As of March, the number of people working from home sky-rocketed. For many, this required frantically reconfiguring the home to provide a little private space so that work could continue as normally as possible.

For others, it was the start of a daily nightmare – especially those wedged into the corner of a kitchen or sandwiched between a bed and wardrobe and making the best of a makeshift desk. Adding to the misery for many were views of their verdant gardens outside – inviting oases that were out of bounds because of a lack of plug sockets or cover from the inevitable spring showers.

However, as we tiptoe tentatively into a brave new world, the answer to making the most of our properties – and getting the headspace we need – may well be to invest in a dedicated garden room.

An eye-catching splash of colour brightens up a secluded corner of the garden.

It could be a garden office – a place to drop out of family obligations and switch on to the business of making a living – but equally, it could just be somewhere to unwind or pursue a hobby. Music rooms, playrooms, yoga rooms, home pubs – anything is possible.

“People are having fun these days with their garden rooms,” says Peter Creese, founder of Creese & McKnight, a design and building company which has been creating garden rooms for more than a decade. “For quite a while, they were pretty modern and modular, but recently people are being more interesting in terms of the design and what they’re using as materials. They’re personalising them to their tastes.”

Indulging a passion

Creese says that garden rooms can be a great way for someone to indulge a particular design passion they have long harboured: you can emulate the work of a favourite architect, for example, or immerse yourself in a theme that has always been appealing.

“We’ve just done one with a wild west aesthetic using recycled materials,” says Creese. “It’s got a little wooden veranda and we’ll possibly add a swinging seat. It’s a bit of fun and it’s a nice way to take you away from the humdrum of the day.”

Daylight is important, but small buildings with large, south-facing windows or doors can get very hot. Think also about the view – do you want to make the most of it, or do you want your room to be hidden away?

Peter Creese
Creese & McKnight

Before you get started on your outdoor hideaway, Katie Bayliss, of garden room retailer GBC Group, says you should think long and hard about what you want from it. “Some people need the extra storage, whilst others crave a space to enjoy the outdoors,” she says.

Garden buildings generally don’t need planning permission. “These buildings are considered permitted development and therefore do not require planning permission as long as they adhere to a couple of core rules,” Bayliss says.

These rules, she says, are as follows:

  • If the building is to be placed less than 2 metres from the boundary of the property, it must have a maximum overall height of no more than 2.5 metres from the existing ground level.
  • If the building is to be placed more than 2 metres from the boundary of the property, then the maximum overall height for a dual pitched roof is 4 metres, and 3 metres for any other roof.
  • Placement is also important: no more than half the area of land around the ‘original house’ (this means the house as it was first built or as it stood on 1 July 1948 if it was built before that date) should be covered by additional buildings.
  • Finally, adds Bayliss, while the majority of uses for a garden building are acceptable – storage, gardening and working are all fine – there are still rules to adhere to. “For example,” she says, “under no circumstance should the building be used for lodgings or guest housing, as this would require planning permission.”

It is also worth remembering that there may be local regulations pertaining to your property if it is a listed building or in a conservation area, for example.

In Scotland, permitted development differs slightly:

  • It must be single storey and located at the back of the house. 
  • The garden room, and any other development, does not take up half or more of the original grounds behind your home.
  • It must be no higher than 4 metres at the highest point or 3 metres at the eaves.
  • Any part that’s 1 metre or less from the boundary is no higher than 2.5 metres, and any section that is against a boundary is no more than 1.8 metres high.
  • If the land is in a conservation area or in the grounds of a listed building, the ancillary building has a footprint of less than 4 square metres.

These stylish retreats come in a range of shapes and sizes suitable for every budget. 

A hideaway or a room with a view?

If you’re happy to proceed – and have double-checked any local regulations pertaining to your property – Creese says it makes sense to scour the garden in search of the very best spot for your new garden room. “Daylight is important, but small buildings with large, south-facing glazed windows or doors can get very hot in the summer,” he says. “Think also about the view – do you want to make the most of it, or do you want your garden room to be hidden away?”

The materials at your disposal for construction are seemingly endless. Where once the lion’s share of garden rooms were clad in cedar because it was readily available and weathers well, today there are countless options, including pressure-treated softwoods in a variety of attractive hues, and composite wood cladding which can be very robust.

Reclaimed materials, too, are in vogue, says Creese: “I’ve seen lots of old floorboards and wriggly tin on garden buildings recently. Agricultural materials as well. It can all be mixed to make something quite individual and stunning.”

In terms of pricing – how long is a piece of string? In a round-up of ‘Best garden rooms under £10,000’ by online platform The Garden Room Guide, none of the bespoke buildings listed had a floor space bigger than 8 square metres – suggesting that tailor-made designs certainly aren’t cheap. In fact, they say that the average price per square metre is around £1,400 – and you can pay even more for a high-spec construction.

That said, GBC sells small garden rooms from around £2,000. The DIY route is an option, too, and Creese says that some projects may well be within the grasp of many.

“I’d encourage everyone to have a go,” he says. “I think it’s pretty easily done. It's basically elaborating the garden shed – it’s about bolstering that wooden frame, adding insulation and good foundations.”

If you’re not too confident in the load-bearing capacity of your roof frame, lightweight bitumen shingles are an option – or you can create the illusion of an expensive, heavyweight-roof with composite roof tiles that mimic the likes of slate or even terracotta.

Done well, a garden room will last for years and give you endless hours of fun/peace and quiet/productivity, depending on what you’re looking for. “They’re a place to enjoy life, aren’t they?” says Creese. “People use them in so many ways, and what’s so wonderful about them is that they let you really get away from it all.”

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