2015-12-14 21.12.19

It’s not just men who need a cave – women need somewhere to retreat too. Have you heard of “she-sheds”? That’s the new lifestyle trend and I’m definitely fantasizing about it. Or it could be your teenage children who need to be contained at the end of the garden…you know, away from the house but still within boundaries? Whatever the reason, there are a few points to consider before embarking on “project garden room”.

What do you want it for?

If you are going to use it as an office, art studio, playroom, gym, music room, to be used all year round, you’ll need heating, insulation and electricity. I would recommend then to avoid the cheap option and go for a proper garden studio which start at 15K and go up to 40K or more for bespoke, high end buildings.. If it’s a shed to potter around, informal play room, or a summer building you’re after then a customized sturdy shed (starting price £500/£600) will do the trick.

Impact on the garden

The smaller the garden, the nicer the shed needs to be, as you’ll look directly onto it. It won’t feel rural, but a stylish courtyard in between house and shed, with a small tree in the middle, say, can look striking. Thoughtful placing is key to enhancing your space. A long thin garden can look broader with a shed spanning the back, while an L-shaped structure or putting the shed to the side creates depth. A mono-pitch roof with lower eaves at the front also makes the shed look further away. It’s also a good time to rethink the space around the shed, perhaps adding a pergola or deck for evening sun, or some garden lighting. A path, whether straight or serpentine, can create a nice visual connection between shed and house. Also think about orientation, balancing where the shed’s shadows will be cast.

In any case your shed should blend with the landscape and be integrated within the planting and the whole garden, and not look like it landed from space. Consider the materials used for the shed carefully. Cedar cladding is stunning and weathers beautifully. A green roof will also help. If your shed is made with treated softwood which will therefore come in a rather unattractive brown, bright orange or green, paint it black! Black provides a great backdrop for planting and works in both contemporary or more traditional settings. Doors and windows help break up the façade, but too much symmetry can look a bit like a Wendy house. Finally the right planting will be key to frame, screen and soften the façade.

Council and Dulwich Estate planning permission

In broad terms, outbuildings are considered permitted development and do not require a planning permission as long as you meet the conditions and limits. These are very clearly stated on the Southwark Council website.

However if your property belongs to the Dulwich Estate, even if the Council doesn’t require you applying for a planning permission, you must apply for permission to the estate Scheme of management. The application takes a minimum of 6 weeks and you will have to provide a sketch with measurements, levels, an elevation and materials proposed. In my experience as long as you put a reasonable proposal forward and show that you have carefully considered the impact on your neighbours and the planting surrounding the garden room, the permission will be granted. However you should never buy or commission it before the permission has been granted.

Barbara Samitier is a garden designer who lives in Peckham Rye.

This feature first appeared in the January 2016 issue of SE22 magazine.