Forget functional home office, think frivolous summerhouse. The ultimate luxury for the back garden is a timeless retreat in which you have no laptop but possibly a writing pad; no mobile phone but maybe a stash of favourite books and a cosy armchair.
Transform your back garden to Le Petit Trianon with a romantic, open-sided gazebo, surrounding it with roses — the perfect trysting place. Give your town patch a taste of the seaside with the Southwold Beach Hut in regulation marine blue and white stripes, or add a frivolous touch with a Perigord folly that boasts a sumptuous bell roof of beaten lead.
You could follow the sun by spinning your summerhouse on its axis, as George Bernard Shaw was inclined to do, or host tea parties as Virginia Woolf did, in a glorified hut with drop-down day bed, writing table and bookshelves, just like Woolf’s original garden room at Monk’s House.
If your taste in plants runs to the exotic, consider a plantation house with thatched roof that will be right at home among the banana plants. And even if you only have space for an 8ft by 6ft garden shed, make it a spectacular hand-crafted Victorian tool store with glazed double doors, oriental-style lead roof and brass ironmongery.
The cream of the crop
Garden Affairs: the company’s extensive website has six high-quality ranges of summerhouses and gazebos, including unusual designs from a Dutch company. Prices from £2,000 (01225 774566; www.gardenaffairs.co.uk.
Amdega: established in 1874, hand-crafted timber and glass garden rooms made to a high standard. Prices from £1,999 (0800 328 0323; www.amdega-summerhouses.co.uk).
Forest Garden: reasonably priced, pressure-treated timber summerhouses and gazebos, including the Southwold Beach Hut, which you can paint. Price from £1,449 (0844 248 9801; www.forestgarden.co.uk).
The Cutting Edge: Regency-style summerhouses and gazebos with roofs of lead or cedar shingle, from £2,305 (01252 835735; www.cutting-edge.gb.com).
English Heritage Buildings: oak-framed bespoke garden buildings built using traditional construction methods (01424 838643; www.ehbp.com).
Scotts: quality summerhouses, pavilions and gazebos, as well as two National Trust summerhouses. Prices start at £2,500 with many optional extras (01832 732366; www.scottsofthrapston.co.uk).
Breeze House: circular, plantation-style open buildings with roofs of thatch or cedar shingles. Priced from £4,551 (01538 398488; www.breezehouse.co.uk).
What you need to know
* If your house is listed, in a conservation area or in an AOB — area of outstanding beauty — you will need planning permission, unless the proposed building is less than 10 cubic metres.
Otherwise, you are permitted to put up a building in your garden without planning permission if it is less than four metres high, is less than 50 per cent of the area of the garden and is at least five metres from the house.
* If your summerhouse is softwood and unpainted, the wood will need protection. A coat of clear preservative will help prevent insect infestation and fungal decay. Two coats of paint will help protect against UV and water damage.
Use a water-based, microporous paint that will allow the wood to “move”, such as Dulux Weathershield Aquatec. An oil- or solvent-based paint might seem more hard-wearing but has no flexibility and will soon peel and crack.
A microporous paint should last six to eight years before needing another coat.
* A solid, stable, flat and level foundation is essential and can be concrete, decking or patio paving.
* DIY installation is not for the faint-hearted, even though doors and windows are pre-hung. If in doubt, pay the extra and call in the experts.