The shed has long been the domain of the man. Slowly but surely, women are claiming their own space to explore their interests.
Stepping through the doors of her backyard studio, Catherine Hunter feels as though she’s being quite indulgent. It’s another world, where time ticks by slowly.
“It’s almost like a time warp,” Catherine says. “It’s like walking into a Tardis and you get this different sense of time. It’s a really good way for me to switch off.”
Catherine’s Hawthorndene shed is a place where there are no deadlines or pulls from the outside world. It’s a place where she can practise her art for hours at a time without guilt. “When you go into that headspace and you do something creative, you sort of just lose yourself. It’s a real meditative process.
“I find that I don’t think about anything at all. All the stress and worries drift away and you just get completely absorbed in what you’re doing.”
Mid-life has been an interesting milestone for Catherine, where she’s reclaimed her sense of self, after years in the corporate world. She’s seeing things from a different perspective.
When she was younger, Catherine stood at a crossroads of law, marketing and design. Marketing won, and while she has no regrets, returning to her artistic roots has been freeing.
For an artist, her studio is surprisingly clean, not a streak of paint to be seen on the floor or workspace. Though Catherine insists she’s let go of that need for perfection.
During all those years in the rat race, Catherine never lost her artistic passion, but it simmered away quietly. Now, it’s well and truly boiling. She’s going to art school and attending as many artist’s workshops as she can in the quest for new skills. Her besser block garage-turned-studio is a testament to that. There are large-scale paintings, illustrations and pieces with new techniques she’s trying. She hasn’t settled on a medium in particular, but oils will be her next big venture.
When her girls were little (they’re now 13 and 16), they’d follow her to the shed, but she’s now adamant the time spent there is her own — she will, on occasion, allow them to have it for their own purposes.
Painting and drawing are only part of the picture. Catherine does yoga in the light-filled room, and she also works on her clothing label, Huntress, for which she’s hand-painting prints for a future collection.
While she’s in work mode, Catherine locks herself in the studio, working on designs and garnering inspiration from the latest trends around the world.
“It is hard when you have a family to carve out that time and space for yourself. But I think it’s really important.”
There’s a certain serenity that overcomes you when you step into Julia Weir’s “shed”. The term is used lightly because it is, in fact, a purpose-built dressage arena.
Whatever the label, it’s a tranquil place to be. The built-in sound system plays calming music, ideal as a backdrop to perfecting Julia’s performances.
“If it’s raining and windy, I’m in here riding and listening to my music and I don’t even know it’s horrible outside,” Julia says.
The arena was built three years ago, atop a hill on Julia’s Wistow property. Before construction began, Julia had every detail planned. She knew exactly what she wanted, as one of the state’s most successful dressage riders. “I spend quite a lot of time looking at arenas and I came up with this design.”
The building is 72×22 metres, and six metres high — two metres taller than most indoor arenas, to allow windows at the top to usher in natural light. Not that light would ever be a problem, with rows of artificial lighting should Julia feel like riding once the sun has set for the day. “With all of them on, you could shoot a television show in here.”
The arena’s position on the hill, along with the open windows, creates a natural fan effect, keeping it cool in the warmer months. The actual riding arena is standard competition size — 60x20m — with a geo-fabric and elastic surface imported from Italy.
When it arrived, it was in large cubes that had to be brought in on a tractor. “We had to break all of this stuff up, it was actually quite fun. It looked like snow.” It’s the same surface that had been used at two Olympic Games. “I figured if it was good enough for the Olympics, it was good enough for me.”
The surface is kept in tip top shape with regular drinks from the pop up sprinkler system, which moves from one side of the arena to the other to ensure an even spread of water.
There’s enough parking space for Julia’s purpose-made five-horse truck and a tractor to grade the surface twice a week. In the corner are stables for the horses, and a kitchen to aid in refreshment after a hard day’s training.
Julia’s is not the only shed on the property — her husband has a more modest building, but the horse paraphernalia still manages to creep in. “He has a four-bay shed. But in that shed is my horse float and my hay.”
