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Form and Function

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While the pool, patio and great outdoors of your backyard are still filled with the buzz and activity of summertime gatherings, fall will be here before we know it and it'll be time to put away all those warm-weather mainstays, from kiddie pools and flotation devices to outdoor furniture and lawnmowers.

The pandemic has ushered in a home-renovation revolution like no one in the construction industry or its verticals has ever seen, thanks to lockdown keeping most people more housebound than they've been before. It's a trend extending to the storage spaces that keep our off-season pool accessories, yard equipment and other tools and toys safe, organized and all in one place.

But maybe your shed has become a forgotten corner of your yard that's badly in need of repair or an overhaul. Or maybe your stuff is spilling beyond the confines of your storage space. Or your garage has grown so cluttered that there's no longer room for a tricycle let alone a car.

Whether you need to reclaim or redo your home's dedicated storage options or it's finally time to construct a freestanding organizational structure that's customized to your household's unique needs, there is certainly no lack of options.

And it's partly because homeowners' approaches to adapting their storage utilities to their tastes and preferences have come a long way, according to Jake Stoltzfus of Barnco Woodworks, a builder of high-quality Amish-built custom pool houses, sheds, garages, carriage houses, barns, home bars and more.

"I've been in the business for 30-some years now and when I started, it was just a storage shed in the backyard," he says. "Now it's anywhere from a high-end playhouse to a man cave to a she-shed to sunrooms. We've built sheds with full electricity, heating units, A/C units. It goes on and on and on, and we've been seeing lots of different uses."

All those different options mean there's something for everyone, and it's all tailored to each customer. A growing family won't have the same needs as a retired couple does, just as someone wrestling back control from an overwhelmingly disorganized garage won't have the same goals as someone planning to break ground on a pool house for their new backyard swimming pool.

Lenny Kelman at Dream Garage Remodeling Co. helps people reclaim their garages from top to bottom, transforming them into inviting, organized spaces again. They design the storage and shelving, install it all and offer floor coatings to tie the whole project together.

"There's basically three ways organizing the garage can be done: overhead storage; cabinets and shelving if the ceiling is high enough; or it can be using the walls and hanging things from them," Kelman explains. "You need to have a little bit of balance in the garage when it comes to shelving space and hanging space because you're eventually going to run out of corners."

Determining your needs comes with assessing your space and how you plan on filling it before you consult a professional. While the pros can certainly help polish the roughest beginnings into richly detailed and perfectly customized final products, only you know your storage goals, preferences, budgetary limits and potential issues.

"One of the first things we usually do is to confirm that you're even allowed to have this kind of structure or work done, that it's allowed by your city or town's restrictions," says Fisher. His company, B & L Woodworking, prides itself on providing quality storage sheds, handmade furniture, gazebos and more.

Calling in the experts means trusting a well-trained eye and experienced hand to help bring your vision to life, and it's certainly an involved process if you want it done right. It starts with visits to your property to assess your needs, determining what can fit the space or what obstacles need to be cleared and, depending on the project and its specs, either breaking ground and building right on site or getting to work on a structure that will be delivered to your home.

That starts with getting to know you. Property visits and client conversations are especially crucial, as each storage solution and structure are custom-made not only to fit a space but also a homeowner's needs.

"The whole idea is to get everything in the garage off the ground so you can fit your cars, but everything is individual to each and every home and homeowner," Kelman confirms. "It all depends on what they have in their garage at the time or what they're planning for it. Like if the customers have bikes, you have to think about how you organize them so they're not on the floor."

B & L Woodworking's team begin their jobs with a 3D visualizer, allowing clients to explore styles, sizes, exterior options, colors and more as they decide what they do and don't want from their sheds. It provides an eagle-eye, all-over view of a proposed project—as well as its projected cost.

"One of the benefits is that they can design their own shed and see how everything works together," Fisher says. "There's fewer mistakes that way. The client places the doors and windows where they want them and adds the options that they want, then we get an email with that. It's much better for communication that way."

It's a tool that Kelman, too, has found to be a tremendous asset and often impresses clients from the onset.

"The advantage is that they can actually see what the garage is going to look like at the end of the installation, including those bikes so they can see where exactly those will be hanging," he explains. "Most people are kind of shocked that they can actually see the 3D design of their garage from every angle."

Specialized offerings do come at a higher price point and are completed at their own deliberate paces, and there are sometimes strict budgetary or time limits in play that call for a pre-made shed.

"Usually, someone gets [a pre-made shed] because of time, especially in the past year," Fisher confirms. "Some people will move them with them when they move, other people will upgrade them. But they're not necessarily a permanent structure."

