How to Create a Home Office in Your Garden

An outbuilding can provide the perfect space to work from home. Sofia Delgado discusses how you can design a home office and whether planning permission is needed for such a project
Sofia Delgado
by Sofia Delgado
9th September 2020

Setting up a home office in a separate structure from your house could be the ideal route to avoiding a long or busy commute.

But will you need planning permission to set up this kind of zone? The key factors to consider are who is going to be using the office, how often and what type of business you’ll be carrying out.

Your answers should give you a rough idea if your outbuilding falls within the boundaries of permitted development (PD) or if you’ll need to submit a formal planning application to your local authority.

Do I need planning permission for a home office?

Many people working from home do so alone, in which case planning permission for an office isn’t usually needed.

But, if you are employing staff who will come in on a daily basis or are holding several meetings, it could be classed as business use and, moreover, might be disruptive to your neighbours – in which case you will need to get the planners involved before you start any construction.

If you want to create a garden room suitable for office use under PD rights, it will need to fall under certain rules. It’ll have to be single storey with a maximum eaves height of 2.5m, and an overall height of 4m with a dual pitched roof (3m for other types). Structures erected within 2m of a boundary can be no taller than 2.5m.

Garden office by The Stable Company
This stunning garden room in Stratford-upon-Avon is the work of The Stable Company. It’s perfect for use as a home office thanks to its vast glazed doors and strategically placed windows
Garden office interior by The Stable Company
Inside, the office space is separated into zones for an ordered and productive work environment. It comes pre-wired and can be fitted with underfloor heating for the winter months

Outbuildings must not cover more than 50% of the original house’s outdoor space to count as PD. However, rules vary between councils and they are tighter in designated areas. You will always need specific consent if you own a listed building.

In terms of usage, regulations state it would have to be classed as incidental for your structure to be PD. This means no primary accommodation; however, the reality is that councils have different ideas on the meaning of incidental, so you’ll have to do a bit of digging on that front.

Firms specialising in garden rooms and outbuildings should be able to assist you. “We have been designing and making bespoke oak frame buildings for over 30 years, listening to our customers’ ideas and dreams,” says Kat Hamilton from Oakmasters.

Cork House

The team at Surman Weston designed this cork-clad garden building. The interior is lined with birch plywood and a large rooflight fills the room with daylight, while an oak pocket door creates the entrance

“With this experience we also offer a full planning service, which includes the submission and monitoring of the application, as well as making amendments in line with requirements.”

How to create the best office layout

Once you’ve figured out where you stand with planning, you’ll need to think of a design that’s not only visually appealing but also practical for day-to-day work.

According to Lily Bernheimer, founding director of Space Works consulting, an easy assessment of your working space is to follow the BALANCED checklist. This handy acronym stands for biophilia, atmosphere, layout, amenities, noise, cohesion, energy and design.

Biophilia relates to affinity with the natural environment, while atmosphere means thinking about elements such as the view from your desk and the quality of air, light and temperature.

A sun-filled working space will positively affect performance and the same is true if your windows face a picturesque, calming scene. For this reason, many home workers now opt for contemporary-looking structures that benefit from expansive glazing.

“Our standard garden room range offers PVCu brown or grey woodgrain effect doors and windows, as well as French double doors,” says Gareth Barber from The Stable Company.

“If a customer wants additional natural light, this can be arranged, too. Adding a top-hung tilting window to one of the gable walls has proved popular with our clients.”

Traditional outbuilding

If you’re keen on something that feels like a more classic garden structure, an orangery could do the trick, although be aware of overheating and sunlight on computer screens. This design is by Vale Garden Houses.

Think about the health-supporting characteristics of the materials you use, too. For instance, building with timber that has been treated with eco-friendly, non-toxic finishes can drastically improve the quality of your space.

“All of our oak is sourced from mills in France and Germany and comes from managed forests,” says Katie Archer, Oakwrights Country Buildings project manager. “We can provide FSC/PFC certification if the client requests it.”

Creating a Balanced Environment

Here’s what Lily Bernheimer says to consider at the design stages to ensure you get a space that’s conducive to productive working all year round:

Biophilia: natural elements, materials and views
Atmosphere: light, air quality and temperature
Layout: space utilisation and allocation
Amenities: ergonomics and area to rest
Noise: avoiding high sound levels
Cohesion: communication and control
Energy: reducing use of resources and waste
Design: colour, shape, details and style

Air quality and temperature also play a big part in feeling comfortable in any room. If you are planning on working in your home office through the winter months then you’ll need to make sure the structure is well insulated and that efficient heating and ventilation options are in place.

This might mean hooking up your structure to the house’s main system or fitting a dedicated alternative, such as a small air source heat pump.

Considering the layout and amenities is key to creating a successful working environment. Outbuildings tend to be relatively small and keeping a decluttered space will help you get on with your day smoothly.

Designating an area to relax can also be extremely favourable to your productivity – think of having a sofa or a comfortable armchair and enough space for you to be able to stand up straight.

You’ll want to avoid issues such as screen glare, too, so it’s usually best to position your work station against a window. If you’re worried about security, invest in good-quality locks (PAS 24 is the standard to look for) and sturdy construction, and look to shield expensive equipment from prying eyes for peace of mind.

Noise reduction should also play a significant role in your final design. You’ll undoubtedly want a quiet space to concentrate, so sound insulation is important. Alternatively, if you are the one making most of the noise, you’ll want to make sure acoustics are efficient and that the space is shielded to avoid disturbing your neighbours.

Oakwrights home office over garage

The Glouster is Oakwrights Country Buildings’ best seller. This configuration combines a garage with a work space above, for a space-saving office solution

Cohesion relates to communication and control of your environment. In home offices, the chance to have a quick conversation with colleagues can be missing, so it’s important that you schedule regular breaks to socialise.

Reducing energy consumption and waste can be a bit more constricted in terms of what you can achieve in small offices, but nevertheless taking this into account will translate into a healthier working environment and lower running costs. Efficient insulation is the best starting point.

Choosing a design

Besides the practicalities, a big aspect of your project will be the look of your outbuilding. The good news is there’s a broad range of options to choose from to suit your needs and budget.

There are many self-assembly kits and prefab structures you could pick, and you can either follow a manufacturer’s design or opt for a bespoke construction. “We have launched our first range of ready-to-build garages and outbuildings,” says Kat. “It is ideal for those seeking inspiration and a quick idea of cost.”

Black timber clad house

Essentially a concrete box with a blackened timber lid, this design by Eckford Chong was inspired by the cherry tree that it’s positioned beneath. Stained larch cladding creates a subtle external appearance, while a large rooflight fills the space with natural light

For a modern look, consider a flat covering, such as a green roof, and extensive glazing to boost views of leafy surroundings, with a timber clad exterior. The heritage style of dual pitched roof and oak frame has always proved popular, particularly outside the city, with many choosing to build a structure that works both as a garage and home office, either to the side or on a second storey.

There are various buildings routes available, too, depending on how much you’d like to be involved in the design and construction of your scheme. “Some people like to closely manage their project,” says Kat.

“The supply-only packages are ideal in those cases, as they allow homeowners greater flexibility to work with building contractors of their choice, perhaps someone local.”

However, if you are looking for peace of mind that your structure will stand the test of time, most companies offer a full supply and assembly service with a lengthy warranty.

“We take pride in making our customers happy and relieving them of any stress related to their project,” says Gareth. “That’s why we offer a complete care service that starts with listening to the client’s ideas and then handling the entire process: design, acquiring planning permission and construction, through to interior fit-out.”

Main image:  The Light Shed by Richard John Andrews – Photographs by Chris Snook

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