The great outdoor space
Unleash your wild side when you fit out and furnish your garden room
Sometimes our homes can't give us everything we need and no amount of clever design can fix it. Imagine that you live in an east-west terrace. You get the morning light on the front of the house and the evening light in the back yard, but it never feels like quite enough. And you can't exactly knock a new window into the southern wall of the house. That's where the neighbours live.
That's the situation in which Niamh O'Carroll found herself. She's the owner of O'Carroll Consulting, a PR agency, and lives in an east-west terrace on the north side of Dublin. The lack of full-on sunlight bothered her but she liked the house and reconciled herself to putting up with its shortcomings. A south-facing window was not a reasonable aspiration, so she put the problem on the back burner as she faced some other challenges with the house.
"I had been working from home for 10 years when I suddenly realised that it wasn't suiting me," says O'Carroll. Having tried to find a work space in every room in the house, she ended up in what would have been the dining room.
"I found it very difficult to achieve a sense of separation between work and home," she says. "The children were in and out and it's almost impossible to conduct a conference call when small people are screaming for your attention."
She looked at the possibilities. Building an extension was too expensive and renting an office negated the reasons that she was working from home in the first place. So she decided to get an outdoor room.
The logical solution would have been to align the extra room with the back wall of the garden, following the east-west orientation of the house, but O'Carroll's husband also felt the lack of a south-facing window and spotted an opportunity. "Let's solve the problem!" he said. "Let's get a south-facing space." They haven't regretted it. Their extra room is raised a little - you step up to enter it - and has one south-facing wall that is entirely made of glass. The windowed section extends around the corner of the room.
"Orientation is hugely important," says John Sherry of Garden Rooms. "You only have one chance to get it right. Sometimes people don't leave enough space at the back of the room - that can be a really useful hidden storage area for bikes - and sometimes they place it too far down the garden." The extra room doesn't need to be at the end of the garden - ideally it will be close enough that you can interact with the house - and it doesn't need to be placed flat against the back wall.
There is one solution to the challenge of finding the best aspect for an outdoor room. It's called the Rotating Sphere Lounger from Ornate Garden - a spherical pod in wood and glass, constructed in segments like a Terry's Chocolate Orange. It comes with built-in seating for seven people with a central table. This can be lowered so that the seating becomes a bed. And it rotates so that you can follow the sun. The pod requires a space of 250 cm diameter to rotate freely and a hard standing base of at least 137 cm diameter. It's available in Ireland from Podology where it costs €10,800.
A cheaper alternative, although it doesn't rotate, is the Garden Igloo, a weatherproof geodesic dome, which costs €899 from Garden Igloo (plus delivery). Both the Rotating Sphere and the Garden Igloo are luxury garden retreats and, while you could bring a laptop, they're no substitute for a solid outdoor room. Those from Garden Rooms cost between €20,000 and €45,000, with most customers spending around €33,000.
"We got the biggest one that we could without planning permission," says O'Carroll who realised that her outdoor room, although primarily an office, would also need to perform other functions and that these would change as her children became older. For this reason, it was important to her that all her work stuff could be shut away and one of the side walls of the space has been allocated to built-in storage. It's plain, white, and came from Ikea. "My husband built it for me as a present," she says. "I went away for a weekend and, when I came back, there it was!"
Rather than have a television taking up space, she has a wall mounted projector from Reon technologies and a screen that pulls down over the south-facing glass wall. "I always shut down my office on a Friday," she says. "I'm quite disciplined about that. Everything gets put away and the room becomes a cinema club for all the kids on the street." And with her teenage children and their friends safely installed in the garden room, the house is freed up for adult occupancy.
"It's the parents that tend to get edged out of the house," Sherry comments. "They want the children to have their friends around so they let them take over the living room and the parents end up sitting on the edge of their beds." A garden room can relieve this pressure, but only if the broadband works. As Dermot Bannon says, broadband is the lifeblood of garden rooms. It's essential for running an office and, without it, the teenagers will migrate back to the house.
In order to make her outdoor room a place where people were comfortable to be, O'Carroll installed a washbasin and a loo. She also put in a sensible grey sofa - it's a Zinc four-seater from DFS and cost €1,149 - decorated with a heap of cheery cushions. The rug is from Ikea. Most outdoor rooms come with wooden flooring and, while the dark walnut options look attractive, they are more inclined to show the dirt than greyish oak, which is exactly the colour of dried mud. For this reason, carpets are rarely a wise choice for outdoor rooms, although some people reduce the wear and tear on their flooring by installing artificial grass. They swear that it's not as bad as it sounds.
While some people like to decorate their outdoor room in the same style as their main house, others find that it gives them the opportunity to do something different. "Our house was built in 1928 and it has the look and feel of that era," O'Carroll explains. "The garden room has given us an opportunity to decorate in a way that's much more modern."
See gardenigloo.com, podology.ie, gardenrooms.ie, dfs.ie, ikea.ie, ocarrollconsulting.com.