From eyesore to asset: New shed evokes fond memories

Many months after I set out to remodel my garden shed, its makeover is complete. Nearly. The frame around the new screen door still requires painting, but everything else is done, several months after starting this project. Isn’t it amazing how seemingly simple projects get dragged out?

The humble shed looked like this in the summer of 2006. Thrown together by a previous owner, it did an OK job of protecting tender potted plants during Austin’s light freezes, and it provided a sturdy potting table plus storage for the reel mower. But even with a fun coat of purple paint (faded into blue in this photo), it remained—let’s face it—an eyesore. I took to staring at it, trying to figure out how to give it some character.

One day the old dance hall in Gruene, Texas, popped into my mind. Although it may not look like much from the outside, Gruene Hall (pronounced “green,” not “grune”) is one of my favorite places. If you’ve watched the movie Michael, you’ve already seen the dance floor; John Travolta’s character shows off his moves on the worn, wooden floorboards.

Constructed around 1880, the false-fronted dance hall lays claim to being the oldest in Texas. Whether or not that’s true, it’s surely the most laid-back, friendly, and evocative dance hall anywhere. Nationally known acts are still booked in the barn-like, yet intimate space—we saw Lucinda Williams there a few years ago—and any weekend afternoon you’ll hear live music spilling out the screened windows that provide the only air conditioning. Deep, shady eaves along the side walls, cross breezes, and an icy, cold beer in your hand do a pretty good job of keeping things cool on a hot, summer day. Admission is free on Saturday afternoons, and after you stop at the bar to get a cold one, you follow your ears into the dance hall, where you’ll find folks of all ages and backgrounds—from cowboy-hatted country boys to hippies to leather-clad bikers to families with children—sitting on long benches, listening to some rollicking, twangy, fresh-faced band. A few couples might be twirling around the dance floor, and teens will be shooting pool over in the corner. Past the pool tables, you step out into a big, dirt yard shaded by cedar trees, where couples lean against each other at picnic tables and little kids run in circles and a few old boys are tossing horseshoes. Gruene Hall is the real deal. (Click here for the story of its rescue in 1974.)

Once I started thinking about Gruene Hall, I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I decided to use it as inspiration for my shed remodel. I sketched out a design and hired a carpenter friend to do the work. He built a Western-style false front to give it some height, securely attaching it to the shed to keep Austin’s strong winds from blowing it over.

I applied several coats of white paint and hired Leslie Smith, an artistic friend who paints indoor murals, to do the lettering, which copies the style of Gruene Hall’s sign. She did a great job, creating templates on paper, then tracing and hand-painting the letters from the top of a stepladder.

As you can see, I changed the name to Green Hall to reflect its use as a garden structure. The pronunciation is the same as the original, making it my little joke. Here you see the porch under construction, with big cedar posts (juniper, actually, though we call it cedar around here) providing the support.

With the addition of the galvanized-metal roof, a new screen door, a fresh coat of paint, and string lights, the shed is now a reminder of one of my favorite places as well as a fun focal point in the back garden.

All material © 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

30 Responses

  1. chuck b. says:

    That is SWEET! Is Green Hall the name of your garden too?

    Thanks, Chuck. I had intended that it would be, but then it seemed a bit pretentious to call my little garden “Hall” anything. So it remains nameless in my mind, but maybe over time Green Hall will evolve into more than a sly reference to Gruene Hall. —Pam

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    What a remodel! It looks great. Your green house/ potting shed looks like a haven
    for the Gardener as well as plants. Maybe it could be called ‘Green Haven’. :)
    What a fun project. It makes me want to think of something different to do to our
    yard barn.

    Thank you, Lisa. I’m pleased with the way it turned out, though I think the construction had my back-fence neighbors flummoxed for a while as they tried to figure out just what I was doing when the false-front went up. —Pam

  3. Kathy says:

    Excellent! It is very instructive to me that the changes were cosmetic and yet such a big improvement.

