Go to the work up the garden path

If you can’t stretch to an extension, a garden studio makes a versatile extra room.

When PR consultant Niamh O’Carroll, who works from home, found her office and domestic life becoming more blurred by the day, she decided to do something about it. O’Carroll had been working in one of her downstairs rooms up to that point but as her three children entered their teens, her Glasnevin house felt a little overcrowded.

“I had pretty much worked in every room in the house at that stage,” she says. “My kids are 16, 14 and 12 and they have different groups of friends, and it just wasn’t working for us any more. We were looking at possibly doing an extension, but I was also very conscious that I was getting into the habit of going back into the office in the evening.”

So O’Carroll came up with the perfect solution for her requirements: a garden room.

Built by Irish company Garden Rooms in January 2015, the 270 sq ft structure was intended first and foremost as O’Carroll’s office. However, kitted out with a drop-down screen and plenty of seating room for family and friends, it now doubles as a home cinema and a venue for watching rugby on the weekends. “Also, last year when my son was doing the Junior Cert we were able to turn off the wi-fi and send him out here,” says O’Carroll. “For us, it’s been multifunctional — it’s been great.”

After doing a bit of research, she and her husband came across the design for the garden room. “We just thought, ‘Wow, this is gorgeous.’” The fact that no planning permission was required and there would be no disruption to the house and the family added to the appeal. “Lots of people have to move out when they have an extension built,” she says.

“Also, we wanted something to be separate from the house anyway. This ticked a whole lot of different boxes.

“During the week, I leave the kitchen and walk to the end of the garden and I know I’m at work, and that’s useful.”

A garden room provides a cheaper, practical and cost-effective alternative to extending, avoiding the disruption of building work. Increasingly architect- designed and usually positioned to make the best use of the garden’s orientation, these rooms often end up being the most attractive spaces in the home, as well as being functional.

While they cannot generally be used as bedrooms because of planning regulations, these spaces have a wide range of other uses, from home gyms and bars, to music and gaming rooms. They are particularly suitable for home offices as they are separate from the house.

“It creates a separation between home life and work life,” says Frank O’Sullivan, of architects’ practice Shomera. “So many people who work from home have a tendency to slip back into the room where they have their office set up and just get engrossed in their work. “If you have a family, the kids don’t know if Mum or Dad is home working or if they’re at home.”

Another popular use is as a break-out room for teenagers. “It gives them a sense of their own space but, from the parents’ point of view, it’s safer as they’re still on the home property,” O’Sullivan says.

The stage people are at in the family life cycle tends to dictate how these buildings will be used, says John Sherry, of Garden Rooms. “In the past two years, we’re getting a lot of interest from people hitting retirement age, particularly people who have worked in offices and still need a space for themselves,” he says.

The people who get the most benefit, Sherry says, are those who use their garden rooms as a home office during the week and a multifunctional space at weekends, just as O’Carroll does.

Building a garden room generally works out much cheaper than extending. While Shomera builds bespoke rooms for €25,000-€40,000, it also offers its fixed-design Me Pad range, starting from €12,995 (including VAT). The cheapest option has an external area of 97 sq ft, while the most expensive in the range costs about €18,000 and has a 140 sq ft footprint.

There are two styles and four sizes to choose from. “What you buy is a studio that’s ready to go — a garden room that’s fully fitted out and includes flooring, electrics, lighting and sockets,” says O’Sullivan.

Shomera is also offering the Alfresco option as an add-on to the Me Pad range. Costing €4,500, this space is 7ft 10in wide, has a roof and rear wall, decking and an option for a chiminea fire with flue outlet.

Meanwhile, the cheapest Garden Rooms option — the Cube 11 — is about 118 sq ft (again, external dimensions) and costs from €14,400. The largest of the rooms, the 270 sq ft Cube 25, is priced at €28,800 without extras. The standard price buys a completely constructed, insulated and plastered room with cedar external cladding, walnut laminated flooring, lighting, heating, sockets, and doubled-glazed windows and doors. The extras, including partition walls, lavatory and wash-hand basin, air-conditioning and an acoustic package, can bring the price up to about €35,000 for the largest room.

According to Sherry, the process involves a site survey and review of the client’s needs. “Each customer positions the windows and doors to suit the orientation of the garden and the rotation of the sun, so they’re getting solar gain within the building. It’s specific to the client’s needs and the shape of the garden.

“If we tick all the boxes and it makes sense, the lead-in time is around seven or eight weeks and then two weeks on-site. Some 60% of the projects we do we have access issues, so it makes sense for us to build on-site.” Sherry describes the build process as “clean and painless”.

“We’re away from the house and we’re not knocking off the central heating system or electricity.”

Indeed, off-the-shelf solutions can be a less messy affair than full-on concrete extensions: extra space without knocking down any walls. They also qualify for the Home Renovation Incentive, meaning that the 13.5% VAT can be claimed back over two years on work costing between €5,000 and €34,050.