Some folks have summer cabins or camp-away retreats for their own little private getaways, but when Globe and Mail reporter Jana Pruden and her husband need a place to unwind and enjoy the fresh air, the couple’s retreat is no further than their backyard. It’s there that they built what – for them – serves as a quiet room, a workspace and a little slice of outdoorsy solitude no more than 20 steps from their back door.
“It’s our nap shack,” says Pruden, referring to the bright red building tucked away in the southeast corner of her yard. From the outside, the building could be mistaken for an oversized toolshed, save for sliding windows with bright white frames on three of the four walls and a prominent white door more suited to a home than any backyard shed.
The shack’s design is fairly simple: a square room, an angled roof, some windows, a bench and plenty of pillows. But, for Pruden, the shack was a reprieve from her daily life before it was even built. “Really, we built it because I designed it,” says Pruden, who last summer looked to take on a household project that didn’t revolve around her vocation. “I originally thought about building a gazebo,” she says, “one that would be screened in. But I decided that, if I were to write outside, I wanted a space where papers wouldn’t be blowing around in the wind.” Canvas carpet from Urban Outfitters; pillows custom-made by homeowner; stool purchased at a garage sale; windows from Architectural Clearinghouse
Pruden imagined the shack as a cabin nestled in the woods and, with a little visual trickery, she had her own piece of natural tranquility at home. Within about a month, Pruden created a cardboard scale model of the mini-cabin, picked out reclaimed windows and doors from Architectural Clearinghouse and worked with a handyman to build, paint and finish the shack.
The visual trickery comes from window placement. The windows are to the left and right of the cushioned bench. They frame a picturesque view of trees and shrubbery, while the aesthetic of the shack, from the fiery red exterior to the plywood-lined interior, echoes the living room floor of Pruden’s home, making it a thematically similar space.
Though removed from the house, it’s the coziest room on the property. The smell of wood is prominent, air flows through vents in the shack’s back wall, and rays of sunshine filter through the greenery at most times of the day. Cushions, handmade by Pruden, line the room, encouraging the shack’s visitors to sprawl out and relax, despite the limited 10-foot-by-10-foot space – the biggest structure the City of Edmonton will allow without a permit. “One of the things I really wanted for it was to be very versatile so that it could be used for everything,” says Pruden. “So even if we had company in the summer, they could sleep out there if they wanted. I thought, if you want to read or write or do yoga out there, you could. It has power in it. It really is like a small cabin in the woods.” But she hasn’t forgotten about the nap shack’s primary purpose. “Oh yes,” she says, “I’ve taken plenty of naps in there.”
And while the backyard getaway is a nice reprieve from the usual, home sweet home is never too far away. Pruden and her husband have lived in their Rio Terrace home for five years.
Built in 1962, the 1,300-square-foot modernist house reflects their aesthetic decor choices. “I saw this house – it looked like it had nothing done to it since the early ’80s,” says Pruden. “I just really fell in love with the design of it. The cedar ceiling was a big thing. I loved the shape and angles of it.” Of course, falling in love with a home doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for improvement. The modernist feel of the home – the angles, tall doorways and large, open windows – is enhanced by a wealth of vintage finds accumulated by the homeowners. The couple’s affinity for household projects is ever-present. Custom-made items – from a cushion fashioned out of reclaimed materials to found driftwood decorating the walls – are present in nearly every room. The most prominent and unorthodox of the projects is the plywood floor, which flows from the living room into the dining area and the bedroom – a feature Pruden found hidden under a hideous chocolate shag carpet on her first day in the home. Though sanded multiple times and lacquered, the distinctly raw and unfinished aesthetic gives the home the feel of a hardwood floor without drawing attention away from the cedar ceiling. Found, too, are most of the items of furniture in the home – a product of the homeowner’s hobby of antique treasure hunting. “What I really love is decoration that isn’t just from one time. I enjoy colours and shapes and things that I think are beautiful, regardless of the time they are from,” says Pruden. “It’s important to me that the things I see in my home are beautiful or designed well – I don’t understand how people live with ugly things.” Herman Miller chairs purchased at a garage sale in Regina;Jonathan Adler vase; antique table found by homeowner; painting by Anna Membrino
The curated collection is far from ugly. The artwork that covers the walls of the home and the antique trinkets that line windows and surfaces showcase the best of the modern design. Each item is one that Pruden has encountered, found or discovered at some point since her university days. Some pieces are visceral, some are patterned and brightly coloured, and others are in-your-face aggressive. But every piece speaks to the homeowner. “A picture either becomes uninteresting or, if it is a real work of art that I love, then it will always be beautiful,” says Pruden. “I’ll never lose interest in it. I want to be able to look up from any point in my home and see something interesting.”
Rug purchased in Egypt; bookcase made by homeowners; Lotte table lamp from Find; couch from Goodwill Table custom-made by a friend; chair, antlers and floor lamp purchased at a garage sale; grey chair from 29 Armstrong;footstool from Salvation Army Thrift Store; abstract painting by Lany Devening; figurative painting by Charmaine Wheatley;couch from 29 Armstrong; rug from Ikea; toy car purchased at a folk art store in Santa Fe, N.M.;vintage weights from Old Strathcona Antique Mall; Lotte table lamps from Find; cushions custom-made by homeowner; framed prints from Goodwill; stick found by homeowner on a kayak trip in Manitoba