Pandemic Projects: Garden gnomes get a home of their own

A garden gnome home has been on Debbie and Ed Cogswell’s to-do list for years. Thanks to the pandemic quarantine, it’s checked off.

The Cogswell family moved into their Tulalip home eight years ago. When they cut down a diseased tree in the front yard, they left the trunk so that it could eventually be turned into a home for Debbie’s gnome collection — an idea from a local garden show. They waited about five years for the tree suckers to die off.

“We had gnomes out there for a while in the yard,” she said. “They were waiting for their house. Then the virus hit, and we were looking for home projects, so I said, “Hey, honey, it’s time!”

Her husband, Ed, 66, built the gnome home inside an 8-by-10 foot frame. With help from Pinterest, he got to work repurposing fencing and roof shakes he’d collected over the years. They wanted the house to look old, rustic and nostalgic.

It features a pitched roof with shingles, a stone path that leads to the front door, crooked white-painted windows and a smokestack with a funnel on top.

The door for the house was shipped from the United Kingdom, which the Cogswells call “real gnome land” because the figures have been an element of English gardens since the 17th century. The funnel on the smokestack is reminiscent of the Tin Man’s in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“You can’t go out and buy yourself a kit to make this house, so we had to put on our artsy fartsy hats and figure this out,” Ed Cogswell said. “I have a bit of a knack for building and creating things, so I dove into this project.”

With husband and wife building and decorating together, they finished it in two weeks in May.

A gnome-size fenced yard surrounds the Cogswells’ creation. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A gnome-size fenced yard surrounds the Cogswells’ creation. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In addition to nine bearded garden helpers, they’ve decorated the tiny house’s yard with garden art: solar lights, a hanging hummingbird, a mock bird bath and a Sasquatch statue.

“We’re always tweaking it, you know,” Debbie Cogswell said. “Adding things like flowers or whatnot.”

Will more gnomes find a home there soon? Maybe. Debbie found hers at Goodwill and Fred Meyer. She’s also been lucky to find the garden-dogooders at garage sales. If she doesn’t buy them herself, she receives them as gifts from family and friends.

“I’m just afraid of making it look junky, so I don’t want to keep buying them and putting more and more in there,” she said. “But if I do get more, we have 2.5 acres, so I’m sure we’ll find a place.”

Much like the garden gnome in the 2001 movie “Amélie,” Debbie’s gnomes sometimes go missing. She likes to picture them off on an adventure — but in actuality, her relatives play jokes on her by taking them home or moving them around the yard.

Her gnomes aren’t the only ones who like the new house. Their orange-and-white tabby cat likes to curl up inside the gabled roof for a nap protected from the rain.

“He’ll jump out while you’re standing there and scare you half to death,” she said.

A do-it-yourselfer, Ed has also expanded a deck, build a vegetable garden and a shed, as well as poured their own patio. “The garden shed looks like an outhouse with a little crescent moon on the door,” he said. With their acreage, the Cogswells don’t think they’ll ever run out of backyard projects.

“Debbie wanted to make sure that I was busy after a full-time career at Boeing, so we moved to a house where there’s plenty to do,” he said. Husband and wife are both retired.

Debbie, 63, took a liking to gnomes while working at Molbak’s Garden + Home in Woodinville. If you ask, she’ll tell you all about the German legend of the gnomes who offer late-night assistance in gardens and the protection of property. She got the idea for a gnome home from the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle.

“When I first started to pick up a gnome here or there, there was never the intention of having a gnome house,” she said. “It was just to have yard decorations and be whimsical.”

What’s next? The Cogwells are collecting Christmas decorations for the gnome home. They recently added some green trim so that it matches the couple’s own house.

“We should be able to hang some ornaments out there,” Ed Cogswell said, “and put a little wreath on the door.”

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046;;

Your project could be next

This story is part of an occasional Herald series on pandemic projects. Did you find the time to build a boat? Write a biography of your grandfather? Earn a Spanish language certificate? We want to feature your project in the Panorama section. Email


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