Working in a shed at the bottom of your garden gives you the feeling you have commuted, without any of the hassle, says Alex Johnson.
“I don’t know what goes through my head.
Things in this world make me see red.
But I don’t want to spend all day in bed.
I want to live in my shed.”
Although the tiny house movement is growing rapidly in the USA, I’m not sure I actually want to live in my garden office, as Perth-based musician Bob Davidson advocates in his catchy song ‘I’m Gonna Live In My Shed’ – but I certainly enjoy working in it.
Of course, it’s not all a bed of roses: like anybody working from home the main problem is one of isolation. It’s easy for a shedworker to spend all day without seeing (and sometimes even speaking) to another human being. But the delights of social media opportunities such as Twitter or Facebook have gone some way to overcome this problem and indeed popping out for lunch, a swim or just a stroll around the park is a simple and enjoyable way of both clearing your head and engaging with your local community. Shedworkers need not be hermits.
Writers and artists
Although ‘shedworking’ as a term is a rather recent turn of phrase, people have been working from buildings in their gardens for centuries. The famous names which have attracted the most attention are artists and writers – Virginia Woolf, Philip Pullman, Jeanette Winterson – but nowadays you’re just as likely to find accountants, lawyers and software specialists at the bottom of the garden as you are sculptors.
The tide is turning very much towards the welcoming sandy shores of homeworking for many reasons and I welcome that. But there is a difference between a pine kitchen table and a cedar-shingled garden office, a spare bedroom and a spare shed. Commuting to the end of your garden adds an extra dimension to your homeworking experience and is arguably the perfect solution for a good work-life balance.
Psychologically, shedworking marks a clear difference between where you live and where you work – there’s no taint of work attached to any part of your home. Not only do you close the door at the end of the day, you close down the office too and that short commute is a ceremonial marker to indicate that you have ‘returned’ from work.
Physically, it’s easier to prevent – or at least restrict – your children, spouses and pets invading your work space if you’re based in a garden office (although admittedly I get more bees in here than I did when I worked in the dining room and these baby bluetits in the nesting box next to my door are making a heck of a racket). Nor is there any need to double up on spaces. With a shed, your third bedroom remains modem free and your dining room table is not deluged by paper. And just as importantly, a shed keeps you away from the fridge so the temptation to nibble is more remote. Usually.
Financially, it adds value to your property, up to 5% according to some reports, and is certainly much cheaper than moving house to get an extra room in which to work. It’s also a great place to meet clients: I’ve had several meetings in my garden office and every single visitor has been at the very least intrigued by the arrangements and at the best positively impressed. As an income-generator, it’s certainly better than wifi-ing from the sofa.
Architecturally, things have moved on quite a bit since the first primitive huts. Garden office designers today proudly announce Le Corbusier (who himself designed a rather nice little shedworking atmosphere in the south of France) as their inspiration and the top garden designers such as Diarmuid Gavin regularly use garden offices as key elements in major show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show.
And finally, and frankly the clincher for many people, it’s just plain more fun, adding a certain pizzazz to your working life. Forget MySpace, this is me space: decorate it how you like, listen to your music as loud as you like, wear whatever you like (or wear nothing at all). This all means you feel happier and work better. As Antonia Swinson commented in The Scotsman: “Boy, what a difference a shed makes for sheer freedom and creativity.” She’s absolutely right.
Alex Johnson runs the daily updated Shedworking site at www.shedworking.co.uk and his book Shedworking: The alternative workplace revolution will be published by Frances Lincoln in June 2010. You can hear Bob Davidson’s I’m Gonna Live In My Shed at www.bobdavidson.co.uk