Britain’s 30 million garden sheds are raising their bottom-of-the-garden status to take centre stage as space extensions. There is now a large and growing shed community out there: they even have their own website (shedworking.co.uk) for swapping shed experiences.
© Helen Fickling
In these tough economic times it is cheaper to buy a shed than move to a bigger house. Sales have surged on the back of staying put. One supplier of cabins and pavilions claims to have made a sale every two minutes during the last four months, equivalent to 90,000 sq m of garden space.
'Sheds can be liberating: they do not have to conform to the design of your existing living space'
Redundancy is forcing people to re-evaluate their lives - some are pursuing a long-held dream to start their own business, others are giving up the daily commute to work more from home. A study of Google Earth images by manufacturer Screwfix reveals this figure of 30 million outbuildings in Britain - the first time the total has been more than the number of homes.
Alex Johnson, author of Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution, says a decent garden home office can be bought for about £5,000. Larger, bespoke structures cost from about £20,000 and can rise to more than £50,000. But bigger is not necessarily better.
Ecospace (020 7703 4004), based in Kennington, has a custom-made "WorkPod" model, clad in natural larch wood and measuring 3.1m by 2.5m, which costs from £10,000. It is double-glazed, has underfloor heating and a service wall with power sockets and phone points.
Timber remains popular in these green times but lighter, glass-and-steel and prefabricated structures are popular in urban gardens or on rooftops. Sheds can be liberating: they do not have to conform to the design of your existing living space. In an urban environment of uniform streets you can break out - create a folly, a sleek, minimalist showpiece or a hi-tech sanctuary.
There are even floating sheds for plots with a lake, pond or river. The garden office designed by Diarmuid Gavin at this year's Chelsea Flower Show was one of the highlights - a futuristic-looking, two-wing glass pavilion with a mystical, spidery wraparound, a roof of red cedar and deck overlooking a pond.
Another plus is the relatively lenient planning rules, of which Boris Johnson famously fell foul: the capital's Mayor was ordered to remove a wooden shed he'd had built on the balcony of his Islington home, following complaints from neighbours.
Sheds are said to be as vital to a man as a handbag is to a woman, but it is mums who lead the homeworking trend and helping to redefine shed life in creative ways, so that today you are just as likely to find an accountant working in their garden as a sculptor.
Kerri Sellens runs Creative Charlie, an arts and crafts project company, from her wooden studio in her east London garden. She produces activity kits for kids and organises workshops in schools and museums, encouraging children to become used to recyclable and renewable products.
"I needed more than the corner of my bedroom but couldn't afford to move to somewhere bigger in the area. Our garden is only about 20ft long but there is still a patch of grass for the children to play on. I enjoy working on projects in the evenings with the baby monitor switched on."
Jayne Tarasun, who runs Folly-Smith, specialises in bespoke modern follies and her prototype model is a shed tower, 10 feet tall and five feet square with a mezzanine level, ladder included. She describes her work as reviving a unique slice of British eccentricity, fusing it with contemporary design and sustainable materials, using cedar shingles, a chestnut frame and copper for the roof.
Creating extra space adds value to your property, and a tasteful retreat falls into this category, according to Hugo Tugman, of design consultancy Architect Your Home.
Sheds need planning permission only if your house is in a conservation area, is a listed building or if you want to build something with a footprint of more than 30 sq m, or which will occupy more than half your garden.
You can't build more than four metres high (three metres if it's a flat roof ) and you can't use it for permanent sleeping accommodation or for permanent use by people not from the main house. The shed must not be closer to the road than the house or less than a metre from from the boundary.
My half-minute daily commute
It takes Luca Colombi 30 seconds to commute to his office in Sunbury-on-Thames - out the back door of his interwar, three-bedroom semi and along the garden path to a handsome, timber studio measuring five metres by four metres.
"I had been working from a room in the house but we had our first son at the end of last year and needed more space," explains Luca, 41, who runs an IT consultancy called Acume.
Renting a high street office was an expensive extra cost for his small business. After exhaustive internet research, he opted for a studio by Ecospace.
© Graham Hussey
The whole package, including installation, cost just under £30,000. It took five days to erect and the company also handled the planning application. The studio occupies about a third of his garden.
"If I move I can dismantle the studio and take it with me, but I have no such plans. It's pleasing to the eye so has an aesthetic quality as well as being functional. I'm told it adds value to the house, too," he says. "I worked there throughout the cold winter. It was very snug."
* Roostuk (07515 830 502) has some fabulous oval and cube-shaped models from about £20,000.
* Arctic Cabins (0115 972 7789) offers everything from garden offices and BBQ huts to thatched gazebos.
* Eco Hab (0161 848 9770). Prices from £9,600 for a single-storey eco pod with wood-burning stove and under-floor heating.
* African Thatch Company (0845 370 0445) sells luxurious bespoke gazebos from £2,295.
* The Garden Room Company (0800 195 1733) offers all types of outbuildings from pavilions to pool houses.
* Seven "retreats", including a house on stilts, are on show at the V&A's Architects Build Small Spaces exhibition running until August 30, 2010.