Nathalie de Leval and her shed for Sir Paul Smith

Nathalie de Leval and her shed for Sir Paul Smith

The thing about sheds is when you see one, you want one..and you starting thinking about how yours could be really really nice. Well be inspired by this hardwood shed on castors

Text by Abby Trow. Photographs by Petr Krejci
The shed is on show at the V&A in London until 25 October

Sir Paul Smith invited bespoke furniture maker Nathalie De Leval to design him a shed as part of The Wish List project organized by The American Hardwood Export Council and Benchmark Furniture. The shed is built from thermally modified ash wood from sustainable US forests and it turns on a central pivot and castors, so you can change your view as the fancy takes you. 

Furniture designer and maker Nathalie De Leval is quick to say that, alas no, she isn't going to be bulk - let alone mass - producing her much admired Sir Paul Smith Shed.

 Which is a shame because it looks a very fine shed: clean, simple, cosy, eco-friendly, with a glass back wall so you can watch the weather. And what makes it so much more exciting than all other sheds is that this ones is on castors and turns 360 degrees

'Yes, that is a fun thing about it, says De Leval. 'You just push it round to face where you want - there are no buttons to press, no electricity involved.'

De Leval says while this 3m2 shed is not available to shed lovers everywhere (it'd be far too expensive..'), it can inspire us to find that craftsperson who can make us something we've always wanted.

'And of course, the thing about sheds is everyone's imagination is caught by the idea of having a special private place to go and relax, a space that's just ours.'

Nathalie and Sir Paul working on the design of his wish list shed
Nathalie working on the shed in the Benchmark Furniture workshops. The shed was built in 5 days
Inside the shed thermally modified ash wood shed, which doesn't have rafters
The 10ft square shed is the same size as Sir Paul's first shop in Nottingham

The point of the Wish List project is to show the design and build capabilities of American hardwoods including ash and tulip wood, which grow plenitfully and sustainably in the US. If the building and furniture industries switch to them, it can start to relieve the terrible deforestation in Indonesia and parts of Africa caused by demand for teak and iroko wood.

'I avoid using teak and iroko because as with most furniture designers I do strive to be as eco friendly as I can,' says De Leval, who explains that she's not wanted to get involved in mass production of product because of her environmental concerns. 'As a bespoke maker, you can don't waste much and you're making furniture for people who are investing in it and who'll keep it for many many years.'

The shed isn't insulated so it wouldn't work as a year round garden office, but as somewhere to relax it's a joy
Nathalie about to get to work

With Sir Paul's shed, she had the choice of tulip wood or the thermally treated ash, which she hadn't worked with before and which she was impressed with. 'I preferred the colour of the ash. The wood is heated to make it durable enough to use outside, because not all hardwoods are. So the thermo treatment takes out the moisture and ensures the wood won't be home to insects nor have proteins in it that will ultimately weaken it.'

She says designing and making the shed was a wonderful collaborative experience. 'It was great to have all the expertise and equipment of the Benchmark Furniture workshops, which is where we built the shed in just five days.'

The shed did have to be structurally engineered because the back wall is glazed, but it in many respects it is a simple. For example, the roof doesn't have rafters and the walls aren't insulated and lined with another material. 'It's not a garden room, it's just the timber,' says de Leval, who trained initially as a sculptor.

And it was a joy to work with Sir Paul on the design because 'what we weren't doing was re-inventing the shed. Paul wanted a shed plain and simple, but with a twist.. the twist being that it sits on 36 castors.'

De Leval, who has two children and lives in north London, has also been working on a collection of outdoor furniture with leading garden designer Luciano Giubbilei, which will be launched fairly soon.

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