Victoria Schon stretches out on the daybed with a book in her hand, a smile on her face and nature’s radio playing in her ears. With the windows slightly cracked, the Dutch-door open and the sun providing plenty of warm light inside her customized Blackdown Shepherd Hut, Schon has walked into a completely different world just a few steps from her Dexter home.
Her Blackdown Shepherd Hut is tucked in the corner of her Dexter property nestled up against a wetlands area offering a sea of green backdrop that only Mother Nature could create. The beautifully handcrafted 14 x 7.5 foot hut was designed and built by highly skilled artisans in both England and the United States, all of whom are well-versed in the rich heritage and exquisite craftsmanship long practiced in England.
Built on a beautifully handcrafted solid oak rolling chassis, each shepherd hut is constructed with time-honored quality and premium building materials, finishes and construction processes with the refined sensibilities of the Victorian era. But it’s the feeling one gets experiencing these “pieces of art” that really captured Schon’s heart and soul and then her passion to share that feeling with others.
“It’s such a different feeling out here,” says Schon, a longtime and active member of the Dexter art and culture community including the chair of the Dexter Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee. “It’s just one with nature. It’s so beautiful. I get such a rejuvenating feeling when I come in here. I can come out here and turn off the world for a while.”
Schon, with an artistic background and education steeped in art history and appreciation, designed the interior of her hut as a “retreat.”
“I wanted to make it where I could come in here and turn everything off and be alone with nature and my thoughts,” she said. “There is something about these little spaces that makes you notice all the little details because your vision narrows down and helps turn off the outside world.”
Schon’s introduction to shepherd huts was a combination of her love of English culture and a long held fascination with all things small.
“One early morning in the summer of 2014, I had an unexpected encounter with an old broken-down sheep herder wagon,” she explained. “It caught my eye and sparked my imagination to an extent that could not be ignored. I realized that I had driven by this sheep herder wagon for more than 10 years and never even noticed it. I was reminded of an English Home Magazine clipping I had saved from the previous year, and I rushed home to retrieve it, never imagining that my life would change dramatically from that moment.”
Amidst the increasing popularity of the tiny and micro house movement currently sweeping the U.S., Schon felt inspired and knew she wanted to be involved.
“I long held a fascination for all things tiny, from Japanese Netsuke to miniature oil paintings,” she said.
Complementing this interest was her experience as an interior designer, custom home project manager and art historian, all of which cultivated an ideal skill set with which to approach this enterprise. With the aid of a small business development consultant, Schon began researching in earnest, learning more about the tiny house movement, its U.S. marketplace, and how it related to the English shepherd hut.
“We soon discovered that amidst all of the options available for tiny mobile dwellings, the English shepherd hut was an untapped resource stateside for this industrious generation’s pursuit of simplified living,” she said. “I felt the beautiful English shepherd hut deserved a presence in North America and that I would not be alone in my appreciation for its humble beginnings, tasteful sensibility and unassuming charm.”
Schon knew the key going forward was to establish their presence without jeopardizing their authenticity. All roads of research led her back to England – the birthplace of the shepherd hut – and eventually to Blackdown Shepherd Huts.
“I was immediately impressed with their team’s helpfulness, generosity of information, and the transparency in the purchasing and design process,” she said. “Blackdown Shepherd Huts was building an exquisitely crafted English shepherd hut and offering excellent customer service. But what was most captivating was experiencing their enthusiasm and dedication to the preservation of a Victorian tradition in a modern world. Their energy and commitment was infectious, and in seemingly no time at all we were working together to build a strong and effective operational Blackdown Shepherd Huts North America.”
In just a short time, Schon became managing partner of Blackdown Shepherd Huts of North America. They say the best salesperson is the one who sells what they use and believe in – and Schon was sold on shepherd huts almost immediately after seeing, creating and then experiencing their incredible energy.
“Little spaces offer a retreat and sense of rejuvenation,” she said. “And I feel very strong philosophically why these shepherd huts are so wonderful. It’s very harmonious. Even when I’ve had several people in here talking it’s still very quiet and peaceful.
“And then you have to ask yourself, what is that worth to me?”
A Blackdown Shepherd Hut starts at around $20,000.
While honoring the impressive heritage, every individual hut equals the unique characteristics of the owner. And the uniqueness and specialness of the hut is found in the details.
The huts come with bargeboard and fascia as standard rather than just leaving the grey metal underside of the roofing sheet exposed. The custom windows, doors and cabinetry use the highest quality hardware as standard practice. The wheels and turntable are cast at a small foundry using ancestral techniques and the insulation is English sheep wool.
“The designers and builders involved in these huts are a community of artists. An artist has been involved in every detail,” Schon said.
And the huts offer a unique piece of art to any yard, garden or wooded area.
“It’s simply wonderful how gracefully the shepherd English hut compliments the natural landscape,” Schon said.
The largest hut complete with a queen-sized bed, kitchenette and bathroom with shower is near completion.
“We have come to realize that times have changed and demands for dwelling space have become more refined,” Schon said. “Our contemporary hut designs blend this rich tradition of craftsmanship with modern environmental technologies, which are friendlier to the planet and more efficient. Our luxuriously refined finishes will transform your hut from a simple dwelling space into an elegant retreat.”
Schon says the reaction from people who have seen them in Dexter has been “wonderful.”
“We are just at the beginning of this,” she said. “They just got here and I’m so excited to show them to people.
“These are extremely fashionable in England now. They are the in-thing to have in your garden over there. It’s part of their culture and I just fell in love with them so much that I wanted to have one and I am hoping other people will fall in love with them as much as I have.”
A grand opening is being planned for Sept. 19 in Dexter. Contact Blackdown Shepherd Huts for more information.
For more information on Blackdown Shepherd Huts, log onto www.blackdownshepherdhuts.us.com or call 734-424-2754.
Editor’s note: This story was written inside a Blackdown Shepherd Hut. We would like to thank Victoria Schon for the wonderful “office space.”