    Thanks, Kathy. While the original shed wasn’t elegantly constructed, it seemed wasteful to tear it down and start over, not to mention significantly more expensive. I’m pleased that cosmetic changes effected the look I wanted. Originally, my DH and I were going to do the work ourselves, but a couple of years of procrastination convinced me that hiring out the work would be key to getting it done. It was well worth the expense to save ourselves time and frustration. —Pam

  4. Ooh, Pam, cool. Thanks for sharing your inspiration and process. You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about blogs lately. There is some fine writing going on out here. We always compliment you on your pics. They are really good, but your writing is also. I think you could expand this post and query a magazine (either handyman type or gardening.) Just my 2 cents. Happy New Year.

    Wow, thanks, Dee! You just made my day.

    You are right that there is a lot of good prose coming from non-print writers. It makes me try harder. Although I do plenty of toss-off posts too. That’s the joy of blogging—you’re free to use it any way you like. —Pam

  5. Carol says:

    Pam, I really like what you did to your shed and how you drew inspiration from a favorite place. I am seriously quite envious as we are not allowed to have sheds in my neighborhood. I knew that when I moved here, but everytime I see a cool shed, a gardener’s haven, I still want one! Maybe Green Hall should be a part of a garden named Green Digs?

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens (I agree with Dee, great beginning to an expanded article to be published someplace?)

    Carol, thanks for the kind words. I love to see unique sheds or other structures in a garden too. Your neighborhood really doesn’t allow them? Where do they expect you to keep your lawn mower and other gardening tools and supplies? My neighbor built a darling, shed-like structure in her back yard as a workspace for her stained-glass hobby. I think it adds so much character to her garden and to the neighborhood for that matter. Hey, maybe you and some sympathetic neighbors can get elected to the association board and change the rules! —Pam

  6. Frances says:

    You did a wonderful job with your shed and the local tie in makes it even more special. I have a shed post in the can and will publish it soon to tie in with yours. Tie, tie, tie.

    Thanks, Frances. I look forward to seeing your shed. I’m guessing it may have some lovely stonework on it? —Pam

  7. Successful garden project are always encouraging to read about. The multiple puns (visual and aural) are very clever. It’s great to evoke personal memories that way. Cool how it all turned out and is more than just a shed…something to hide and to hide tools in. It is, as you say, a new focal point in the garden.

    I know you’re thinking of your garden house, still in limbo. But I have no doubt that one day, hopefully not too far off, you’ll be sitting out there and enjoying your wildflower meadow or oxblood lily festival. Or enjoying your own new focal point from your kitchen window. —Pam

  8. chuck b. says:

    Well, I don’t think Green Hall sounds pretentious at all! (Is it time for a Digging blog poll?)

    After all, there are only so many synonyms for “garden”. Ellis has his Hollow. Havens is nice. Patch is good too, but your garden isn’t exactly patchy. If anything, Hall may sound too formal for your laidback Texas style.

    But it’s too late. In my mind, I’m already calling your garden Green Hall. (Unless you definitively pronounce another name.)

    (Why are all the comments coming up italicized? I advocate a return to non-italicized comments for visitors and italicized replies from Pam.)

    Well, OK, Chuck. Green Hall it is! Although I’ll probably call it Green Hall Garden, which seems to bring it back down to earth.

    As for the italicization, I’m only seeing it on my replies to comments. Is anyone else noticing this? If so, I’ll blame it on my post-Christmas transition from a PC to a MacBook, which is taking some getting used to. Chuck, are you seeing it only on the comments on this post or other posts too? —Pam

  9. Pam/Digging says:

    I think I may have fixed it, but let me know, Chuck. Although it looked fine on both my PC and the Mac, I noticed the HTML code for the italics was not quite right. Thanks for the heads-up. —Pam

  10. chuck b. says:

    Now it’s all back to normal, except for your comment #9 which is italicized.

    My (PC) computer does weird stuff too.

    Good. Number 9 is meant to be italicized, as it’s mine. Thanks for your help. —Pam

  11. chuck b. says:

    Green Hall Gardens! Fabulous! (I’m doing that gesture Italians do after eating good food, with their fingers next to the mouth that expands to an open hand. “Abondanza!”)

