The shed was nothing new or novel; here in Telluride, where supply and demand has elevated the price of old miners’ shacks to that of a three-bedroom home in Montrose, sheds are among the most coveted and cherished dwellings in town.
Their charm is one of utility and purpose.
It was most likely built in the late 1800s, out of barnwood, tin and whatever else was nearby and cheap. Over the years, the town had grown around it, with the condos to the left and right now nearly swallowing it whole.
Sheds represent history, but they also stand for something more important and more beautiful to a young person in Telluride: possibility.
Even as the real-estate market exhaled and prices fell, people like me never thought we could own a piece of this place.
I saw it there, its barnwood curling at the corners and its tin nearly black, and I could imagine myself in it, drinking coffee and looking out my tiny front window as it snowed heavy and cold, my dog curled up at the far end of the room, chasing something in a dream.
I wondered what history I could add to it.
I didn’t think much more about it until a year later, when my friend said, “Heard of an alley shack for sale,” as we ski-toured on a cold monochrome morning.
I drifted away. I’d been looking for a little house – with a palatable price tag – for a year or so. No-one like me ever wants to leave this place; we just can’t afford to scratch our way in. I recalled the little shed that could. I wanted something like that – something with years of imperfections and years of history on its boards. Something that was unlike anything else. Something that would welcome my old Schwinn town bike with open arms.
“Yeah,” he said, jarring me from my daydream. “And it’s really cheap.”
Cheap, in Telluride, is a mathematical expression in which price is relative to income and divided by long-term job prospects.
I emailed his realtor the next day, who became my realtor; a week later, I had signed a letter of intent, and the train that is real estate had begun its lurch forward.
To say it was terrifying would be too strong, as I felt suddenly forced to build a new context for my life here. For years, I’d worked at the Telluride Daily Planet and lived in a ski-bum shack to which none of us ever had a key. I had the feeling, in my life in Telluride, of just passing through.
The little shed could change that – I would have a place that owned me as much as I owned it.
Nearly half a year after I’d signed on the first of many dotted lines, the little shed that could on West Pacific belonged to me. It wasn’t much (the shed is a lithe two stories tall, eight feet wide and 24 feet long), but it was, according to a stack of papers, mine.
I loved it completely – from its folklore to its aesthetic, it fit me. It was for workers when it was built – I am, for lack of a better term, a worker.
Lots like mine, on the south side of town, were drawn up narrow but very deep, allowing for small farms behind the main houses. My shed could have housed miners – or chickens.
It is designated as a rated historic structure, meaning it contributes to Telluride’s National Historic Landmark District – the highest level of historic status granted by the Department of the Interior. Historic districts like Telluride’s are eligible for National Park status.
The town is flecked with forgotten relics of the mining era like my little shed; they stand sentry to the passing of trends and time, reminding us of the things that came before us. I loved knowing that the shed was here before me, and that it will be here when I’m gone.
But that romantic notion was upended when, within three days of purchasing it, I had taken a building that functioned and ripped it to the point of being uninhabitable.
The toilet sat at the bottom of the stairs for two weeks; the mini-fridge, stocked with just beer, takeout and half-and-half, was the only appliance that worked. The concrete floor, drizzled in carpet-glue graffiti, was the closest thing to art in the entire house.
At first, I owned a shed. Now, I owned a very expensive storage container. Someday, I still hoped, I would own a home.
It took me longer to sign all my closing documents than it took my father to rip out all the carpet and start in on the linoleum. He took no prisoners. He was a madman.
“I can do demo,” he told me, brandishing a bright yellow pry-bar. He was convincing.
My stepmother scrubbed every surface in sight, making it ready for the paint wars, my introduction to the actual costs of redoing a home.
Six-hundred dollars poorer but a whole lot richer in colors called “Ashwood” (for walls), “Atrium White” (for trim) and “Ceiling White,” I was now ready to abolish the bright red wall and the misguided glowing trim. It was good I had such nice, thick paint for my inaugural attempt at painting; it looked really nice on me.
My dad and my girlfriend had to prime the dreaded red wall four times just for it to settle down and agree to our plans for a nice white with a gentle note of green. In the meantime, my water heater had been declared a near-tragedy. I had laughed when people told me the old adage, “Double your budget, double your timeline.” How could that happen to me, in a shed measuring just 400 square feet?
But that’s just what happened, and within a week of moving in, I was nearly broke – the little shed that could certainly could swallow my savings account.
I had started to care about things like furniture and fixtures. I soon owned a vacuum cleaner that cost half a month’s rent, a big deal for someone who’s never bought a television and for whom a real regret in life is that I’ve never lived in a van.
I spent $4,000 in a coffee-and-meatball-fueled bender at the gleaming Denver IKEA, an occasion for which I’d rented a U-Haul trailer. What’s important to note is that, down to even the bathroom faucet, it was all premeditated.
When my real-estate deal was closing, I’d systematically burned through IKEA’s latest catalogue and constructed a shopping cart that, in real time, even displayed how much of a given item was available and when it would be back in stock. For someone like me, and for a space like the shed, IKEA was vital – it’s economical but also impeccably stylish and, most importantly, full of furniture designed for small spaces. I bought a bed that lifts up, for storage, and a tiny drop-leaf table that folds down, for the kitchen. I was careful to pick items that, while modern, wouldn’t feel too cold in the old space.
When I got home (at 4 a.m.) from the IKEA binge, everything moved at warp speed. I had to get out of my old house, and my crew, which consisted of my mothers and fathers (I have four parents), was available for one weekend per couple. They were spectacular.
My stepfather laid the floor perfectly. My mother, whose optimism sometimes can seem like a dandelion in a blizzard, painted, fed and painted some more. My girlfriend painted, measured and, most importantly, hacked the code of IKEA directions. Their figures are always smiling in diagrams, though I seldom was.
The art went up. Finally, I had a wall unencumbered by holes and double-sided tape that, most likely, had held up a Bob Marley poster. I planned the entire gallery wall around one piece – a Dan Budnick print of black teenagers in 1960s Alabama, holding up signs that demanded voting rights for their parents.
I bought a nice TV (because, simply, I cannot live without football); I yelled at my dog for trying to get on the bed. I completed a load of laundry and roasted a chicken. I got a subscription to The New Yorker. I painted my door green. I knocked snow off my satellite dish and cursed. I put down two dogbeds, one on each level, so my dog would feel at home, as the last house was the only one she’d known in her six years, and together, we were figuring out how to live somewhere new. A bear visited regularly, knocking over my trash can for fun. I did things like sweep twice a day because I wanted to keep the shed looking new.
But when the space felt too new, I went junking in Montrose and rounded out the steel coatrack and rail with an old wooden box for gloves and hats. I put a bright orange Eames chair in the corner for color. It surprised me how much I loved it. Things were happening. It looked like a house. It looked like my house.
But it wasn’t until I came home from a preseason ski tour and leaned my skis against the tin that I realized what I’d done. After six years of living in Telluride, I had finally come home.