Woodworking studio designed to morph into anything next homeowner desires

When realtor Ward Powell moved from a sprawling property in Richmond to a red-brick home on a compact lot in Sandy Hill, he found himself with a serious space crunch. In his previous life, he’d worked as a contractor and woodworker, spreading his huge collection of tools between a big basement and a garage. Now he was faced with the reality of a tiny basement and no garage. “He wasn’t about to give up his tools!” says his wife, Carla Zylstra, “so building a shed was on his agenda right away.”

But not just any shed. The couple envisaged the 550-square-foot workspace as part of a larger backyard revamp that included the building of a curvaceous deck and a modest garden of easy-to-care-for perennials. “We’re living the dream,” says Powell with a laugh as he surveys his hidden paradise. “I own the perfect backyard shed — and I don’t own a lawnmower!”

Carla Zylstra and Ward Powell inside their shop. Photo: Rémi Thériault
Carla Zylstra and Ward Powell inside their shop. Photo: Rémi Thériault

Being a realtor, Powell was conscious of how a future homeowner might want to use his “shedquarters” and built it to be a flexible space. Though he uses it for woodworking and metalworking projects, he points out that the shed could be modified to be a garage, an art studio, or a home office — even a coach house. (In a bid to encourage intensification, the city updated zoning rules to allow for micro houses to be built in people’s yards.) The shed is wired and has a gas line, so renovations would be relatively simple.

The exterior look, which Powell calls mid-century contemporary, highlights the clean aesthetic of galvanized steel paired with black trim. “I didn’t want to duplicate the age of the house,” he explains. “What I did want to do was design a nice-looking garage that wouldn’t be in any way obtrusive.” Both Powell and Zylstra knew they could have saved money by building a regular garage with cheaper materials, but it was important to them that the shed complement the backyard space. Powell did most of the building himself, bringing in experts to help with the foundation, the roof, and the installation of a high-end garage door.

Today, greenery along fence lines on both sides of the yard makes the shed virtually invisible to neighbours. Along the back side, the building acts as a privacy shield to the multiple-unit building behind.

For now, Powell has a three-season workshop where he handcrafts armoires and other furniture pieces for the couple’s home. He also welds sculptural art pieces that end up in the garden, as well as intricate railings for their balcony. Space heaters help extend his shed season until temperatures dip below -10. He says that one day he’ll get around to making this a four-season space, but the current setup meets his needs perfectly. “This place is special. I appreciate having space for my tools, I love working out here, and the empty spaces on the walls make great places to hang things I’ve collected along the way — old signs, licence plates — things you want to keep, but not necessarily in your house.”