The Allure of the Shed: An Exceprt From NH's Howard Mansfield's Latest Book



Photo by John Hession

Every book by Hancock author Howard Mansfield is a cause for celebration among thoughtful readers. His granitic epiphanies are as universal as water but as precious and local as a backyard well. His latest book, “Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of Shelter” (available this month from Bauhan Publishing of Peterborough), covers a lot of ground from an ambiguous critique of Frank Lloyd Wright to a chronicle of life in NH’s Great Ice Storm of 2008, but this opening to his chapter titled “Sheds” makes a great introduction.


Where I live we really have only one kind of building, old and new, big and small: the shed. From woodsheds to barns, to houses, meetinghouses, and covered bridges, they are all sheds. New England has never gotten much beyond the shed and we’re the better for it. In fact, it’s what tourists respond to, though they certainly won’t say, “We’ve come to see the sheds.” But they love covered bridges, and the way that the houses lining the common seem like the little brothers of the bigger meetinghouse, or the way the connected sheds and barns trailing behind a house stand there like a third grade class lined up for its photo.

Sheds are utilitarian. Sheds contain small things — wood and tools — and big: summers, winters, solitude, festivity. The smallest sheds can be liberating: a bob house on a frozen lake, a summer cabin. They can shelter dreams.

Sheds are reticent. They stand back; they’re demure, easily adaptable. They let life flow on through.

A shed is the shortest line between need and shelter. It’s a trip from A to B. It’s often built of found materials; it’s built with distilled practicality.

The best sheds house this contradiction: they are built according to accepted rules and thus they are free.


Pictured is the “Ox Hovel” at D Acres, a non-profit permaculture farm in Dorchester that may have the state’s highest concentration of sheds (about two dozen and increasing). This elegant retreat for oxen August (left) and Henry (right) offers overhead hay storage and seemed like an excellent example of “distilled practicality.” D Acres welcomes visitors to regular community meals. Visit dacres.org for details.

Where to Buy: To purchase “Dwelling in Possibility,” Mansfield suggests you order locally from The Toadstool Bookshops.

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