JEREMY HARRIS OF CHISWICK WRITES: My accountancy firm is rationalising and I want to take this opportunity to fulfil a life-long ambition - to quit the corporate treadmill and work for myself. One of the obvious benefits of this will be working from home and spending more time with my family, but there is a downside: I have three young children and I want to avoid the distraction and noise that would be inevitable if I worked in the house. I am aware of home offices that can be built in the garden. How much should I expect to spend on one, what are the planning issues, and are they simply garden sheds with a fancy name or are they genuinely good working environments?
GRAHAM NORWOOD REPLIES: I can testify that working from home is a satisfying, social and financially beneficial exercise if you thoroughly prepare for it - that means ensuring you have adequate space and quiet, and the right attitude.
There are several manufacturers of garden offices, most using similar pre-fabricated wooden manufacturing and construction techniques, but you must ensure your choice is insulated and not simply a glorified summer-house. Reliable suppliers include Henley Offices (0870 240 7490, www.henleyoffices.com), Sanctuary Garden Offices (01363 772 061, www.sanctuarygardenoffices.com) and The Garden Escape (0870 242 7024, www.thegardenescape.co.uk).
Another long-standing manufacturer is Homelodge (01962 881480, www.homelodge.co.uk). The firm boasts the DIY queen Linda Barker and the Rocky Horror Show writer Richard O'Brien amongst its customers. Its smallest unit is 3.6 metres square (equivalent to 144 square feet of internal space) and costs £9,170 plus VAT, for which you get the flat-pack modular timber building itself, internal and external decoration, fixtures and fittings. All you supply is a strong flagstone foundation and the electricity. A step up from this is the 3.6m x 7.2m office complete with small loo and kitchen - "ideal if you need a second person working there some of the time" according to Homelodge's managing director, Felix Bolger.
"Garden offices really took off when broadband internet connections became commonly available," says Jonathan Ironside-Smith of Ardis, a manufacturer whose garden offices are characterised by contemporary designs and unusually stylish exterior colours (0845 408 4014, www.ardisgardenoffices.co.uk).
The timbers are sealed and most firms also paint the interiors before erecting the buildings. Be mindful of security - some companies will supply purpose-made venetian blinds to keep valuable PCs and other equipment out of sight, and you would be advised to top up the locks supplied with any office. A few will even supply the model you want without any windows if you are happy to work only in artificial light.
In case you're worried about garden offices looking ugly - don't be. TV gardening guru Diarmid Gavin's main exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show was of a white garden office complete with landscaping, modelled ona real-life example he created in Dublin.
"This is happening everywhere and it's being driven by those working at home," says Gavin.
Option one: Homelodge Classic 3.6.
Price: From £10,774.75.
Description: Gives about 144 square feet of work space. You specify the size and configurations of the windows and door.
To order: 01962 881480; www.homelodge.co.uk.
Option two: Ardis.
Price: From £16,500.
Description: This stylish office from Ardis has a 10-year guarantee on the roof, walls and floor, and a 12-month guarantee on electrical equipment and fixtures and fittings. Prices include foundations and erection, furniture, carpets, wiring and heating.
To order: 0845 408 4014; www.ardisgardenoffices.co.uk.
Option three: Homelodge Classic 7.3.
Price: From £19,000.
Description: This is the Homelodge Classic 7.3, measuring 3.6m x 7.3m and giving you 288 square feet of internal space.
To buy: 01962 881480; www.homelodge.co.uk
A single-storey structure more than five metres from your house that does not rest on solid concrete foundations is classified as a shed or temporary building, and therefore has permitted development rights, so does not require planning permission.
Technically, a ridged roof should be no higher than four metres, and any other type of roof no more than three metres. The structure should also take up 50 per cent or less of your garden, and be a minimum of one metre from the boundary lines.
Even if you already have a conservatory, you may still be allowed a garden office under your permitted development rights, but if you live in a conservation area or in a listed property you should consult your local council's planning department for advice.
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