy—[to put] it together in a way that felt financially manageable," Becker says.

Isabelle's hideaway is tucked within the back wall and includes one of the original windows. While covering a window is not a traditional design move, it added natural light to the small space and gives it a tree house–like feel. 

The design team’s modus operandi is always to make small moves with big impact to keep the budget under control. Becker notes that while every client has a different budget, everyone can engage with an architect or designer at any level and any scope. 

When it came to the build, the pair hired a local contractor, one that was equally excited for the unique challenge a small space presents. Crescent Builds alighted on an interesting material for the shed’s interior: rough-sawn cedar fence boards. 

"It’s the cheapest way to buy cedar, and you can purchase them from Home Depot for 90 cents," says Friesz. In addition to being cost-effective, cedar has antibacterial properties and stands up well to weathering, which allows the shed to be left uninsulated and mold-free. 

The warm amber color of the cedar makes the shed glow at night. 

One of the pair’s favorite aspects of the project is Isabelle’s hideaway, which is tucked within the back wall and is easily accessible via a door above the reading nook. The crawl space is her own little tree house. 

"Providing kids with places to explore their imagination in a way that isn’t connected to technology is so important nowadays," says Becker.

Today, the space is incredibly versatile and fluid. There’s an old German beer hall table at the center that’s cleared away to make room for an area rug when Ella hosts friends or works. Overall, the shed has elevated the backyard and has become the family’s go-to hangout spot through all seasons. 

"We have our annual summer party here," says Ella. "Isabelle has had sleepovers with her best friends in the ‘hidey hole,’ and I’ve loved sipping wine with good friends and listening to the rain."   

More Budget Breakdown:

A Playful, Postmodern ADU in Los Angeles Is Built for $249K

A Bay Area Family Splurges on a Dream Kitchen for $91K

A Laser-Cut Steel Addition Sharpens Up a Michigan Home For $85K

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Mutuus Studio / @mutuus_studio

General Contractor/Builder: Crescent Builds / @crescent_builds

Lighting: Jim Friesz / Mutuus Studio

Interior Design: Kristen Becker / Mutuus Studio

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