Wind in the hair
Mary Knights was equally terrified and intrigued at the prospect of learning to ride a motorcycle.
Getting her toes caught in the spokes of a motorbike as a five year old, and being on the back of a bike while a young man tried to impress her, turning corners at high speeds, had Mary apprehensive. But she was still drawn to ride. “For me, it was like a message of freedom when I would see someone riding a bike,” Mary says. “I thought it would be fantastic sitting on this machine, wind blowing past you while you’re riding on a lovely country road.”
Eventually the intrigue won and she’s been riding for about 30 years. Over those decades, things have changed a lot. “There was a certain crowd back then and women weren’t really a part of that. There weren’t many women around and if there were, they were uniquely strong women who could withstand the chauvinistic attitude of men, because they weren’t always endearing to women riding bikes.”
Mindsets began to change, most notably once manufacturers began to realise women wanted to ride too. Bikes started getting smaller to better suit the female frame, and riding gear was also tailored towards women. Although Mary says they still have a way to go with that. “They do still go for pink and about 90 per cent of the women I know hate that. You’re labelling us, saying women should wear pink.”
In her Gawler Belt shed, Mary houses four of her own motorcycles — one for every occasion, and with their own names. Sumo is a Kawasaki ZX9R sports bike, and a bit of an all-rounder that has been handy on the racing track. Dunno is a BMW GS700 designed for off-road and long distance rides. Mojo is a Triumph Street Triple 675cc that Mary takes for rides in the Adelaide Hills. Pedro is a Honda dirt bike that can pretty much do anything; Mary loves to take him exploring in the Barossa.
Her shed is a place of order, a nice home for her bikes. The dirty work happens in the front shed, only the lightest maintenance is allowed to be carried out in Mary’s shed.
Hanging proudly behind Mary’s bikes is a Women 2 Wheels banner. The group, co-founded by Mary in 2013, encourages women to ride and gives them a safe space to voice any concerns, or just chat about their machines.
The group has grown to about 500 women, who break off in groups at different times to ride together, often to fundraise for charity.
“It’s got the reputation of being a very respectful group and the women really enjoy being part of it. We share information, we talk about our fears, what sort of bikes we’ve got, what sort of services we need. Everybody loves that they can contribute in that group.”
Melissa Barnes’s shed is the type of place where buttons are organised according to colour. Each spool of cotton sits in its rightful place. Scissors hang on the wall, tool board-style.
The milliner has created a space of calm among a household that can sometimes be a little hectic. Melissa has two boys, but the child-count is set to double shortly, with the arrival of twin boys.
There might be nobody who deserves their own space more than Melissa, and that’s exactly what she got when her husband begrudgingly split his Glenelg North shed in half so she could create her gorgeous headpieces in seclusion. “He’s very disgruntled he has to share his shed with me, the poor thing,” Melissa laughs.
Next door to Melissa’s sanctuary is her husband’s shed, where he works on his motorbike and prized XP Ford. You won’t find grease marks in Melissa’s half — the space was painted and renovated to make it presentable and comfortable for customers. It’s a welcome change from the kitchen table her creations were once being produced at. There’s no longer the need to continuously spread out and pack up.
“It’s nice to be able to have that space away from the house. It gives me time to think and I can just chuck on my music and get creative.”
The shed is a girly-girl’s dream. Ribbons and bows. Gems and jewels. A handbag hire business Melissa runs means there’s also a smattering of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. Her work is on display wherever you look. Adorn Millinery headpieces in metal, leather and pretty little flowers line the walls.
Her workspace looks out onto the backyard, giving her prime sunlight to work in, or keep an eye on the children playing while she’s busy creating something special.
The idea of having her own area to work in was something that was familiar from a young age, her father a metal worker with an enviable shed. “I’ve grown up knowing that space is like a little creative hub and it’s nice to be able to have it myself.”
This story was first published in the Dec 18/Jan 19 issue of SALIFE.