Down at the bottom of the garden: Modern follies and chic treehouses are more popular than ever

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Improving weather and a housing downturn have one thing in common. They both oblige people to make the most of their home – and that includes the garden. With fewer people moving house in this era of austerity, more are attempting to maximise the play, relaxation and entertainment potential of their existing homes by building treehouses, grottoes and full-blown follies in their outside space.

Mary and Christophe Lamper have just commissioned a folly to be built this spring in the garden of their three-bedroom house near Honiton in Devon.

"It's an 18th century blacksmith's home and the rear garden is overlooked. We thought a folly – it's likely to be a small castle if planners agree – will look towards the garden and give more private space and complement the eccentric nature of the home" says Christophe.

The Lampers' folly will be far smaller than the example built last summer for the Dorset millionaire William Gronow-Davis, who now enjoys a 65-foot tall tower shaped a little like a tall Japanese garden pagoda, on part of his 750-acre estate. "It's unusual and looks beautiful from my house. It's wonderful and finishes the garden off" he says.

Ringo Starr, the ex-Beatle, has one too. Called The Stumpery, this one really does fulfil the definition of a folly as a building with no specific purpose. It is a 'grotto' measuring 25 feet wide, 10 feet tall and another 10 feet deep, made from old driftwood and originally shown at the 2006 Chelsea Flower Show. It now sits in Ringo's Los Angeles estate.

There are 1,800 historic follies or grottoes dating from the 17th to the 20th centuries, according to the Folly Fellowship, a preservation group. And in recent years there's been a marked rise in the popularity of compact modern follies, according to the organisation's Mary Bright.

Most follies tend to be found in some of our most expensive homes; on the market now is Pitland Street House in Surrey with a Victorian folly but a £3.75m price tag, while the Old House at Coombe Bissett in Wiltshire has a two-storey folly just for you...if you have £2.285m that is.

But 21st century follies are usually significantly more affordable, growing in number and customised to suit today's more functional lifestyles.

Jayne Tarasun, a Cornish furniture maker and fine artist, is one of Britain's new generation of folly makers. Most of her follies are tailored to modern planning regulations and made from chestnut, cedar, oak, copper and glass.

Most of her creations have mezzanine levels where owners can sit and survey neighbouring gardens but her designs carefully allow panels and windows to be moved to ensure the folly-dweller and the folks next door to both maintain their privacy. Some come with cladding and insulation to make them usable during winter months, while external colours vary from white to purple.

"My follies seem to appeal to women more than men, who still prefer their garden sheds. But the idea is to have an area where people can escape - somewhere they can regard as completely private space whether it's space to think in, or read in, or sleep in", says Jayne, who has studied art and the history of follies at Cheltenham and Barcelona.

Most buildings emerging from Jayne's Folly-Smith business are 10 feet tall and are designed as contemporary towers, usually with under 10 cubic metres of internal space to satisfy planning rules. A standard folly costs less than £10,000 although highly customised examples have cost twice that. Jayne has plans for a lower price flatpack folly in the future and in recent months has worked on several smaller building plans.

If your garden building is aimed at children rather than the adults, then a smaller sum – usually £5,000 to £8,000 – will get you a stylish tree house from manufacturers like High Life Tree Houses, Blue Forest and Castles Carey.

These days such constructions are more than just a few planks around the old oak tree. Depending on the size of the garden and the generosity of parents, some tree houses include walking decks, rope bridges, climbing ropes, slides, swings, monkey bars and even zip wires for children (and probably adults) to whizz down to garden level.

Unsurprisingly, as treehouses and modern garden follies have proliferated, so they have come into conflict with the planners.

In October 2008 planning rules were relaxed to make it easier for owners to extend homes for additional living space. But the changes also 'tidied up' hitherto-ambiguous planning rules on outbuildings and sheds. Follies and grottoes are often built in larger gardens so provoke few controversies but planners say tree houses can be more controversial, and insist the new rules are not merely red tape.

Their worries are over size and surroundings and, to be fair, some owners clearly use the term 'tree house' to cover large structures overlooking neighbours and sorely out of place in, say, a conservation area. As a result, neighbourly disputes caused by tree houses built pre-2008 can be bloody affairs.

"Anyone in the treehouse next door can see into our garden, making entertaining and sunbathing difficult. The teenagers who use it can be very noisy and stay until late evening during the summer, which causes problems too. And that's ignoring the fact that it's an eyesore in an area that's otherwise very pretty" says one Winchester home-owner who has had a dispute with his neighbour for over two years.

Voluntary and professional mediation services – which offer to arbitrate between warring neighbours – report an increase in disputes over privacy and problems caused by garden noise and structures overlooking neighbouring properties. Even so, the mediators say these rows are dwarfed by the number of disputes over uncertain boundaries between houses and fast-growing leylandii trees.

Disputes apart, our more straitened times may provide an unexpected boost for the idea of creating something akin to an extra room in even a small outdoor space. Fewer people are moving and more are improving, including in the garden.

Now all we need is that mythical beast, a barbecue summer.

Useful contacts

Jayne Tarasun (Folly-smith.com); High Life Tree Houses (Highlifetreehouses.co.uk; 0208 347 4018); Blue Forest Tree Houses (Blueforest.com; 08455 190 599); Castles Cary (Gardenhomeoffices-treehouses.co.uk) Folly Fellowship (Follies.org.uk);

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game