Clever planting and plenty of climbers will stop a new shed or studio from overpowering your outside space.
Garden studios and offices have become an increasingly common sight as homeowners use their outdoor spaces as somewhere to add another room. Often it is more than a garden office or studio; gyms, TV rooms, libraries, saunas, kids’ playrooms, teenagers’ dens — you name it, they seem to be the way to go.
Rooms in the garden are usually less expensive than a loft conversion or basement dig-out, and are less disruptive and perhaps less contentious too. As long as they meet the right restrictions and guidelines, they are usually seen as outbuildings within “permitted development” so don’t need planning permission.
Clients often ask me to design them into a garden. Some go for what are really glorified sheds, while others choose something more substantial that can be installed in a day or two — and come with insulation and mains power so they can be used throughout the winter. At the top end are the semi-bespoke and bespoke studios, made-to-measure with your choice of overall shape, placement of doors, skylights and finishes.
Is this a slippery slope from a gardening point of view? Are our gardens being taken over by buildings? I should come clean and admit that I have recently had one installed, so can give you my first-hand experience as a garden lover and now a garden office/studio owner. Mine is boxy (a mere 4m x 2.5m), contemporary, clad in cedar, with a sliding door and skylight. Inside I have a desk, a small sofa, a bookcase and a rack for my gardening tools. I’m sitting in it as I write.
My garden isn’t big by any means and my new room stands in the space that used to be taken up by a shed, compost bins and a bit of wasted garden, so I don’t feel as if I’ve lost anything. It’s in the back corner with plenty of planting in front and to one side, and it gives my garden a destination point (the journey to it is a short and rather nice commute). I can sit in it with the sliding doors open or just outside in the shade. I think I look at the garden in a different way and somehow feel more connected with it.
I thought long and hard about the studio and planned it well — and I’m very glad that I did. The most important consideration is how it can work with the garden and enhance rather than dominate it. I’ve seen many buildings that simply feel plonked down; they often look out of proportion or their style is out of keeping with the rest of the plot.
So here are some things to consider.
Where to put it
It’s common to put a studio across the back of the garden. This can work if you have the depth to plant in front of it to screen and, in effect, create a false back to the space. In a small garden, however, it can visually shorten the garden and have a negative impact on the flow and movement to what is already there. Think about putting it at 90 degrees, to one side or perhaps two thirds of the way down, which will create another usable area beyond.
Generous planting areas alongside some elevations will help to soften the structure and help it to sit in the garden comfortably, especially when you’re looking at it from the house. It’s great to look from the inside out through wispy plants such as tall perennials and grasses, so don’t be scared to plant close up or even grow some well-behaved climbers (trachelospermum, roses, most clematis) up and over it. The scale of the planting is also key, so perhaps some small trees or large shrubs taller than the building will help it to sit into the landscape nicely. Make sure there are some evergreens so that it doesn’t become too bare and visible over winter.
Neighbours and privacy
You must discuss any garden considerations such as boundaries, overhanging trees, shade and a garden building near a boundary with any neighbours that it may affect. The main concerns close to a boundary or in a small garden are usually the building’s height and finish, but there’s also its use. Understandably people are concerned about their own privacy and quiet — something to consider if you want to use it as a space for teenagers.
What the law says
Outbuildings are considered to be permitted development that does not need planning permission, subject to the following:
● They are single-storey with a maximum eaves height of 2.5m and a maximum overall height of 4m with a dual pitched roof or 3m for any other roof.
● Maximum height of 2.5m in the case of a building sited within 2m of a garden’s boundary.
● No verandas, balconies or raised platforms.
● No more than half the area of land around the “original house” to be covered by additions or other buildings.
● In national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and World Heritage sites, the area to be covered by buildings, pools enclosures, etc, more than 20m from the house must be limited to 10 sq m.
● Any outbuilding within the gardens surrounding listed buildings needs planning permission.