This family built a high-tech pod for their backyard
Who: Martin Muhs, a 46-year-old engineer and co-founder of the Abode Co., and his wife, Stacey Muhs, the 45-year-old founder of Savvy Kids World, a financial literacy platform for children
Where: Richmond Hill
In July of 2020, Stacey and Martin were sitting with their friend, Craig Thompson, then an owner of a fitness franchise, on a patio in Vaughan. The couple was lamenting how the pandemic was affecting their professional lives. Their homes were loud and chaotic, and they couldn’t get through the workday without countless interruptions from their kids. Stacey and Martin live in a detached brick home in Richmond Hill with a large backyard, and they have two young children—eight-year-old Hanna and six-year-old Spencer—plus their Vizsla, Roxie. “We were losing our minds,” says Martin. At the time, Stacey was renting an office 25 minutes away. She was dishing out $1,100 a month for the space, but barely used it because she had to help with the kids’ online learning.
With their kvetching came a eureka moment. Martin and Craig decided to create a line of stand-alone pods that they could build in people’s backyards as a secondary space—whether a gym, an office, an art studio, whatever. They would build a prototype using Martin’s skills as an engineer and Craig’s expertise in operations.
In May, they installed a 108-square-foot prototype in Stacey and Martin’s backyard. The pod’s components are manufactured in a shop in East Beaver Creek in Richmond Hill, and the modules are preassembled, so it took a contractor and a general helper only five days to install the unit.
Now, Stacey brews her morning coffee and strolls into her backyard. An app on her phone brings the space to life. She unlocks the doors with an automated keypad, her SiriusXM chill music playlist gets going on the Sonos, the lights come on and the heat is set to her preferred temperature.
Her favourite time of day is noon, when she clears the work away. “I keep yoga mats in the corner, the desk pulls over and I do sun salutations,” she says. “I’m here 10 hours a day, six days a week.”
The prototype pod was originally just meant for Stacey’s use, but it’s now a family affair. After dinner, Spencer heads across the backyard to practise his reading with Stacey, while Hanna does her homework in the main house. Martin works from an upstairs bedroom during the day, and after the kids are in bed, he takes over the pod to get some work done in the evenings.
There are bright LED strips on the exterior corners for safety, so no one trips. They’re connected to a smart-home app and set to come on at sunset and shut off at 11 p.m. The pod has a pitched black roof and shiplap interior. The ceiling is nine feet at the door and seven at the back wall to accommodate snow load. As a bonus, it creates a dramatic roofline:
The pod sits on helical piles, which is more eco-friendly and less disruptive than a concrete foundation. Stacey changes up the decor by the front doors with the seasons. “In the summer, I had two large potted arrangements with tropical flowers and greenery. In September and October, I had potted mums and mini pumpkins around. Now, I have two light-up birch trees”:
The integrated, linear LED strips in the wall and ceiling are perfect for Zoom calls. “I don’t need a ring light,” says Stacey:
The heated floors are engineered plank vinyl. A wall-mounted unit for heat and air conditioning keeps the temperature in check. There’s also an air exchanger to keep the air circulating. “Because it’s small, it heats up quickly,” says Stacey:
The sit-stand desk and the chair are from ErgoCentric. Stacey likes to be upright in the afternoons, when she switches her playlist to SiriusXM’s dance-heavy Utopia. To shake up her Zoom background, she often changes the pod’s artwork using prints from Ikonick. “The lightweight canvas on wood frames means I can hang it easily with velcro strips”:
Stacey’s Zanzibar Gem is thriving in the pod. “It’s the first plant I’ve ever been able to keep alive.” She also can’t live without her Saje diffuser:
Here’s the front of the home: