The perfect home office design for Londoners: our 10-second commute to the garden

Liz and Joe Fraher created the life they wanted with a semi-subterranean, super-insulated, energy-efficient garden office at the back of their two-bedroom flat.
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The average Londoner spends an hour and 14 minutes commuting each weekday. For Lizzie and Joe Fraher, the journey is more like 10 seconds.
The couple, who live in Honor Oak Park, south-east London, got so fed up with trying to run their architectural practice from Farringdon in the City — mainly because of the time and money the daily commute consumed — they decided to bring the office to their back garden.
Creatively using materials such as red parachute cord and stainless steel mesh, which is more commonly used to train climbing plants, 32-year-old Lizzie and Joe, 33, co-directors of Fraher Architects, created a faceted double-storey office in an extension.
Now, by running the practice from home, they can spend more time with their two daughters, Claudia, two, and Orla, nearly one.


The new office, which they have called The Green Studio, is a flexible space, so it could just as easily work as an extra bedroom.
By keeping a careful eye on the budget, the couple managed to complete the five-month project for a relatively modest £80,000. The studio’s running costs are minimal, due to the super-insulation that comes from being semi-subterranean.
The couple moved to Honor Oak Park almost four years ago. They bought a “damp, cold and leaky” garden flat for £205,000. Their first job was to renovate and extend the property to give them a two-bedroom home.
The company was becoming a busy practice and they were working longer hours, but when they had children they decided the balance was all wrong.
Lizzie says: “I wanted to be able to sustain both a family and my career.” The studio design they came up with had an irregular diamond shape with six differently angled walls.
“I like designs with character. And we like light,” she adds. “We had a sunlight survey done and then carved the shape of the studio to maximise the amount of sun in the garden.”
They decided to dig down in order to sink the studio about four feet into the ground. Although this inevitably added to the cost of the project, it has two practical purposes — keeping it cool in summer and warm in winter.
It also means that they were able to eke out more floor space — the studio is about 16ft tall and has a 75sq ft mezzanine gallery level above the 250sq ft main office.
Camouflage: a view of the studio’s roof, which blends into the street

The structure has a steel and timber frame, which was clad first in insulation and then in a waterproof skin.
A series of skylights enable light to flood in, while a solar array on the roof provides hot water. With insulation taken care of, the only power the studio needs is electricity for computers and for lights in the evenings.
Climbing plants — mainly vines and clematis — planted last winter are already winding their way up the walls, providing a type of camouflage. 
“Eventually the climbers will wrap themselves around the studio completely so that it blends into the garden and disappears,” says Lizzie.
Polished concrete floors, white walls and built-in beech desks and cupboards adorn the inside. A shower room has been squeezed in, as has a mini kitchen in a cupboard beneath the stairs.

Surprisingly, Lewisham council’s planning department loved this unusual scheme.
And Joe loves getting up in the morning to do a couple of hours’ work, then popping home for breakfast with the girls. Lizzie says: “I can’t imagine having to commute to work again.”
Budget breakdown
Ground works: £12,000
Steel and timber frame: £14,000
Insulation: £3,000
Waterproofing: £4,000
Metal cladding: £500
Concrete floors: £1,500
Joinery (stairs, desks, cupboards, shelving): £8,000
Solar array: £3,600
Skylights and glazing: £14,000
Decoration (including all plumbing and lighting): £4,500
Labour: £14,800
TOTAL: £79,900

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