Happiness is a shed of one’s own

imageFrancine Raymond explores the joys of a haven at the bottom of the garden

Home improvement? Life improvement is perhaps a more fitting description for garden sheds. From Wendy house to tree house, from tool shed to allotment hideaway, it seems that throughout our lives we all need a space of our own at the bottom of the garden.

Anyone would think it was the panacea for all human ills. Literature with titles such as A Shed of One’s Own: Midlife Without the Crisis, Shed Men, and Shedworking: the Alternative Workplace Revolution leaves you in little doubt. Professor Alan White, who founded the Centre for Men’s Health at Leeds Metropolitan University, even believes that owning a shed could prolong your life. Age UK has, in fact, set up a project in Eltham, south-east London, encouraging men of a certain age to spend time together in sheds: what wife wouldn’t appreciate the distance of a garden between her and her spouse just occasionally?

Writers from Roald Dahl to Charles Dickens have flourished in theirs and I’m sure that Virginia Woolf’s exaltation for all women writers to own a room of their own would have extended to a shed.

My son Jacques, a carpenter, naturally built his own. Sturdily constructed of chunky timber, it’s a workshop where he’s the boss, where unfinished projects don’t admonish him at every glance, and where things don’t have to match a particular décor. My younger son, Max, had never built anything before he decided to put up a workshop in my garden to house the car he’s building. With help from a mate, the whole clapboard building took just a week, using doors and windows reclaimed from my house, a corrugated bitumen Onduline roof and ridge and a pair of garage doors. My friend Ailsa Penny, an artist, has built a gorgeous, painted, weatherboard barn as a studio, snug with a wood-burner and all mod cons.

Anyone can build a domestic ancillary structure “for a purpose incidental to the enjoyment of a dwelling house” without planning permission, provided the following criteria are fulfilled: that the structure is not forward of the front elevation of your house; that it, plus any other garden buildings, occupy less than half your garden; that your house is not listed; that the building is less than 30 square metres; that it is single-storey with an eaves height of less than 2.5m; and that it is not closer than 2m from a boundary. For information on planning permission, visit planning portal.gov.uk or contact your local planning department. For building regulations (necessary if electrical, gas or plumbing or heating work is intended) see communities.gov.uk. Websites such as homebuilding.co.uk and aarco.co.uk are good at elucidating the bureauspeak.


Site your summerhouse or shed carefully as part of your garden design, maybe as the focal point of a vista, with paths to make access easier, and clothe it with ramblers.

An integral veranda adds sheltered space for occupants and tender plants and helps to meld the building into its surroundings. Consider orientation, light and views, and remember to insulate if winter occupation is intended.

Small quantities of roofing materials can be sourced from reclamation yards.

Roofs can be covered with slate or pantiles if the beams are strong, and cedar-tiled or even thatched if not. If you have a gentle pitch, why not build a living green roof covered with sedums?

Salvaged windows and doors in a style similar to those on your house are sturdier than traditional shed fittings. We have built pool rooms and conservatories using brick pillars and French windows that make the buildings look an integral part of the house instead of something from outer space.

Paint your building to fit into your general garden colour scheme with water-based eco-paint, and if possible use materials to echo those used on your house.

Work surfaces and plenty of storage space are essential. My still unreconstructed shed, due for a makeover soon, is full of useful shelves to house pots and rows of Shaker pegs to hang garden tools.

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