There are big changes afoot for my little business as we’ve bought a new house (still in the Scottish Borders) and will be moving shortly. When I’ve been telling people that we are going to be moving, the question I’ve been asked the most is whether I’m going to be taking my garden studio with me. The answer, unfortunately, is no. The new house is big enough to host my studio space indoors, and wrenching the studio from the garden would be tricky and would leave a big ugly concrete eyesore. I’ve been approached a number of times over the past few years by people planning similar garden studio/office/workshop spaces looking for advice, so I thought I’d take the opportunity before we move to write a little piece about my lovely little hut.
1. It takes longer than you’d hope so plan ahead
On Valentine’s Day in 2014 I moved into a very small cottage. It has 1.5 bedrooms, a living room and a galley kitchen – definitely not enough space for an office. There is, however, a lovely enclosed garden with a pretty stone wall. There was lots of work I wanted to do to the cottage, but I knew that the number one priority was to create a work-space for my fledgling business. I had plans for my dream workshop in the garden. I hoped to make these into a reality within three months of moving. One full year later, that goal finally was realised. By that point I was desperate to separate out my work-life and my home-life. I was working from the living room, there was paper everywhere, and the dog kept stealing my pencils. I was embarrassed to have people round, there was nowhere to sit, and I couldn’t get on with re-decorating the cottage because my work stuff was in the way. I moved into the new studio space at the beginning of February 2015. It was the best feeling ever. It might be the world’s shortest commute, but it made all the difference. Being able to close the door and leave work behind is really important when you are self-employed.
2. Set a clear budget
I looked into lots of different possibilities for my work-space. These ranged from using an old shipping container (it would have needed brought in via crane over my house – yikes – and I was worried it might be a bit sweaty) to having something designed and custom built for me (too expensive). I think I would have arrived at the eventual conclusion quicker if I had been clearer about my budget from the beginning. You need to know what you are prepared to spend in order to work out which compromises are worth making. I ended up having to apply for planning permission twice because one of the avenues I went down ended up being too expensive. (NB: in most cases, you won’t need planning permission for a garden studio. I needed it because I live in a conservation area).
In the end, we plumped for a timber log cabin kit from shedstore.co.uk. I bought it in a great hurry because it was in a sale, but it turns out these things are always in a sale. I think it was about £2,500. We spent another £500 or so on materials for foundations. And my then boyfriend (now husband) managed to persuade his friends to provide the labour and expertise (thanks Barry and Greg!). The only professional that I paid was the electrician who ran the electrics out from the house.
3. Prioritise warmth
I live in Scotland, the land of eternal winter. It’s dark and cold for many many months. Because the cottage was too little to accommodate my business, it was essential that the new studio be warm enough to work in year-round. Therefore three things were essential: 1. insulation 2. a good quality timber and 3. an efficient radiator. Getting any of these things wrong would have been a disaster. Ross built high-quality insulation into the foundations. My mum researched radiators for hours. And for the studio itself, we plumped for a cabin made from 34mm kiln dried Nordic spruce with double glazed windows and doors. Moving into the studio space in February immediately put our decision making to the test and phew! It was warm! (Full disclosure: there are a few days every winter when I just can’t face it and I retreat to the house. Cold feet = poor quality drawing).
Getting the planning permission, taking down the old summerhouse and digging out the plot (with an adorable mini digger – see photo!) and getting the foundations right were the slow bit. I was definitely oblivious to the complications of getting foundations to be perfectly flat and solid. The actual building went up in a single November weekend. The log cabin arrived on the back of a truck and was dumped in the lane outside our house. Ross and his friend Greg constructed it while I watched in amazement from the kitchen window as it rose up from the ground at extraordinary pace! After that, it was a matter of filling in any little gaps with an insulating foam and treating the bare timber with a weather protector stain.
4. You can get these magic devices that run your broadband out via your electricity circuit
I’ve no idea how they work, but I have this little device that I plug in to a wall socket in the house. I then plug my router into that. I plug another of these devices into the wall socket in the studio, and then a cable into the back of my computer and dah dah! Internet! Apparently it works so long as your studio is on the same electric circuit as your router. My wi-fi signal wasn’t strong enough to reach the bottom of the garden, getting a second phone line is expensive, and my business relies heavily on the internets, so this has been an absolute life saver.
5. Pick an adorable name
My little studio got named The Birdhouse – probably because I love drawing birds – and Ross carved me a lovely wooden sign. I’m going to move my sign to the new studio space. The Birdhouse is a big part of the history of my business. It allowed it to take on it’s own character and develop. It is a testament to the success of The Birdhouse as a home for my business that it is now too small for purpose. I’ve got to the point where I desperately need more storage space – for product, mostly, and for packaging supplies and surface space for packing orders. I’m excitedly planning the layout of my new super-practical new space. Writing this blog post has been a lovely opportunity to look back at the photographs of the development of The Birdhouse. They have reminded me how exciting it was, of all the plans I had, and of the huge difference it made to my business. I am a little bit worried about taking my business back into the home environment, but I think I have learned the discipline now to keep it in it’s place.
I’ve got my big studio move scheduled in for two weeks time! There’s some painting and flat-pack furniture building to do before then, though, so I’d better get to it… I’m going to miss my little Birdhouse, though!