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Beyond the Basic Shed

These practical yet stylish backyard structures offer more than a place to store the mower.

<p>This handsome garden shed features a post-and-beam frame made with 6x6 timbers.</p>

This handsome garden shed features a post-and-beam frame made with 6x6 timbers.

Photo by Smith/Baer

Homeowners have always had a love/hate relationship with backyard sheds. We love the extra storage space, but hate the way they look. That's because the average prefabricated storage building is an unattractive, cheaply made sheet-metal or plywood box with all the durability of a rice-paper umbrella. This explains why many sheds are relegated to the deepest, darkest corner of the backyard. Some neighborhood associations have even banned outbuildings altogether because they consider them eyesores.

However, there's no reason that a shed can't be well designed and solidly constructed — a building that actually enhances the beauty of your yard, home and neighborhood. If this is the type of backyard building you've been looking for, your search is over. Presented here are three attractive structures that offer much more than just storage space. Each building can easily be adapted for use as a potting shed, workshop, children's playhouse, home office or retreat to write the great American novel.

If you are inspired to add one of these structures to your yard, mail-order building plans are available for the Adirondack Cabin and Timber Garden Shed. The Solar Shed is sold as an easy-to-assemble kit. However, before getting started, be sure to submit the plans to the local building department and get a building permit.

<p>Massive red-pine logs and an overhanging gable frame a side window trimmed in mahogany.</p>

Massive red-pine logs and an overhanging gable frame a side window trimmed in mahogany.

Photo by Geoffrey Gross

Adirondack Cabin

The design of this cabin (above) was inspired by the 100-year-old log buildings at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Lake Mountain, New York. It features a massive log frame and Japanese-influenced details to create a structure that's both rustic and refined.

A set of detailed building plans ($29.95) is available from Better Barns, a Connecticut-based shed-building company. The Adirondack Cabin shown here was built and installed by Better Barns for about $18,000.

Construction details. The 12x12-foot cabin is framed with 10-inch-diameter red-pine logs. However, unlike most log- or timber-framed buildings, the exterior walls of this cabin are set inside of the log frame. As a result, the peeled pine logs are visible from both inside and outside the building.

To complement the rustic look of the large logs, the cabin's wall studs are chunky 4x4 studs (not skinny 2x4s), and the roof rafters are cut from rough-sawn, full-dimension 2x6s.

The walls are sided with rough-sawn, tongue-and-groove 1x6 cedar, which is nailed vertically to the 4x4 framing. Traditional barn-door hardware was used to create the sliding door, which glides open to reveal a 48-inch-diameter round window on the back wall. In keeping with the cabin's simple, clean lines, a pair of modest-sized decks was built leading up to the entrance. Decks are more attractive and functional than a set of stairs and they create a small seating area.

The gable roof is topped with architectural-style asphalt shingles. But on the inside it's framed to resemble a wood-shingled roof: Spaced sheathing was nailed to the rafters and then topped with lauan plywood. After a layer of felt underlayment was stapled in place, the shingles were nailed down. It costs a bit more to construct a roof in this manner, but the results are well worth it — and totally appropriate for this unique cabin.

<p>Long screws are used to fasten the log frame together. The large logs are precut and notched at the mill.</p>

Long screws are used to fasten the log frame together. The large logs are precut and notched at the mill.

Photo by Geoffrey Gross

Solar Shed

Talk about versatile. The Phoenix Solar Shed is part greenhouse/part storage building, and it's designed with enough flexibility to fit comfortably into any yard. The saltbox-style shed from Handy Home Products comes as an easy-to-assemble kit. All wood parts are precut, and even the nails and screws are included; you supply the paint and roof shingles. A floor-frame kit (about $200), which contains precut joists and plywood subfloor, is sold separately.

The basic Phoenix Solar Shed (about $1,500) is an 8x10-foot building with an all-glass roof on one slope. You can easily enlarge the building in 4-foot sections with a shed-extender kit. For example, to increase the glass area, order the glass-roof extender; for more storage space, add a solid-roof extender. We added one solid-roof extender to create a 10x12-foot shed.

This flexibility lets you create just the right amount of interior sunlight and shade, while keeping the shed within your budget and space requirements.

Construction details. The numbered parts go together like a giant puzzle. The assembly will also go quicker if you erect the shed on a level spot. Our shed was built on top of a pair of pressure-treated 4x4s laid on a level bed of compacted gravel. If you live in a cold-weather region, you might be required to dig down to the frost line and pour concrete footings or piers.

The floor frame was assembled first and fastened to the 4x4s; then the plywood subfloor was nailed down. Next, the exterior walls were nailed together on the ground and raised up on the floor. The roof trusses were also assembled on the ground, then lifted into place on top of the walls.

The oriented-strand-board (OSB) roof sheathing went down next, followed by four 20x70-inch roof windows. The aluminum-frame windows fit neatly between rafters for a no-fuss installation.

<p>A little muscle — and a large sledgehammer — help coax a stubborn log into place atop an end wall.</p>

A little muscle — and a large sledgehammer — help coax a stubborn log into place atop an end wall.

Photo by Geoffrey Gross

Timber-Frame Garden Shed

This 10x14-foot Timber-Frame Garden Shed has a rugged, yet charming style that will complement any yard or garden. Designed by New York-based architect Ira Grandberg, it features a post-and-beam frame, pine siding, dual sliding doors, and a brick-in-sand floor. However, the most interesting characteristic is that you can fill any of the bays within the timber frame with a choice of materials. We enclosed the frame with tongue-and-groove pine boards and barn-sash windows. Other options include: a recessed box for firewood storage; tilt-out bins for bags of seed or fertilizer; and a hutch for trash cans.

The materials to build this shed cost $2,500, including the shingles and brick pavers. Plans are available for $50.

Construction details. The framework is built of pressure-treated pine timbers: 6x6s for the walls, and 4x4s for the roof rafters. The 6x6 posts and beams were joined with mortise-and-tenon joints, but you can save time by joining the 6x6s with metal timber-framing hardware.

Our shed was built on a sloping lot, so the foundation was made by stacking three 6x6s on top of a bed of gravel. The top course of timbers served as the mudsill. Mortises were cut into the sill to accept tenons that were milled into the bottom ends of the posts.

The only angle cuts in the entire frame were made on the roof. The 4x4 rafters are mitered to 40 degrees where they meet the 2x6 ridge board, and the collar ties, which are screwed across the rafters, are cut at 50 degrees.

by Michael Morris

<p>The exterior walls are framed with 4x4s, sided in cedar ,and then slid into place within the log frame.</p>

The exterior walls are framed with 4x4s, sided in cedar ,and then slid into place within the log frame.

Photo by Geoffrey Gross

Where to Find It:

Adirondack Cabin:

Better Barns

126 Main Street South

Bethlehem, CT 06751

203-266-7989 (local)

888-266-1960 (toll-free)

Solar Shed:

Handy Home Products

6400 E. 11 Mile Road

Warren, MI 48091


Timber-Frame Garden Shed:

Mercurial Editorial

Box 94

Maryknoll, NY 10545

Allow 4-5 weeks delivery

Lawrence Brothers Hardware

2 First Avenue

Sterling, IL 61081


Source for barn-door hardware.

Redland Brick

Box 160

Williamsport, MD 21795


Source for Canal Street pavers

Simpson Strong-Tie

4637 Chabot Dr.

Suite 200

Pleasanton, CA 94588


Timber-framing hardware

Southern Pine Council

Box 641700

Kenner, LA 70064


For information about pine lumber