What's in your shed?

With grand designs and elaborate themes, the humble garden shed has been given a spectacular makeover. Mark Hughes-Morgan reports
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The Independent Online

The garden shed is growing up. Once a place for men to fiddle about in while hiding from their wives and children, it is evolving into something altogether more impressive: both a place to work, to entertain - and also to indulge in those fanciful dreams planted by television shows such as Grand Designs, but on a scale that we can afford.

The garden shed is growing up. Once a place for men to fiddle about in while hiding from their wives and children, it is evolving into something altogether more impressive: both a place to work, to entertain - and also to indulge in those fanciful dreams planted by television shows such as Grand Designs, but on a scale that we can afford.

Developers are catching the trend: St Georges Homes provided each of its London townhouses at Imperial Wharf in Fulham (cost, £2.5m each) with a "studio space" at the end of their small gardens. They went on sale last October - you would be lucky to get one now.

Roderick James, the architect behind the company, Carpenter Oak, the pioneer of the revival in the timber-frame building, has also been responsible for a resurgence in the importance of its diminutive cousin. His design of a garden retreat for the broadcaster David Dimbleby at his house in Devon is a striking oak structure raised on stilts, to allow for the incoming tide, and giving him a south-facing mini-house, when the main one faced north. "It was meant to be a place where he could go to read, to think, basically to sit and dream a bit," says James.

For James, one of the joys of being let loose on a cabin is the fun you can have: "It doesn't have to be square, or even any recognisable shape; and you can build all sorts of things into the design," he says. One of his most impressive creations was a 25ft-high writing tower that he exhibited at the Country Living show in Islington - with a circular "widow's walk" around the top; it was bought on impulse by a show-goer and has since gone up to Scotland. "But such things are not cheap," says James. "They are proper buildings, with proper foundations, insulation and all that. You are looking at 20, 30, even £50,000."

For those who don't feel ready for such an outlay, James's son Dan, has just launched a company Cabin Fever (with business partner Duncan White), that is hoping to fill the gap between the basic DIY-store shed and the more elaborate architect-designed creations. They are currently completing an artist's studio in Dartmouth, a 12ft by 12ft space, with oak frame and cedar shingle roof, with details such as stained glass windows rescued from a salvage yard.

"It was a challenge making it work in a space between two terraced houses - it's ended up a kind of parallelogram - as well as getting over a slightly sloped location." In fact, the leading edge cantilevers out over the space to create a deck 12ft x 5ft with the void being used for storage.

"Unfortunately, once we put doors on the storage area, the combined height means that it requires planning permission," says Dan ( see box). And the cost of the project? Around £7,000, says James.

Of course, ready-made designs needn't be boring. The Keenmac garden pub concept is an Irish answer to the outside room: a 12ft x 10ft space, pre-plumbed and pre-wired complete with pub signage (including "Seafood" and "Carvery") and optional extras for pub theming. They start at £8,955. But taste police apart, they might not quite promote the image of industry and self-discipline that you are looking for.

And if you are looking for a serious workplace, ordinary garden buildings, however "summerhoused", are not ideal. More to the purpose is Homestead, a company that produces a range of timber buildings, fully insulated and double-glazed (without which, on a structure like this, condensation can be shocking as soon as any heating is introduced into the building).

The style inclines towards the overblown, perhaps, with the likes of the Brighton, with overtones of a station from a toy train set, and the pseudo-ranch-like Ascot, but the more understated, and from £4,437 the neat Marlow seems to fit the bill rather well.

Roderick James is still keen to encourage a bit of DIY. "One of the joys of a shed is that you can take a basic model from a garden centre and use it as a frame for your own design."

But for most of us, the idea is to work in the shed, not on it.

Roderick James Architects, 01803 722474

Cabin Fever, 07855 483899

Carpenter Oak 01803 732900; www.carpenteroak.com

Keenmac pubs, 028 4063 1530; www.keenmacpubs.com

Homestead Timber Buildings, 01491 839379; www.homesteadtimberbuildings.co.uk

THE STRESS-FREE SHED

To avoid the need for planning permission:

* The structure may only cover up to half of your garden area.

* It should be no more than four metres to the roof ridge or three metres for a flat roof.

* If you are in a conservation area, the rules may be stricter.

* When in doubt, consult planners.

* Building regulations - and considerable extra expense - need to be considered if you intend to sleep in your "cabin".

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