The humble garden shed occupies a unique place in the British psyche. ‘I used to work in a shed in my garden,’ says author Philip Pullman, ‘but then we moved house and I had to decide whether I wanted to take the shed or leave it behind.’
Typifying the romantic vision of the shed as a uniquely valuable space, filled with the spirit of its owner, Pullman decided to donate his to an illustrator friend, on condition that he pass it on to another writer when he’d finished with it. ‘He’s replaced the windows and some of the roof,’ says Pullman. ‘I like the idea that it’ll be passed on, until there isn’t an atom of the original shed left.’
Although the traditionally tumble-down bolthole for hobbyists and gardeners has been facing some serious competition of late – from log cabins and bespoke garden offices at the top end to tiny storage boxes at the other – it’s holding its own. The British public spent a staggering £141m on flatpack sheds in 2004 alone, according to an independent survey conducted on behalf of Walton, a leading UK supplier of shiplap sheds (sheds with the characteristic overlapping boards).
Take a train journey through any part of Britain and you’ll see ample evidence of the national obsession. Almost every garden, whether it’s attached to a tiny back-to-back terrace or a giant country manor, will have a version. And with an average life expectancy of between five and15 years, it’s not hard to see why there’s such a large market for flatpacks. The internet is heaving with enough prefabs to account for the annual timber production of a small Scandinavian country.
But buying off-the-shelf is not the only avenue open to those in search of a new shed. If you want something different, think about constructing your shed from scratch: it’s one of the easiest, quickest and most satisfying of domestic building projects, and guarantees a unique result.
‘Once I’d started, my shed took about two or three weeks to complete,’ says Phil Hall, whose self-designed turf-roofed cedar shed was his first self-build. ‘It wasn’t too hard.’
A shed does not require planning permission, provided it satisfies certain criteria. And building with wood is a fast and relatively straightforward process for anyone with a rudimentary understanding of carpentry, says Andy Ramsay, who built his New England shed in two weeks. ‘I guessed roughly how much timber I needed and got started, and when I ran out of wood near the end, I went out and ordered more.’ For self- builders, there are plenty of plans or how-to books with step-by-step instructions (see below). For those with a bigger budget, and less time, buying a high-spec luxury shed will give you the ‘wow factor’ of a unique self-build without the sweat. And for those looking for the ultimate spend, there’s always a bespoke version, designed and constructed to order by a specialist garden building supplier.
THE PLANNING REGULATIONS
The rules governing planning regulations vary from council to council, but here are some general guidelines. You are unlikely to need planning permission if the shed:
- covers less than half the garden
- is no more than 3m high with a flat roof, or 4m high with a pitched roof
- has a volume of less than 10m3
- is more than 5m from the house
- is not near a carriageway
PREPARING THE SITE: Foundations
The type of foundations you put down will be governed by the ground and the weight of your shed. ‘I’ve never understood those poured concrete slabs,' says Phil Hall, who used paving stones for the base of his shed. ‘My shed’s on thick clay – it’s not going anywhere.’ Unless your proposed shed is exceptionally heavy, try one of the safer, more environmentally friendly options, such as wooden skids, concrete paving slabs or Metposts. And if you’re really fixed on concrete, try concrete piers, which impact less on the surrounding ecology than a solid slab.