What will you find down at the bottom of the garden?
The “don’t move, improve” mantra has already seen people extend up, down, and sideways. But when conventional options are exhausted, the inevitable next step is to build in the garden, elevating the humble shed or outbuilding into a functional guest suite, home office, or den. And it’s no wonder many homeowners are looking down the garden path: the average cost of moving house is almost £12,000, according to Lloyds Bank, while Savills has found that upsizing from a three to a four-bedroom house requires an extra £164,000.
These garden rooms don’t come cheap, and can cost tens – in some case hundreds – of thousands of pounds to create. But experts believe that if done right they can also add significant value to a property.
Bruce King, director of Cheffins estate agents, which covers a swathe of eastern England, finds most garden rooms are built as workspaces for freelancers and flexi-workers. “As more employees negotiate flexible working contracts, we are seeing less pressure being placed on commuting times or accessibility to London, and increased focus on broadband speeds and home offices,” he says. “For many, they like the home office to be separate to the house, so they can effectively ‘go to work’.”
Abigail Ashton, partner at Ashton Porter Architects, is something of an expert on garden offices. Her firm has been based in a studio at the end of her garden in Enfield, north London, for 10 years. “It is fabulous,” she says. “It is super convenient, but work is still separate from home. You can close the door and walk away.”
Rupert Lawson Johnston, head of Strutt & Parker in Salisbury, says a garden room can inject “real personality” into a property. “For some, they’re a valuable workspace, for others, a retreat from the stresses of modern life, or an opportunity to indulge in a hobby or passion that may not be welcomed in the family home,” he says.
“Rising house prices and a shortage of housing have also led to an increase in multi-generational living. Having an additional room in the garden that can be used as a den for teenagers or a peaceful retreat for grandparents can give everyone a bit more breathing space. A garden room may be a home gym by day, a family cinema room or den for the kids in the evening, and a spare bedroom for when guests come to stay.”
Garden rooms do, of course, eat up garden space. But there are ways around this. In Thruxton, a village near Andover, Hampshire, Strutt & Parker is selling a three-bedroom house with a clever outdoor studio with doors that open out to create a shady porch area on sunny days. The Long House is on the market with a guide price of £550,000.
A plus point about garden rooms is that often they can be built without planning permission. As long as they are single-storey, sit behind the house, and do not have a veranda or balcony, they are considered “permitted developments”.
There are, however, height restrictions, and owners of listed homes will automatically need planning consent. The complexity of the regulations means it is crucial to consult the local council before embarking on a build. Failure to do so could result in enforcement action and the prospect of having to pull the structure down.
Garden builders also have to be clear about what they want their room for. “It could be a recording studio, or a yoga studio, or a home office. What it cannot be is a separate dwelling to the house,” says Ashton. “It can be used as a guest room, but you can’t use it, for example, as a full-time granny flat.”
The price of a garden room varies wildly but, unless you are fantastically handy on the DIY front, don’t expect a lot of change out of £10,000 if you want a proper room rather than a glorified shed.
Firms such as Crown Pavilions sell off-the-peg options, which tend to be the most cost-effective and the quickest to install. The timber-clad Sandringham garden room starts from £9,610 for an 8ft 2in by 8ft 2in simple, modern room. Prices include installa- tion, but not groundworks or connecting the room to the mains electricity supply.
Apropos Conservatories has several customisable designs in its Atelier Garden Studios range, including the contemporary flat-roofed, glass-fronted Panorama, which measures a spacious 25ft by 14ft 10in. It starts from £23,745, which includes installation but not groundworks, or electrics and plumbing (if required).
If you prefer the one-off approach, then Ashton estimates that a quality bespoke garden room will cost around £200 per sq ft, plus any professional fees and VAT, although some cost far more and also push the boundaries of design.
Perhaps the most fabulous example of the genre has been built behind a Georgian townhouse in Clerkenwell, London. The property is owned by Anna Liu and Mike Tonkin, partners at Tonkin Liu architects. Their multiaward-winning studio, completed last year, encircles the garden, creating space for their office, plus a small circular terrace. Its curving green roof rears up to meet the house, while floor-to- ceiling glass creates a surprisingly open feel, despite the loss of outdoor space. This project also included a new basement level, adding a total of 538 sq ft of living space to the property. This extensive build did not come cheap, at £265,000. Another custombuilt garden room, by Mustard Architects, was clad in cedar and blends in with the trees and shrubs. It was a slightly more affordable £60,000.
Of course, there is a pay-off to garden rooms – the possibility of adding value to the property when it is time to sell. King believes an off-the-peg option adds around five per cent, but “the smart, bespoke examples could add around 10 per cent,” he adds.
Roarie Scarisbrick, of buying agent Property Vision, is more circumspect. “It totally depends on the size of the garden,” he says. “I would rather have a decent amount of space than a micro garden and a ping-pong room at the back of it.” Quality also counts. “When they are badly insulated and covered in spiders, your heart sinks,” adds Scarisbrick. “If they are pristine, and plumbed and heated, and they actually have a use they can be very cool, that will certainly add value.” Of course for many people a garden room is not a marketing tool but an attempt to avoid the need to move up the property ladder in search of extra space. “While moving costs are going through the roof, anything that helps you stay in a house that little bit longer is worth doing,” says Scarisbrick.
This garden room in north London by Mustard Architects is clad in cedar and cost £60,000 to build, main and below