    Glad you like it, Chuck. It’s working for me too. By the way, do you have a name for your garden? Is it The Back Forty? —Pam

  12. chuck b. says:

    Comments are fine on all the other posts.

    You have been very sly, editing previously shown pictures of the bottle tree to exclude the previously unappealing shed! Ha!

    Thanks for checking. I have been sly on my bottle-tree photos, although in recent weeks I’ve been working hard to keep the new shed out of my photos until I’d done this post. —Pam

  13. I love the new facade on the shed! What a clever idea! And I’m impressed at how a relatively small change makes such a big impact! Very nice.
    ~Angela :-)

    Thanks, Angela. I’m glad you think so. —Pam

  14. I love your new and improved shed much better Pam! And what a great name too, so very apt. All it needs now is a little lick of paint here and there so get that brush out girl! ;-)

    A very Happy New Year to you and yours Pam, with loads of garden and blogging fun!

    YE, I’ll try to get that lick of painting done soon. But I’ve got another garden-blogging project in the works that I’ll post about soon, which is taking precedence right now. Thanks for your comments! —Pam

  15. Colleen says:

    Love the “new” shed! What a great idea—it looks like such a nice, sturdy building. It definitely seems to be more your style now!

    Thanks, Colleen. The addition is certainly sturdy. My carpenter wasn’t so sure about the rest of it. But now the addition is helping to stabilize the rest. :-) —Pam

  16. It seems that any project, no matter how small, always takes twice as long as you estimate & costs 1 1/2 times as much! I’m envious of your cool shed – my yard is too weird shaped to accomodate a shed & not violate local setback ordinances. I love all your puns, thanks for the giggle.

    This project took about three times as long as expected, but I managed to stay on budget. Of course, it was more expensive than if we’d done it ourselves, but the labor costs were worth every penny. I’m glad you enjoyed the word play. Thanks for commenting, MMD.

  17. Rebekah says:

    Oh, I love Gruene Hall! And it’s been so long since I’ve visited… This is such a cool idea and the garden tie-in is so clever; I imagine anyone who’s been to Gruene would instantly feel laid back and relaxed in your garden.

    By the by, I’ve been visiting your blog off and on for the last few months, seeing as how I love plants – and Austin! I was looking up native Texas grasses when I came across this nook of yours. Wonderful photos, and entertaining reads! Thanks for posting them.

    Hi, Rebekah, and thanks for your kind words. I’m delighted to hear from other people who know and love Gruene Hall. I just need a honky-tonk or Western swing band to come play in my back yard, and I’d be all set. —Pam

  18. susan harris says:

    VERY cool.

    Gracias, Susan. —Pam

  19. Jim says:

    Hey, I’ve been to Gruene! I remember that building. Went into a general store. Bought a leather vest at some other store there. Great Antique stores. Pretty town. Felt like old Texas. We were visiting a friend in Zuehl, where she lived on in private airstrip neighborhood.

    I like inside jokes that only one out of every 10 people “get.”

    My daughter’s got a Harry Potter garden with odd-looking plants that we’ve named after plants in the Harry Potter books. During our Garden Walk, most are flummoxed by the names of the plants and descriptions of what they do.

    I’ve been thinking about making a birdhouse that is a model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, here in Buffalo. I want to build it and put it up on a pole and call it my marten house.

    Ha! Clever idea. I’d never have gotten it, but I guess visitors from Buffalo would be in on the joke, just like visitors from central Texas might get my Gruene/Green word play. I bet you guys have fun with the Harry Potter garden. What a great way to get kids into gardening.

    Thanks for visiting, Jim! —Pam

  20. germi says:

    Pam! Thanks for sharing this – your beautifully re-vamped potting shed is a wonder to behold. You also brought back fond memories! I haven’t thought of Gruene Hall in years – spent some good times there while living with my Aunt in New Braunfels during my teens. You do what I most admire and advocate … your eyes are open to the world around you, and you use what you find there as inspiration to make magic.

    Happy New Year, by the way!

