Without a doubt, the best money I ever spent was €6,000 all-in on a garden office building.
At the time of its installation 10 years ago, I was working for a multinational company and I used it for evening work and finishing off a book I was writing. But within a year, my job was kaput and I found myself self-employed. I spent two years full-time working from the little building. And I came to love it. From March, since lockdown, I have been based there again. Over 10 years, it has paid me back in spades.
It's a rectangular 16-and-a-half-foot by 10-foot form installed longways along the side boundary of my standard suburban 30-foot garden. A contractor was paid €200 to put in the foundation which was poured into a rectangular wooden plank frame.
The Steeltech people, from whom I bought it, were next to arrive. Like a procession of leafcutter ants, they hauled in outsized metal sheets in a long line and assembled the entire in an hour.
The building is split into two by an internal wall, the bigger being the office and the rest is a garden storage shed. The office room is 10x10 with two windows and a double-lock uPVC door. The outer shell is of non-perishable plastic-covered corrugated metal in green attached to a metal tubular frame and it came with 30mm foil-lined Kingspan insulation.
I paid a friend of a friend to wire it and a well-loved uncle installed a sterling board internal wall and ceiling panels which I stained mahogany and varnished to give a walnut-panel effect. The ceiling I wallpapered in pages from Dickens, Stoker and Carroll books and varnished. The curtains are recycled and home-dyed green. A quality dark green carpet from a remnant shop cost €100 and was apparently a left over from a big job on the five-star Four Seasons Hotel.
Two walls are lined with black Billy book cases from Ikea, I brought in an antique oak desk and a 'mastermind' office chair salvaged from a skip. Added to this was a wingback armchair from a house clearance auction for €30, a stove-style blow heater which my brother was throwing out and a plug-in stand alone oil radiator bought for €100. There's two architect lamps, a Tiffany-style stained glass desk lamp, an old three-in-one stereo, an old TV and a cabinet-mounted tropical fish tank for additional interest.
If you're sharing the décor and furnishing, it all becomes a dual choice. But if it's yours only, it is your realm to do with what you want. I've been told mine looks decidedly like an Edwardian study.
I'm running through my installation list to give an idea of the sort of fittings you need for a functioning home-office garden building at a time when many are investing, either because of Covid-caused job loss, or in anticipation of the benefits of home-working going forward.
Last week, I mentioned the garden building installation company Shomera had seen its business go up by 400pc since Covid lockdown. Other firms have experienced such high demand that they can't fulfil new order until October. Key suppliers include Kelly Barna, Lidan Designs, Gardenrooms,ie and Steeltech.
There are some vital considerations to be made before you invest in a in a garden office, which can cost from €1,000 for a converted garden shed, to €12,000 for a decent permanent building, right up to €60,000 for a luxury version:
What to buy: At an entry level, there's nothing to stop you acquiring a normal scrap timber garden shed, insulating and wiring it yourself for under €1,000. But investing in a permanent structure will keep the insects and mice out, you warm and your office equipment dry, and it should last a lifetime. Bugs get in through the tiniest holes and cold brings damp, which perishes documents and equipment.
Style: Choose between timber, galvanised metal, cement board or composite. Most bigger suppliers have 'show villages' to peruse. The smallest you should consider is 8ft x 10ft for minimal physical accommodation and healthy breathing space. Like mine, you could get a dual function office/shed, which saves space in the garden for both.
Situation: Most suburban gardens allow room for a home-office building without taking from its enjoyment. It doesn't need planning permission. If you get a building that needs painting/varnishing, plonk it against a garden wall and you can't reach. The solution is rot-proof panels on any side facing a boundary wall or fence.
Foundations: If you're looking at something permanent, you'll need concrete. Measure carefully if you're doing it yourself, use a spirit level to ensure the pour frame is even and rake concrete smooth before it dries, unless you want an undulating floor like mine.
Wiring: An electrician can do it for a few hundred euro. A central ceiling light and eight plug sockets split between two walls is ideal for computers, lamps, printers and chargers. Plug-in broadband boosters cost €25 to €55.
Doors/Windows/Insulation: Heating flows right out of non-insulated spaces. Standard Kingspan 30mm for walls and roof usually comes with a supplier-bought office building. An 80mm or 50mm thickness is better. Sheeps wool works if you can get it. Double-glaze or higher for windows is best. Double-lock mechanism doors give some security.
Heating: Plug-in mobile oil radiators with timers are better than 'blow' heaters which dry out the air quickly. Time-regulated oil radiators retain heating capacity even after they are turned off.
Flooring: Carpet insulates but needs to withstand constant friction from office chair rollers, as do some timbers/laminates which can score easily.
Furnishing: A proper office chair for posture and comfort and a soft chair for long phone calls and guests. A desk facing a window, shelves, drawers, desk lamps and a heater. Then you're home and dry for home working.