Modern backyard sheds offer ample storage and sleek appearance

Space-starved homeowners who need extra storage but not in the form of a backyard micro-cottage with Dutch doors and scallop trim should check out two Web sites offering sleek alternatives: and

About eight years ago, Seattle husband-and-wife designers Ryan Smith and Ahna Holder built a cool, stripped-down storage structure because their '50s ranch house had no basement, garage or attic and "we couldn't find anything architecturally appealing," Smith says. Friends and clients soon wanted one, so in 2005, the couple started Modern-Shed.

Their panel-based kits come in various sizes, colors and finishes. Outer walls are made of Hardie fiber cement panels; the roof is galvanized metal over wood. Units require concrete footings, which are not included. Prices start at $5,000 for a basic 8-by-10-foot garden shed, while $14,000 buys a 10-by-12 insulated, finished, pre-painted version suitable for occasional habitation. (Add $900 to $1,600 for shipping to the East Coast.)

"Someone in California put two together as a his-and-hers work space," Smith says. "For a climate like Minnesota, we make walls thicker and add appropriate insulation."

An Orlando-based company, MetroShed, sells kits of 4-by-4-foot insulated wall panels "that are placed together like Lego blocks," says company president David Ballinger. They have pine and cedar exteriors, a polycarbonate roof, interior birch paneling and pine flooring. A model slightly smaller than 120 square feet costs $8,000 delivered. Art studios top the list of uses, Ballinger says, but the structures also make good pool houses, cigar rooms and guest suites (at least in temperate climates). One customer put his shed on wheels and hauled it to a field, the better to watch over his llamas and alpacas.

Both companies urge customers to check zoning laws before ordering.

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