Like Frankenstein’s monster, Archie Proudfoot’s shed rose from the dead. Newly crowned as Cuprinol Shed of The Year 2023, the “Frankenshed”, as he calls it, has come a long way from when Proudfoot first set eyes on it.
It came with the house in north London that Proudfoot and his wife Clare bought in spring 2019. “The shed looked as if something bad had happened in it,” says Proudfoot, 34. “The window was cracked and the door had weird locks and chains on it. I pulled up a mat and the wood underneath was rotten. I put the mat back and thought, ‘I’ll deal with that another day.’”
The garden was not much better, with black security gates, red painted walls, concrete slabs and a gigantic fig tree.
Proudfoot ignored the decrepit 8ft x 4ft shed for two years, until the third Covid lockdown hit in early 2021. A self-employed artist and sign-painter, he panicked. “I’d just moved into a big studio and I wasn’t sure I could afford it anymore. I wondered if I could rip down the shed and build a work studio.”
He was saved by a surge of buyers for his artwork, but with time on his hands, he decided to tackle the shed anyway.
“The roof crumbled in my hands like a digestive biscuit and the window sill just came away,” he recalls. “I Googled how to fix a rotten shed, but there was nothing, because people tend just to replace them.” Proudfoot could not afford a new shed however, so he decided to try to save it on a shoestring. “I vowed not to buy any new tools or materials, apart from a box of nails, because I didn’t want to spend money on something that might be a lost cause. If I was pulling this thing up from the dead, I’d recycle dead timber to do it.”
The dead timber comprised “ugly” garden fencing, a bed frame, and two strips of decking. Armed with a fold-up handsaw he had bought in Japan “because I thought it looked cool”, he cut out the rotten wood in the floor and the sides.
“I didn’t know what I was doing and the shed was very unstable, like a game of Jenga,” he says. He replaced the rotten wood and also built a window frame with his recycled timber.
He started posting his project on Instagram and initially followers urged him to tear down the shed. However, as he progressed, his detractors changed their tune. “People became entranced by it and started encouraging me.”
Proudfoot spent weekends on the shed, but with Clare expecting their first child, he upped his pace: “Maybe there was some feeling that I had to get the shed done in case I had to escape to it.”
He modelled the exterior of the shed on the artist Derek Jarman’s cottage at Dungeness in Kent, which he admires for its stark simplicity. He decided to break his vow not to buy anything new for the shed, and bought an Onduline bitumen roof for £120. “Paying £120 is not bad, but compared to zero it felt like a lot,” he says.
He painted the exterior dark grey with a white trim; then his work was interrupted by his daughter Polly’s arrival in June 2021.
The final stage of the project recommenced in early 2022. Proudfoot used reverse glass gilding in gold leaf to decorate the shed window with pictures of tools he had used, including the bottles of beer consumed after each session.
The freehand interior is inspired by the frescoes inside Italy’s Villa Farnesina by artists including Raphael. Proudfoot’s ceiling features the four seasons, incorporating the 12 zodiac signs, myths and Gods such as Bacchus in autumn; Old Man Winter in winter; Apollo in his chariot in summer; and Venus and Cupid for spring. The Tree of Life in gold leaf on the wall commemorates the giant fig tree that had had to be chopped down.
Proudfoot admits that as with Dr Frankenstein and his monster, the shed took over his life. “I worked for one week, then spent three weeks on the shed. Clare was saying, ‘All you care about is that shed.’ But I was creating the best piece of work I’d ever done.”
Proudfoot also transformed the garden, whose features now include a model fibreglass and wood boat that his grandfather built, which Proudfoot has turned into a planter.
Winning the Shed of the Year competition has earned him £1,000 in prize money and vouchers. “I was elated to win, because I was worried that my shed was a bit too ‘out there’ and weird for people to identify with,” he says.
The shed is now useful as well as beautiful: he loves to relax in it in his armchair, but he also uses it to sow seeds and pot up plants, and for storage. Polly loves it, too. “She spins round looking up at the ceiling, but what she really likes is throwing tins of paint,” he says. “So far, no lids have come off.”