Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Sheds are Bourgeois Crap

So reckons a character in Lars von Trier's 1998 flick, The Idiots. But he may have had a point. There was a time when the shed was very much a feature of working class life. My family were no different, we had three in our garden: one to keep the bikes and sledges (which was later used as a kennel by the mutt); one for our fridge freezer, and the last was where my dad tried to teach me manly things like nailing together planks of wood and how to skin a rabbit. And there was a fourth shed down the allotment dad and granddad used to keep their garden tools. I never really made the habit of poking around my friends' parents' sheds but I got the impression they were kept for strictly utilitarian purposes too.

But not anymore! According to
BBC Breakfast this morning the economic crisis has seen sheds sell by the ... shed load. But it is clear the report is talking about something very different from the shed where my dad did arcane things with power tools. What the BBC reports is the growing embourgeoisement of sheds.

Apparently, creative and professional types are turning to sheds because they offer particular advantages working indoors cannot. For starters, they're isolated from the rest of the house: they are places where work can proceed undisturbed without the foul intrusion of telephone calls, emails or knocks at the door. Is so doing, the shed-as-refuge threatens to become the de rigeur space where the creative individual mind cuts free of the befuddlement of the social world so it can go about conjuring newness out of nothingness.

These new "sheddies" have a pantheon of patron saints to give the move into the garden something of an intellectual imprimatur. George Bernard Shaw wrote much of his work in a shed that rotated. Philip Pullman of
His Dark Materials fame conceived and wrote his trilogy in a shed (it features in the report and is now the property of illustrator Ted Dewan - Pullman let him have it only on condition it was used for "creative purposes"). And I'm pretty sure Roald Dahl worked in a shed too*.

In his seminal
Distinction, Pierre Bourdieu argues class differences make themselves felt culturally in myriad different ways within and between classes. The most celebrated and obvious example in recent years of distinction playing out has been the appropriation of Burberry by some layers of the working class. For a luxury fashion house, to have its brand associated with the dangerous classes has been nothing short of disastrous as its wealthy consumers have turned to other houses to serve as fashionable markers of privileged taste.

So bourgeois cultural products can "sink" down into the depths of society from its gilded levels, so seemingly neglected cultural artifacts of working class life can make the reverse journey. The fate of Banksy's street art that has seen it rise from the mundane urban landscape of Bristol to the toast of the art world is one example. It would seem the shed is on a similar trajectory - and a necessary one as home offices have become depressingly common and so yesterday.

Fully in line with the logics of distinction, the bourgeois shed differs from its antecedents. This shed is a creative space: any and all associations with manual labour are purged (who needs tools anyway when one can hire in a gardener?) The shed is also a comfortable space where, if necessary, the creative dynamo of the bourgeois mind can relax and free associate behind insulated walls and double glazed windows. And, of course, because sheds are accumulating prestige and status they will increasingly become subject to artistic and architectural fashions. Mark my words, it won't be long before Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen hits TV screens with
How Cred is your Shed?

*Just for the record, I do the bulk of my work in the office, the library, the living room table, the sofa, and the train (standard class). All thoroughly proletarian locations.


Brother G said...

4 sheds and a fridge-freezer, and you have the audacity to talk about other peoples bourgeois qualities?! Back in my day we had to bury our beef joints in the snow and hope the sun didn't come out.

My mums shed remains a tribute to the working class dens of yore, filled to bursting with shovels and cobwebs. Middle class foppery or not though, a rotating shed sounds bloody brilliant.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I have two sheds, a large plastic one with concrete base that I built myself and stores most of our garden stuff and a second, smaller metal shed that holds furniture only.

I love sheds but they are a bastard to build.

gorilerof3b said...

Have you heard about the Men's Shed movement?


Reminds me of a poem by Bukowski about a guy who thinks that when he has the time and the space and the light, he will write. Needless to say Bukowski is rather dismissive.

I remember visiting a building in Central Melbourne, AU late last year full of little galleries and studios. I was chatting with a gallery owner who was telling me it's very common for someone to rent a studio and move in w/ brand new artists equipment - precisely the Bukowski scenario - but a few months later, when they have produced nothing, they'll sub-let the space at a much cheaper price to someone other than a wealthy dilettante.

asquith said...

It doesn't match up to "Only fuckers work" as a slogan, I'm afraid!

As for sheds. I'm so working-class I haven't even got space for one, or a garden. So there!

Cornelius Conwell said...

No, no, no, a completely faulty analysis.

The real bourgeoisie never retreat to a shed at the bottom of the garden but to their second home in the country where property is (by their standards) cheap.

The garden shed as the locus of creativity is the province of the working-class autodidact who needs silence and solitude but cannot afford anything better.

Pullman's pretensions in this regard, by the way, is an attempt by a deeply boring individual to appear eccentric, "artistic" and interesting.

What are your views on second-hand caravans, used for similar purposes? They are not only cheaper, often, but are far more homely than sheds.

Pip! Pip!

affor d shed as the lodusomewhereor a shrepaor to ther didn'

Andrew Conroy said...

Us aristocrats prefer to call them Summer Houses.

Phil said...

We're talking about distinction here. And it's a simple statement of fact that sheds are moving up in the world and becoming an object for the fashionable classes. When one is in the city one cannot always dash off to the Cheshire summer house for the evening.

Andrew Conroy said...

I can't quite make out whether you're saying that there's some sort of class theft going on here. Even if you are, I'm not sure that the shed has always been the exlusive marker of working-class authenticity that (by my reading anyway) you seem to be implying here.

Surely the humble shed has always been put to a range of uses across the class spectrum, and it's just that nowadays shed culture seems to chime with the allotment- work- from home- property- eco-obsessions of the age?

Phil said...

Yes, sheds have always been multi-purposed but we're talking about their everyday representation. Sure, working class equivalents of George Bernard Shaw wrote in sheds too, but if a working class bloke admitted that's what he did down there they would look gone out at him. If I had a shed and used it for writing I can imagine what my dad's reaction would be.

No, what this report highlights is the dawning of a new popular cultural discourse on sheds that's very much associated with class and immaterial labour. It's sheds as a marker of upward mobility, brain work and taste.

Michelle said...

Well said! Sheds make surrounding look more tidy. But its not so tough to built like earlier. Any sheds can be built easily with your desired structure.

What one needs to care about is to prepare an appropriate outline/plans to deal with. now, kits, books, online-information can let go green too. try out!

HyunChard said...

I have kept this post open all day long so I can keep looking at this gorgeous inspiration! I've loved backyard sheds and cottages since I was a kid and my grandparents had TWO in their backyard,Tough to beat that level of adorable. Neither, of course, looked as lovely as these.

But really... I'm not sure I've ever seen any this amazing in real life.

HyunChard said...

"Tricking" out a shed ... what a marvelous and fun idea! I can't even think of a favorite of the ones you shared because they are all so grand. Thanks for the inspiration this Monday morning as I set out to do a yard work myself to have cheap sheds.

Affordable Sheds said...

Sheds are always used for the purpose of storage or as the barn style homes. But how can you say all this about it?

Phil said...

Because sheds are so much more than 'just sheds'.