Stoltzfus recognizes that sometimes the "cheap-o, couple-hundred-bucks" option is going to be your most realistic one. And with materials' soaring prices and plummeting availability coming as no surprise to anyone who's undertaken a home-remodeling project in the past year, opting for something inexpensive in the short term might be the only way to go.

"They're made cheaper, but that shed is going to save someone a couple hundred bucks," he says. "It's really, really amazing to look at lumber prices and where they went. They skyrocketed. Lumber went up 300%."

Supply shortages and price hikes are still creating hurdles for all kinds of home and construction projects. Unless you're ready for some pauses in your project, prepared to pay a little more and wait a little longer, now is the time to get started, especially if you're starting from scratch: You're far from the only one inspired to spruce up your home storage right now.

"We've been in business for 33 years and I've never seen anything close to this pandemic—nothing even close—in our history," Stoltzfus confirms. "Orders are backed up, we had hundreds and hundreds of buildings behind because everyone is suddenly paying attention to their backyards all at once."

Garages are benefitting from homeowners' attention, too, and the flooring finishes that Kelman and his team offer complement the modern flair and diligently organized they've outfitted a garage with. But those flourishes don't just add some aesthetic appeal to a typically utilitarian space: They also increase its durability and are tailored to the purpose they'll serve.

"If it's an epoxy floor coating, it will make the floor look much nicer and at the same time, the concrete underneath last much longer: If you wash it once a month, most likely, it will last you a lifetime," he says. "When it comes to interlocking flooring, you see that a lot with show garages, where you have a couple of cars that you want to show off but you don't take them out of the garage that often. If you have kids and there's a lot of movement in the garage, then interlocking floors probably won't be the best solution for you."

That same approach of beautifying and personalizing a functional element has made its way to sheds and stand-alone storage. With so many people installing pools throughout the pandemic, erecting their accompanying pool houses is a natural next step, and Stoltzfus has seen more and more orders for them.

"Pool houses are pretty hot right now," he says. "We still sell a lot of sheds but people need a place to put their inner tubes and chairs now. And they want a screened-in place where they can sit by the pool without getting bit by mosquitoes."

The ways these spaces have been reclaimed beyond purely functional purposes proves that they're not just for seasonal storage and organization anymore: Sometimes, grown-ups need their own rec rooms and playhouse-inspired standalones.

"We've definitely seen a difference since the pandemic started but, especially in the last five years, people have been spending a lot more money on a shed than they used to," Fisher says. "They want something that is a more elaborate type of structure, something that looks pretty. It's not just a basic backyard shed: It can be a studio or something with a dormer on it, something with some fancy doors and windows."

"For sheds, it's unlimited what they can be used for," agrees Stoltzfus. "We're even doing things like seaside bars with a counter and TV screen, a refrigerator by the pool. It's pretty wild."

With so many different homeowners' tastes and wants still coming to life through their home-storage projects, the prevailing commonality is that it's all about making a splash and a statement.

"They're attractive buildings now, not just things you throw in the backyard and close your eyes to and store your things in. Now it's all about beauty," Stoltzfus continues. "Everybody wants something better than their neighbors. People are spending a lot of money on their backyard storage builds to get that."

And to ensure that your own brand-new or newly made-over home storage space is an eye-catching, optimally functioning part of your home, calling in the pros is the best way to go.

"People know what they like but we'll help them determine what they need based on what they plan to put in their shed," explains Fisher. "Typically, we wind up recommending that they go a little larger than what they have right now. You don't know what you'll be storing in it or what kind of space you'll need later on."

And even if you think you're qualified to undertake your own home projects and want to save a few dollars by doing it yourself, things tend to go sideways more often than not.

"We have the know-how because we've done it all before," Kelman says. "When a homeowner tries to do everything by themselves, especially things they've never done before, they'll most likely make mistakes. And those mistakes will cost them more money."

Indeed, a good builder's goal is a stress-free, expertly executed build that wins a client's trust with a project they're proud to add to their portfolio.

"For the customers' sake, it's no fuss, no mess, no hassle," says Stoltzfus. "We focus on quality. It's all about quality and giving people a good building and an appealing building."

B & L Woodworking
Princeton, N.J.
(609) 924-4479

Barnco Woodworks
Berlin, N.J.
(856) 767-6887
Swedesboro, N.J.
(856) 241-7660

Dream Garage Remodeling Company
Langhorne, Pa.
(215) 874-6563

Published (and copyrighted) in House & Home, Volume 21, Issue 10 (July/August 2021). 
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