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Spreading the gospel of the garden shed

On the eve of National Shed Week, Emma Townshend meets a man who wants to give us all some hut love

Alex Johnson loves sheds. Not just your common-or-garden, poisonous-chemical-harbouring, rainy day at the allotment sheds, though. He likes Virginia Woolf's shed, a delicate affair with a fold-down desk for writing. He likes Le Corbusier's shed, a cabin painted with abstract murals perched on a hilltop overlooking Monaco. Just don't mention the Reverend Jamie Allen, the vicar who said recently that men need a shed as an escape from marriage. For Johnson, a garden shed is not a sanctuary; it's a genuine place of work.

His passionate advocacy of the "garden office" led him to set up a website devoted to the subject, called Shedworking. And today he's in his shed putting the finishing touches to a book that will be the complete guide to relocating your business to the end of the garden, answering questions such as how to offset your shed against tax, and "Will my children take it seriously and not disturb me when I'm working?" (The answer: "Yes, but they may kick their football against the outside.")

Johnson is spearheading a growing trend. In the past, homeowners needing more room had a choice of a loft conversion or moving house. These days a garden building is often the best way to add more space to your home: adding up to five per cent to its value, according to estate agents.

The average garden office costs from £6,000 to £10,000, and there are plenty of options, from elegant Swedish creations that could sit beside a lake to perfect English summerhouses that conceal expensive multimedia systems.

But the Gospel of Shed has spread further than any of us might have imagined. Johnson is linking up with the internet's most famous sheddie, Uncle Wilco at Readersheds.co.uk, for National Shed Week, which runs from 7 to 13 July (see Uncle Wilco's site for more details).

Competition is in progress for the coveted title of Shed of the Year: owners from Salford to San Diego have uploaded details of their sheds in categories from bike shed to beach hut. (There were so many Doctor Who Tardis sheds that these now have their own group.) There are sheds which are pubs, and sheds which are games rooms, but all represent the desire of their owner to have their own space, organised in a totally personal way.

As Johnson says: "It's having some privacy, allowing you to think away from distractions. People don't usually share their shed. It's a space of their own. And my journey to work is through the garden." Which, for me, is the best argument of all.


Sheds heaven: Relocate to the garden

Garden2Office imports sustainable Swedish timber components, combining triple-glazing with sleek Scandinavian looks. www.garden2office.co.uk

Artisan Shepherd's Huts hand-makes huts in Lindfield, the prettiest village in Sussex. The huts are pretty gorgeous too, costing from £10,720. www.artisan-shepherdshuts.co.uk

Sanctuary's "gardenbuildings" aren't cheap – £15,000 for a 7ftx10ft shed– but they're not exactly your average shed either. www.sanctuarygardenoffices.co.uk

Scotts of Thrapston makes Britain's poshest sheds, under licence to the National Trust. Have your very own replica of George Bernard Shaw's revolving hut. www.scottsofthrapston.co.uk/nationaltrust