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Fox Around the House

Man sheds: Just the right amount of distance can keep couples close

  • Man Shed - Gordon Thorburn.jpg

     (Gordon Thorburn)

  • Man Shed (Interior) - Gordon Thorburn.jpg

     (Gordon Thorburn)

  • Man Shed - Christopher J. Lynch 2.jpg

     (Christopher J. Lynch)

  • Man Shed - Christopher J. Lynch.jpg

     (Christopher J. Lynch)

  • Man Shed (Under Construction) - Gordon Thorburn.jpg

     (Gordon Thorburn)

It sounds counterintuitive but sometimes separation is the reason a couple stays together. 

Within the home, distinct his and hers spaces, such as a man cave or walk-in closet, are easy to digest and justify. After all, he needs space to store his stuff and do manly things and vice versa. Taking that space one step further is to go beyond shouting distance. 

Meet the man shed.

When North Carolina-based drummer Gregory Whitt moved in with his wife Annelies they agreed his drum collection—including goat-skinned African djembes (an acquired aroma)—couldn’t come with. But leaving it behind would have been a deal breaker for Whitt. So, for the cost of one year at a storage facility, they built a backyard man shed where Whitt could store his instruments and record music. He calls it his “G-Spot.”

“It’s not a firewall,” says Los Angeles-based author Christopher J. Lynch, happily married for more than 30 years. Lynch spent around $10,000 to build and furnish his 110-square-foot man shed and credits it with helping his relationship stay solid by cementing a mutual respect for individual space. “We don’t believe in smothering, ‘joined at the hip’ relationships.” It’s where he does his writing, and his wife can see the supplementary benefits of his man shed in the form of his added income.  

New dad Tyler Yost can’t put a price tag on it, but he’s frank about the value he sees in his 150-square-foot man shed in Charlotte, N.C. “My wife and I just had our first baby and I think it not only helped save our marriage, but also kept me sane on crazy, long nights.” Man sheds are also a family affair for the Wetjen family. Craig Wetjen, a popular wedding photographer in Melbourne, was so inspired by his father-in-law’s man shed he started photographing him and other men in their sheds for a book he plans to release in August. His wife Jo is helping with the project and is equally inspired by her father’s shed, “I am convinced its existence has ensured his.”

The man shed culture originated in Australia—a country with a divorce rate comparable to America’s. Philip Pilven, a friend of the Wetjens, recently hosted a shedwarming party to celebrate the completion of his second man shed. He outgrew his last shed, but his wife Gaye doesn’t mind. She even helped host the party. Thousands of miles away in rural Montana, Margaret Smith is also a fan of her husband’s man shed which also doubles as an airplane hangar. It’s huge and over time Pete Smith has probably spent a year or two’s worth of their 29-year-marriage in it, but as long as he keeps the intercom on so she can reach him, she doesn’t complain.

A man shed doesn’t have to be huge or high tech. Low-cost prefabricated models are readily available and can be the way to go in order to avoid battles over budget. For many men, it’s not about the construction; it’s about the contents: model trains, exercise equipment, cigar collections, pool tables, bars, fishing gear and other sentimental objects that can be tension-causing ticking-time bombs for arguments over décor and space.

Lisa Concepcion, the founder of Love Quest Marketing and a Miami-based love strategist, is all for man sheds but recommends agreeing on a few things first. “He can decorate it however he wants, watch TV there, tinker on projects, etc. But if he escapes to it every day for hours at a time and is in it more than the main home then that's creating too much separation.”

She suggests putting forth rules such as computers can only be used in the home office, no sleeping in the shed, no locks, and essentially anything that makes the shed a studio apartment—something that can turn into dangerous territory according to Concepcion. “In New York and Chicago we see many men keep apartments in the city. This is a recipe for disaster.”

Parameters set and agreed upon, partners can really benefit, and even come closer together thanks to the presence of a man shed. Just the right amount of absence can allow one to recharge and make the heart grow fonder. Or at the very least, minimize fighting.

Katie Jackson is a travel writer. When she’s not working, she’s chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus.