Guide to Designing a Garden Room

Whether you want a quiet home office away from any distractions, a pool house or a fully fledged annexe, a garden room might be the answer, says Jane Crittenden
by Jane Crittenden
5th February 2016

Garden rooms are an affordable and effective way to create extra space if you don’t have a spare room, or if extending or moving isn’t an option. You can utilise an external structure to create a home office, studio, workshop, games room, gym, teenage den, swimming pool cover or even provide extra accommodation.

Current trends

The push towards maximising every space is making homeowners view their gardens in a different light. “Previously, people would see their outdoor zones as areas that could only be enjoyed if the sun was shining. Now there’s a trend for creating complete living spaces without the hassle of getting obtrusive building work done to the main house,” says George Bannister from Blackdown Shepherd Huts.

Craig Riley, from Green Studios, has seen growth in this area, too, where people want to create year-round accommodation rather than something for occasional use. “The garden room works well for those with elderly parents who want to give them independence but also be on hand to help and support them,” he says. “It can also be used by children coming back from university who can’t afford to make the first step onto the property ladder.”

Garden room by IQ Glass
Constructed with thermally efficient glass, this bright and airy garden room, created by IQ Glass, blurs the distinction between inside and out

Manufacturer Pod Space says that garden rooms are growing – it’s been asked to design much larger buildings this year (upwards of 60m²). Meanwhile oak frame expert The Oak Designs Company notes that a covered terrace with an open kitchen-dining area is becoming a popular option, allowing outdoor entertaining to continue into the cooler months.

Structural options

Garden rooms can be simple wooden summerhouses or sophisticated mini eco-homes – complete with insulated walls, energy-efficient windows, plumbing, electrics, underfloor heating and energy generation through an air source heat pump. They come in all styles and sizes and can be built in masonry, timber, structural insulated panels (SIPs), oak, steel frame and glass.

A prefabricated modular timber system allows most of the building work to be done off site, as with the rooms made by Pod Space. Its structures are clad in Siberian larch or Western Red cedar, which respond well to our changing climate. The buildings are highly insulated, with double-glazed windows from Scandinavia.

There’s the option to have a green roof, too, so that your structure can really blend in with the rest of the garden. The smallest Micro Pod is 2.5m x 2m (costing around £13,188) but as they’re custom made to order they can be supplied in any size. The pods can also be joined together with a steel and glass link.

Designed by Arboreta, this green oak building is clad in weatherboard for a durable garden getaway. Full-height glazing ensures the space makes the most of the plot's natural light
Inside, a kitchen, living area and bathroom sit beneath an impressive vaulted ceiling. The structure also has the flexibility of becoming a self-contained annexe in the future

A SIPs build offers high levels of thermal insulation and air tightness, with companies like Green Studios aiming to build the thinnest possible walls to maximise the internal space available. The walls come plaster-skimmed and painted as standard, with LED lighting and patio doors that are A-rated for energy efficiency.

Rooms are generally finished in sustainable cedar but the firm also offers a rendered finish, brick slips, Scottish larch cladding and cedar shingles. The Studio model is 3.6m x 2.4m and costs around £15,995. The company recently built a two-bedroom live-work space in its 12m x 6m Lodge design for just under £100,000.

The garden rooms undertaken by architectural glazing firm IQ Glass are bespoke; glass panels can be made up to 6m x 3m to create a large garden room (£1,000 per m2 for slim-framed sliding glass doors).

Highly thermally efficient double glazing, with a low-E coating (which reflects radiant heat back inside) and solar control layers that can be applied to the face, mean that there’s no need for your room to feel like a greenhouse in summer.

Design

In terms of design, you can either use the bespoke services of the in-house architectural specialist or choose an off-the-shelf product. In both cases you should consider size, the orientation of the glass, access, number of window openings, heat and – most importantly – how you’re going to use it.

For example, you may be best off with a bespoke design if you need a reinforced floor for a workshop or tall ceilings if you’re creating a gym. Also think about how you’re going to use the room in the future. Do you need a TV or internet connection? Will you add a bathroom later on? Opinder Liddar from Lapd Architects says that “to make the most of the room you should ensure that you can use it all year round.”

Off-the-shelf designs can be equally flexible. Garden rooms come in a whole range of specifications (including plumbing and electrics), styles, finishes and sizes, starting as small as 2.5m x 2m and reaching as large as 11m wide.

In most cases garden rooms come under permitted development and therefore no planning permission is required. However you will need to do your own checks. Make sure the height, location and size of the garden room is allowed in relation to the size of your home and plot. For more advice, see www.planningportal.gov.uk.

Planning & Building Regs

Planning will apply if the garden room is in the grounds of a listed building, national park or conservation area. Typically, shepherd’s huts don’t need planning because their wheels classify them as non-permanent structures.

Garden rooms of up to 30m² are usually exempt from Building Regulations (although many companies still build to these standards) – unless it is to be used as a dwelling or sleeping accommodation.

Construction

Garden rooms are often custom made to order, so allow at least 10-12 weeks from manufacture to installation. Once the foundations have been laid, the structure can be supplied in a number of ways depending on how much you want to spend and how involved you want to get with the building side.

Fully fabricated structures arrive ready to crane into place; prefabricated modules are assembled in your garden; or the whole room may be built from scratch on site. Firms are often flexible, offering a fully installed package so you don’t have to do anything; delivery of the framework only; or a complete self-build kit, making it possible for you to have a go at building something yourself.

It’s also worth noting that if you move house, some garden rooms can be dismantled, so they can come with you.

Photo (top): This shepherd’s hut from Blackdown Shepherd Huts has been designed as living space, with a fully fitted kitchen and bathroom

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