Home office ideas: garden 'rooms' offer extra space in form of pre-fab cabins, converted garages and shepherd's huts

London families are finding sharing the small spaces in which we live particularly difficult as those who can return to working from home.

From Monday, December 13, government guidance for people in England changed to “work from home, if you can” as part of the Plan B response to the risks of the Omicron variant.

Many of us are used to remote working — some of us just recently starting commuting in again and we’re missing the space and facilities of a commercial office.

So it hardly comes as a surprise that garden home office suppliers reported a surge of interest as we are forced to create more “house” in our gardens, installing office space, teenage hangouts, home gyms and even extra bedrooms.

John Keenan of specialist firm Rooms Outdoor says that in the past, most families who came to him lived in a good catchment area for schools so were looking for an extra room rather than moving out. But now people are desperate for extra space for other reasons, too.

In 2020, he witnessed an enormous growth in inquiries. About 30 per cent of residential commissions are for home offices, 40 per cent for leisure rooms, with the rest mostly creating additional bedrooms, often with foldaway beds.

Key to this has been the improvement in building materials and thermal and fire performance of these structures.

“They are so much more than a posh shed. What we build follows the same building regulations as any ordinary house,” says Keenan.

Size and access

Rooms Outdoor designed its Cuberno structure specifically with a London terrace house in mind. Built in modular form, it can be brought through the house in parts and assembled on site.

The company’s larger-scale studios tend to be built outside of central London where gardens are bigger — particularly in Wimbledon, Putney and Hampstead.

There are ways to overcome tricky access issues.

Richard Lee, founder of shepherd’s hut specialist Plankbridge, says where necessary the company uses a crane, so the job can be done in a day.

The overall size of the structure is calculated as a percentage of the garden and there needs to be at least half of the garden remaining following any studio build.

Planning for a garden room

Consult your council. “There’s often confusion and misinformation regarding annexe planning permission,” says Nick Stuttard, co-founder of construction company London Projects.

A property that is no more than an extra room with a bathroom may be considered incidental to the main house and therefore could be built under permitted development rights, provided the property is a house.

Rules governing flats are different. A self-contained annexe with a proper kitchen is an extension, not a hut.

How much does a garden room cost?

Prices vary according to size and finish. Amy Felgate is a mother of three and lives in East Sheen. When she first saw her Edwardian house, the key selling point was a tumbledown garage at the back of the garden.

“It had its own entrance from the road behind and I just knew we could turn it into something really useful.”

With children approaching their teenage years, Amy had the building converted into a bespoke annexe with a shower room and a bedroom on a mezzanine level.

The project cost £60,000 and the space has been used extensively by her kids and their guests. And the project cost far less than building a similar-sized extension.

Modular structures cost considerably less: the basic Cuberno studio from Rooms Outdoor is priced at just under £27,000 for the fully finished, turnkey product.

Christopher Hodge of Hounslow-based garden room design studio Shackadelic quotes £1,500 per square metre, plus VAT, for something one-off.

Alice Robinson commissioned Shackadelic to build her larch-clad studio in the garden of her home in Willesden Green. “We have all used the space to escape and the kids do dance there or homework.”

Meanwhile, a shepherd’s hut from Plankbridge, large enough to house a bedroom and bathroom as well as a sitting or workspace, costs £42,750 plus the cost of any special access issues.