    Another Dance Hall I love is Floore’s Country Store in Helotes. It had a crazily sloping dance floor … but what fun! I wonder if it’s still there?

    That is a lovely compliment, Germi. Thank you for thinking of me in that way. I’ll try to live up to it!

    I love how this post is bringing up Gruene Hall memories for people. I don’t know the dance hall in Helotes, but it sounds fun. Maybe I’ll get out there one day. By the way, I visited your site earlier today and admired all your beautiful flowers. Can’t believe you have a black-eyed Susan vine blooming right now! Enjoy! —Pam

  21. kate says:

    Happy New Year Pam!

    This was an absolute treat to see. Green Hall looks wonderful. You did a great job of remodelling – the colours are perfect as is the wooden screen door. I like the rusted old garden chair sitting at right. The lettering is perfect! The blue bottle tree is enhanced with Green Hall. I like the idea that it has a historic connection too with Gruene Hall.

    Happy New Year to you, and thanks for the nice words, Kate. It means a lot coming from someone with artistic talent like you. —Pam

  22. Kathleen says:

    That is a fabulous idea. I have not been to Gruene for ages. The shed looks wonderful. Mine is almost finished we have the door to put on and that’s about it. I also like that bottle tree that you made, i’ve been considering that for my garden, i think the blue adds a lot of dimension.

    Hi, Kathleen. Thanks for commenting. I would love to see your shed as soon as you get the door on. I hope you’ll let me know if you post about it. And I’d love to see the bottle-tree idea continue to spread far and wide. Go for it! —Pam

  23. Happy New Year, Pam – it’s wonderful to see your creative touch turn something as plebian as a shed into an architectural feature, grounded in local history. We’ve been to Gruene, and looked into the dancehall but no music or dancing was going on at that time. I didn’t know it was used for Michael – the one I’d always wanted to see is the Watterson Dance Hall SW of Smithville which was seen in Hope Floats.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Thank you, Annie. It was a fun idea to bring to life, so to speak. I do wish you’d seen Gruene Hall in action. I am hearing about other Texas dance halls now, including the Watterson one, that I’d like to visit. How about Coupland Dance Hall? I once went to a boot-scootin’ party there that was a lot of fun. —Pam

  24. Kylee says:

    I love it, Pam! And the blue bottle tree is perfect with it, too.

    Thanks, Kylee. It’s looking pretty colorful out there. —Pam

  25. Kathryn Hall says:

    HI, Pam in Austin! Found you on blotanical and love the Shed Story. I have a shed in the back corner of my property and though I have cleaned it out, and painted the floor a nice color I had not thought to go the extra mile and take it from serviceable to INTERESTING! Thanks for the inspiration. I will keep you posted on what evolves! Kathryn

    Welcome, Kathryn, and thanks for commenting. Yes, a humble shed can be fun to make over, and there are so many creative ideas floating around the blogsosphere. Have fun with yours and let me know how it turns out. —Pam

  26. Ken Shill says:

    I like your Green Hall. It was fun to see the transmichen.
    Your GOOD!
    Best regards Ken from Sweden

    Thanks, Ken. I’m glad you like my little Western-style garden shed. —Pam

  27. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Of course I remember this post Pam. I just didn’t remember that it was purple. Actually on my computer it looks to
    to be a lighter shade of blue than the bottles. ?? Maybe it is all in the eyes of the beholder??

    It’s definitely purple—“Grape,” I believe the color was called. But it faded to blue after a couple of years, as you can see in the “before” photos. I’ve recently repainted it back to the purple. —Pam

  28. […] From Eyesore to Asset: New Shed Evokes Fond Memories (Pam at Digging): Pam has moved on to a new garden, so the story of Green Hall at her previous garden is now even more memorable. […]

  29. […] got me thinking, and after a tongue-in-cheek shed remodel, I dubbed my former place Green Hall Garden as a play on words. (If you know Gruene Hall—and […]

  30. […] particularly resonated with me, as I recently finished remodeling my own. I’m happy with my Green Hall design. Otherwise the photos of so many charming structures would be very tempting. But no, that project […]