Outbuildings add flare and romance to gardens

09/30/2010 12:00 AM |

Imagine Farms and Gardens owner Laura Courtney created this cabin from recycled materials on her property in Laurel. She says her outbuildings are designed as spaces for adults, rather than children, to play in.

When one thinks of an elegant 19th-century English garden, an old outhouse smack dab in the middle of it might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But Laura Courtney’s creations, what she calls “historic agricultural accessory buildings,” are sure to give any yard or garden a romantic, whimsical feel.

“They’re made with an intention to conjure up a feeling,” she said.

At her business Imagine Farms and Gardens in Jamesport, Ms. Courtney restores and builds barns, sheds, guest houses, arbors and more.

On her Main Road property, Ms. Courtney showcases some of her touches. An antique truck protrudes from the ground with a garden growing out of its crevices. A restored — although not functioning — outhouse with ivy growing over its roof is used for storage. The facade of a general store contributes to a 19th century feel. Some of her creations are for sale and some she refuses to part with.

Her designs are not meant to create playgrounds for children, she said. “I wanted it to be more of a place for adults to play,” she explained.

Using only antique wood, or new wood of a kind that was commonly used 100-plus years ago, Ms. Courtney renovates dilapidated outhouses and sheds and creates new buildings from scratch as well. Working with a contractor on each project, she also designs and builds garden structures such as arbors and birdhouses. Those on display at her business are decorated with knickknacks, from old teapots and glasses to a functioning 1930s kerosene fueled stove, most of which are for sale.

Ms. Courtney said the prices of her assorted creations vary greatly. The bulk of her business is large restoration projects rather than sale of little tchotchkes, she said. “I’m a struggling artist, but I’m not hungry,” she joked.

Also, for $75 an hour Ms. Courtney makes house calls to discuss options for a client’s yard, garden and any existing outbuildings.

Her customers say they love what her structures have done for their homes. Jenice Malecki renovated a falling down shed in her Mattituck yard and turned it into an art studio with the help of Ms. Courtney about two years ago. Floors, windows and a new roof were installed. Ms. Malecki also ordered a prefabricated shed online and Ms. Courtney arranged to have it installed. Ms. Malecki said the renovated structure is a place for her to paint and for her son to get a little dirty while playing. “It’s a sort of place to relax in the woods,” she said. “It definitely adds to the ambiance of the yard.

Barbara Rathborne, who has a second home in Southold, said she saw Ms. Courtney’s Main Road display and knew she wanted an outbuilding of her own. She brought her ideas to Ms. Courtney and together they designed a shed for her property.

“I wanted a forgotten garden look,” she said.

Ms. Rathborne said the design process was “organic” and the two women made several changes along the way. She said the shed gives her garden a “magical” quality and that she loves the finished product.

“We have a very old house,” she said. “Basically, it fits right in.”

The number of projects Ms. Courtney can manage in a year is limited because she is the sole creative force behind the business. “I’m doing as much work as I can take on,” she said.

But the individual attention she devotes to each building makes the result unique.

“You can’t mass-produce me,” she said.

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