'How we got our life back by building an office in the garden'
- Credit: Rachel Ducker
As the third national lockdown comes to a gradual end, more people than ever before are using their kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms as pop-up offices. Some are still savouring the comfort and convenience that it brings, but for others the novelty has worn off, so it isn’t surprising that homeowners are eyeing up their back gardens as potential new working space.
When the first official lockdown was announced, things changed overnight for my husband, Sam. His Norwich workplace closed its doors and the entire company operated from home. Initially, this was great. Sam was spending more time with our son, Leo, there was no two-hour daily commute, he reduced his petrol costs, and he had more free time at the end of the day.
But as the months progressed, the honeymoon came to an end. The routine of waking, working, eating and sleeping became so repetitive it led to what I can only describe as Groundhog Day. As a self-employed person, I already knew what it was like to work from home and juggle life as a mum and businesswoman combined. We have a dedicated office where I have everything I need.
But when Sam started working from home it was difficult sharing the space, not to mention trying to make sure baby Leo’s cartoons didn’t interrupt Sam’s conference calls. We soon realised the situation had to change and after careful consideration, we came up with a plan. We would build our own garden office.
Sam and I are no strangers to building work – we took on a full renovation of our house in 2019. But a surge in home improvements meant hiring a contractor was expensive and they were hard to find this time round. So, Sam strapped on his tool-belt and stepped up for the home-office challenge.
Planning and build
First Sam cleared and prepared a section of unused land at the end of our garden. Then he built a sturdy timber foundation and constructed each of the four wall frames. With these in place, the roof and the skeleton of the building took shape. It then needed to be insulated, boarded-out, glazed, cladded, plastered, electrics added and, finally, painted. From start to finish, it took just over six months.
Local builders’ merchants CC Betts & Son, of Beccles, supported us. A family run business of 150 years, they were extremely helpful, offering good counsel throughout. The rest was a combination of plucky determination and YouTube tutorials.
Sam decided to clad the outside in Siberian larch, a highly abundant wood species and a sustainable choice. Inside, we used carpet underlay made from recycled plastics – each role of Spring Bond uses 180 recycled PET plastic bottles – and we chose Farrow & Ball paint for their colour range and their eco-friendly paint formulas.
The focal point of the room is a huge picture window, the perfect place to admire our incredible Suffolk skies. Another important feature is ‘the library’. Using the left-over larch cladding, Sam built a bookcase the height and width of the wall surrounding the picture window.
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In Beccles we’re spoilt for independent shops and Keith Skeel Interiors is a treasure trove – an antique workbench with heavy cast iron legs now sits centre stage. Being at the end of the garden meant it was desirable to be self-sufficient, so a kitchen area with storage and a coffee machine was a must, plus a wine fridge for winding down at the end of a busy week.
As well as having a built-in outdoor security light, we used Arlo Essential security cameras and a wire-free video doorbell at the front of our house, so we can see who’s at the front door without leaving the desk.
Our home feels more like a home again. We’ve managed to restore our work-life balance and Sam can switch off from work when he wants to. He leaves his garden office at 5pm and trundles down the garden path, past the vegetable plot and home. I’m so proud of him for completing this project – all the late nights, weekends and rainy days spent building it have paid off. He’s a genuine DIY hero.