On-site with garden rooms

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On-site with garden rooms, The Irish Garden, July 2006, Volume 15 No 6
On-site with garden rooms
If you’re running out of living space at home but have extra space in the garden, a purpose-built garden room could be ideal. Yvonne Gordon talked to builders and two buyers of a garden room.

The Irish Garden, July 2006, Volume 15 No 6

Garden rooms can be used as home-offices, children’s dens, study rooms, gyms – or even as an extra sitting room to relax in – and the custom-designed structures on the market are top quality, with heat, insulation, electricity and plumbing. A garden room can also offer many advantages over building an extension or moving house. They are quick to install and have a fixed price. You don’t have the hassle of trying to find a builder, worrying about time and cost over-runs or the disruption of building work itself. You also don’t have to worry about house prices, stamp duty and packing up to move – and a garden room will even add value to your property.

When Paul and Dervilla Casey realised that they were running out of room in their South County Dublin home for their teenage children and their friends to socialise in, they decided to get a Shomera for the garden. Shomera is one of a number of companies that custom-build garden rooms. The Caseys had very specific needs for their Shomera. Even though their suburban house is quite large, Dervilla felt that the way the house was designed – particularly the downstairs rooms – might not be suitable for their two children as they became teenagers. Their sixteen-year-old daughter and twelve-year-old son were reluctant to bring friends home as there ‘weren’t enough seats’.

"We realised we wanted a purpose-built room to let teenagers crowd into. We have a room designed as a children’s den but it’s not suitable, for example for a pool table, and it’s not practical," says Dervilla. The Caseys had a big building job done on their house five years ago so there was no more scope to build on again. Dervilla was also reluctant to go through the hassle of an extension again. "We were out of the house six months," she says. "There’s no way I’d do that again."

It wasn’t till the Shomera brochure arrived through the letterbox that the Caseys considered buying one. "I had thought Shomeras were makeshift, like garden sheds," says Dervilla. "When I saw the brochure I said they were quite nice." When the Caseys looked into Shomeras further they realised it might be the ideal solution for them. "What appealed to us was that you don’t have to get planning permission. We have a big long garden so we had loads of room down the bottom to put it in. We had enough space to accommodate it without eating into the garden," she says.

The Caseys then visited the Shomera showroom in Co Meath and this was when they became really sold on the idea. "They have five or six variations in the showroom, fitted out for different purposes," says Dervilla. "It gives you a great idea what you could use it for. Some are set up as offices. We saw one decked out as a playroom and we liked the look of it. We could see the finished product in use and it was very useful." Another factor that appealed to the Caseys was that the Shomera was fixed price, "not like an extension, which can go up in cost", says Dervilla. "We had no planning hassle, neighbour problems or cost over-runs. You could see exactly what was included in the price. It was very manageable."

The Caseys decided to put the Shomera in an area behind trees at the foot of the garden. It has a secluded feel and is not visible from the house. Once they had decided on a particular size of Shomera (5.4m x 6m), they asked for a further 60cm in length for storage for golf clubs and other overflow from the house. "It was great to get purpose-built storage for things you fall over indoors," says Dervilla.

We visited the Caseys three days after the installation had started, and Dervilla was amazed at how quick and easy the process had been. "So far, the whole process has been painless," she says. "They were very efficient on the day. They phone when they say they will and paperwork arrives when you expect it. The paperwork is not laborious – we could clearly see where it would be positioned, where the doors and windows would be and the size and price. We ticked the boxes, signed it and faxed it back. Between thinking it’s good idea and having fully a functioning room, it’s a matter of weeks."

"Shomera said they would be here on Monday and they arrived on Monday at 10am. Paul and I were flabbergasted at how quickly the thing went up," says Dervilla. "Two lads arrived the first day and put in foundations. There was a whole slew of them here yesterday – by end of day it looked like a structure, almost complete. By yesterday all that was left was the floor to go in and plastering to be done and that’s about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it would all be done by this evening."

All that’s left after Shomera installation is to paint the walls and put in cupboards. The Caseys plan to put a pool table in their Shomera and get seating that runs around the walls, to maximise space. " So far it’s been a very positive experience. It’s all really quick," she says. "We’re getting a deck put in at the bottom of the garden. We’ll get sunlight in the afternoon – I can see us down there using it as summer house. We were fortunate that we didn’t have to do any major landscaping and excavating to get it in there – it is dead space in the garden. It has improved the look of the garden already."

To see how things progress a few months on, we then visited Marian Byrne in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, who had a Shomera installed earlier in the year. She’s delighted with her Shomera, which sits pride of place at the bottom of the garden, surrounded by some mature trees. Her Shomera is 3m x 4.8m, feeling even more spacious with three full-height glass windows, two glass doors, another window and a skylight. It’s so far away from the house, from roads and traffic, the only uninvited visitors are the birds hopping around outside.

Marian is a life and business coach and she decided to get a Shomera as she needed office space and a space for her children to study. Some of Marian’s work is in-house with large companies, so it made no sense for her to rent an outside office. She also needed a space to meet private clients in. Her three children – fifteen, twelve and nine – needed somewhere quiet for homework and study. This garden room offered the advantages she needed. "It’s completely away from the house, so there are no distractions like sounds of the house and car alarms," says Marian. "I wanted something versatile where we could change the use. I also wanted something natural looking, simple, with lots of light. It cost about €20,000 and with building on, you would not get that space," she says.

Marian Byrne was also amazed at the rapid installation schedule. The foundations started at 10am on the Monday, the pack was delivered in the afternoon and on Tuesday, three people put the structure up. On the Wednesday, two tradesmen did the plastering and skimming all day. This dried on Thursday and on Friday morning, the electrician came. Marian also decided to install an alarm as the Shomera is separate from the house. "It all took three and half days. They did the schedule they said they’d do, she says. "They were all very helpful and respectful. It was painless."

Marian was very concerned about her landscaped garden. "I was concerned if it rained when they were installing, how it would affect the garden," she says. "They said they could put down planks. You wouldn’t notice any disruption to the garden – there was no muck. The garden was an important consideration."

So what’s next if you decide to consider a garden building? The first step would be to visit the manufacturer’s display area, if they have one, because there’s nothing like seeing the real thing to get a good idea of size and the quality of the workmanship. If no show centre is available, you will have to rely on brochures and website pictures. However it should be possible to ask the manufacturer/installer to see a similar building that has been done for somebody else. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the materials and work methods, delivery and payment.

Ask the building suppliers for their suggestions in your own situation and compare notes between the different companies. If a consensus on what to do begins to emerge, you will feel a lot more confident. Also ask around with friends, work colleagues and neighbours to see if any of them have put up a garden room and to see how happy they are with the results, and go to see the job yourself if that is possible. There is no better recommendation than that of a happy customer.

Marian Byrne says that since she got the Shomera, her friends have come to see it and arrived back again to show it to their husbands. "People think it’s far more substantial than they imagined," she says. "It could be an option for people getting money from SSIAs," she adds.

In most cases, a garden room does not need planning permission because these buildings are classed in the exempted development category. However this depends on the size and use – you will need planning permission if you plan to use it as a public building, such as a crèche or classroom, a commercial office with staff or a habitable dwelling. Prices for Shomeras can range anywhere from €15,000 up to €50,000 with the smallest unit size about 2.4 m x 3m.

© Yvonne Gordon 2006

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