Don't move, improve: How to bring the outdoors in

When builders are at the bottom of your garden, the impact on your life is much less noticeable
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The Independent Online

I don't know if it's just a boy thing, but I love the idea of having outbuildings. For me, it would be a workshop filled with wonderful carpentry tools – lathes, drills and bench-saws; lengths of cedar, walnut and oak; and every fixing imaginable. I have friends who go all gooey over the idea of somewhere oily for classic sports cars. But the truth is, outbuildings are beginning to be used by a much wider range of people than merely over-excited hobbyists.

People are always looking for ways to create new or better spaces at home, whether by building an extension or rearranging the space they already have. If the loft is already converted, the cellar full up and the kitchen extended – where else might that potential be found? Very often, the answer lies at the bottom of the garden.

One of the first points that may sell you on the idea is that of planning permission. For most properties, as long as the building is no more than four metres high, covers less than 50 per cent of the site and is more than 5m away from the house, the outbuilding would fall within permitted development (which means you get planning permission automatically). I would always suggest that you confirm this by submitting plans to your local planning department – however, you will not be asking for a subjective view via a planning application, just a confirmation through something called an Application for a Certificate of Lawfulness.

Convenience is another major advantage with outbuildings. Build an extension, and it can often feel like the builders have invaded. But when they're all at the bottom of the garden, the impact on your life will be much less noticeable. What's more, the works can often be completed much faster because the project is self-contained and the builders don't have to work around you.

Companies such as Rooms Outdoor Ltd (www. have seen a huge increase in the number of people looking to build an outbuilding, be it for home-office space, a home gym, summer-house or guest suite with bedrooms, bathrooms and even living rooms and kitchens. These are clearly not the sort of draughty, leaky sheds that many people would associate with the idea of an outbuilding; rather, they are fully finished, insulated, plastered and decorated with full electrics and plumbing.

Even though a planning application may not be needed, it is important to realise that the work will still need to comply with the building regulations. These days, this often means extensive insulation and double (if not triple) glazing to meet energy-efficiency standards.

Of course, you may be lucky enough to have an out-building already, which could be ripe for conversion. As long as you intend to use the building as a part of your home, this is usually fine, but if there is a change of use, or you are thinking of converting it to create a separate dwelling, then you may well hit problems with planning permission.

If the existing structure is unsuitable for conversion and it is a question of demolition and replacement, be careful. Make sure that the demolition and reconstruction is proposed as one project. If you demolish first and then ask questions about what you will be allowed to put back, the council may tell you it's too late.

A good friend of mine is lucky enough to have a large, rambling garden below his house in a Cambridgeshire village. At the lower end, there is the most gorgeous old workshop, all timber-framed with corrugated-iron walls and roof, ivy creeping in at the eaves and moss in the joints of the brick floor.

The art of this project will be to retain the charm while putting the building to good use – but with such a range of uses to choose from, he is sitting on it for now. How jealous am I?

Hugo Tugman runs the design service Architect Your Home –

Project: Outbuildings

How much will it cost?

Fully finished outbuildings are a world away from garden sheds, and can cost from £15,000 to over £20,000, depending upon the size and complexity of what is involved. If you are looking to convert an existing outbuilding, the cost will be hugely dependent on the condition of the existing structure.

How much hassle is it?

The great thing about out-buildings is that they are, by definition, detached from the house, usually by some distance. If you have direct access to your garden for the builders, the impact that the process will have on your lifestyle could be minimal. Think about facilities for the builders while they complete the works – lavatories and places to store materials are important considerations, which, if overlooked, can be the cause of disruption.

What's the first step?

Think through exactly what the purpose of this building will be and how it is to be used. If it is to be a guest suite, for example, what is the access like? Make sure you also fully understand the situation in terms of planning regulations. Once you have the purpose clear, have a look at some of the many companies who manufacture and erect standard outbuildings. Alternatively, if you want something unusual or tailored to specific requirements, consult an architect.