After moving in to care for her aging mother, Michelle built a garage as a “She Shed,” complete with a pull-down ladder, a kitchen, and a mural that matched her hair
When her mother turned 88 and needed some assistance, Michelle, a paralegal from Queens, New York, decided to move back home. From the start, she knew she needed her own space to thrive in this new living arrangement; renovating a 228-square-foot beat-up garage in the backyard provided the perfect solution. Michelle dreamed of turning the space into the ultimate “she shed” retreat (think the female counterpart of a man cave) that she nicknamed The Shak. As this was her first ever renovation project, reaching out to fully-vetted contractors through Sweeten “seemed like a no-brainer.” To keep the renovation simple, she found a no-flush toilet to minimize plumbing. She even customized tiles for the kitchenette backsplash. The result: a vibrant space that is truly all her own.
My journey down the renovation rabbit hole began when I found myself picturing the dilapidated garage in the backyard as my dream “diva den,” as my best friend calls it. While researching different designs and models, I remembered an article on Sweeten I’d read a few years ago and had always wanted to use their services. It seemed like a no-brainer to have an intermediary help locate vetted contractors. It also solved the huge question of ‘where to begin,’ so I posted my project. Since I had no idea what my renovation would cost, Nicole, a Sweeten matchmaker, helped me modify my scope of work and nail down a realistic budget. Kimberly in Client Services introduced me to some contractors who were a good match for my project. I finally felt like I had a team behind me, which is great once you start writing big checks.
This Sweeten contractor was the first one I met. I knew instantly he was the right fit for the job. Finally, I found someone as excited about my garage as I was! At that stage, I only had a basic idea of what I wanted. We took down most of the existing structure, retaining only the foundation. Since I was renovating a 12′ x 19′ garage, I wanted the interior to be basic and for the structure to retain the identity and functionality of a garage. That meant concrete floors, no molding, and a statement-making garage door. If you took out the rugs and furniture of the “She Shed,” the space could still be used as a garage or work space. I also wanted a calming space with one stipulation: no white walls.
Working with everyone on my contractor’s team was amazing. I asked questions that clearly came from watching copious amounts of home improvement TV. Everyone was extremely patient and explained why things are done a certain way. Most importantly, nobody exposed me for the complete novice that I was. Gaining an understanding of how everything worked also helped reign in some of my design ideas. To top off the contractor’s great service, he downloaded WhatsApp to stay in touch with me when I left for Cuba mid-project. I greatly appreciated his dedication to my peace of mind.
The weather was one of the biggest challenges during my project. It wasn’t an issue when my project started in August. However, when November rolled around it was either too cold, too rainy or was supposed to rain but didn’t. Either way, there were a few bad weather days that halted work on The Shak. My contractor also had to juggle other clients. In my naiveté, I thought contractors worked on one project at a time. I came to understand that The Shak was my highest priority, but contractors work on other dream projects at the same time.
As the exterior took shape, and the interior work began, I became more involved in the project. That is also when my attention to detail heightened. For storage, we utilized the space above the ceiling. How to access that space became an hour-long discussion. It became boys against girl. I asked the contractor and his partner how I would get up to the storage space. “Use a ladder,” they said. “That’s what I do in my garage.” I’m no mathematician, but a nine-foot-tall ceiling plus a five-foot-tall girl does not equal easy movement of big boxes up a six-foot ladder. And where would I keep this ladder when I wasn’t using it? After a bit of selling on my part, they agreed to install an attic ladder. It was worth hashing out and in the end, my contractors loved the ladder too.
It may sound weird, but finding my dry-flush toilet was exciting. The “She Shed” did not seem usable to me if you had to keep going into the house to relieve yourself. After endlessly searching for a toilet that did not need to be hooked up to sewage lines or have an odor, I came across the Laveo Dry Flush toilet. It is a great invention. It works like a Diaper Genie disposal system with a continuous bag that self-seals when “flushed,” then, a new portion of the bag opens for use. Even better, it’s available at Home Depot.
Since the bathroom is a small 3’ x 4’ space, I knew I wanted to do some over-the-top designs on the walls. I initially thought of using three-dimensional self-adhesive wall panels but decided against that since I wanted a mix of color and patterns. I love a contemporary look created with eclectic mixes of colors and patterns paired with more colors and more patterns. After much searching, I found the website Pixers, which had amazing graphic wallpapers and murals. As a naturally curly-haired girl, the print I chose was a perfect fit for my preference of streamlined chaos. However, by the time I found the mural, the contractors had completed the interior space. So, my best friend and I enrolled in the university that is YouTube. After watching about twenty videos, we felt qualified to hang wallpaper, something neither of us had ever done before. I love what we accomplished, but some things take more skill and patience than she or I possess. I will never hang wallpaper again.
After the contractor installed the sink and countertop, my next big project was the backsplash. I wanted something different and eye-catching, something that would not bore me. I came across graffiti tiles but the designs weren’t bold enough. I decided to decoupage my own tiles, and feeling empowered with my new construction knowledge, decided to channel my inner Bob Vila. We figured out the dimensions for the backsplash and measured out 5′ x 2′ worth of decoupage tiles as well as some purchased ones. It is one of my favorite things in The Shak. Now, when my friends come over, they all choose their favorite tile. I love how they invite interaction.
I have never embarked on a project of this size. At times, it was scary. I would get a call at 8 a.m. from my contractor, asking which direction I wanted the French doors to open or what size I wanted the windows to be, with no clue of how to respond. My advice to anyone starting a project would be to pick a contractor that listens to your ideas. It is also helpful to watch some YouTube videos, home improvement shows, or however else you like to educate yourself. The more a homeowner knows, the better he or she can direct the construction of their masterpiece. I couldn’t be happier with everything I accomplished in making The Shak a reality.
RESOURCES: Garage door: Clopay Avante. Flooring: stained concrete. Stone Harbor Greige paint,10YY 48/071: Glidden. Exterior light fixture; Doors and windows: Lowe’s. Siding: Vinyl. Midea 9,000 BTU mini split central air: Amazon. Boholmen sink and Grevsta cabinets: IKEA. Refrigerator: Home Depot. Backsplash: Zazzle and custom tiles. Toilet: Laveo Dry Flush. Foam bath floor mat tiles: Amazon. Wall mural: Pixers.
Thank you, Michelle, for sharing The Shak with us! We hope it brings joy and relaxation.
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