THE GARDEN COMMUTE

Arabella Youens looks at inspiring solutions to accommodate the new desire for home working

Out of the Valley: Cedar Cabin home office.

THE GARDEN COMMUTE

Arabella Youens looks at inspiring solutions to accommodate the new desire for home working

Not long ago, the shopping list of requirements for a country house had varied little for generations: classic (often Georgian), high ceilings, generous windows, uninterrupted views, no road (or rail) noise and plenty of period charm. Since the advent of the internet, fast, reliable connectivity has been added, along with the other 21st-century must-have: the family kitchen. In 2020, a new entry soared to the top: space for a garden office, or outbuildings ripe for conversion to create one. The year ushered in the concept of working from home, so separate areas to work in undisturbed are now paramount. Arguably, the division between work and home time started to crumble when smart phones became commonplace, but now that more of us are working from home, it has dissolved completely. The traditional nine-to-five working day has evaporated, and a large proportion of office workers have said goodbye to long, daily commutes.

All this has focussed attention on the home: in a recent Knight Frank buyer survey, nearly two-thirds said they are more likely to work from home, and 64% reported that a home office is now more important than before. Interior designers registered a spike in demand for home offices, and country house agents witnessed a drive for more home-based recreational elements, such as golf simulators and outdoor kitchens. Studies, with bookcase-lined walls, leather-topped desk and large fireplace, were fine for occasional weekend work, but with colleagues, clients and PAs coming in two or three days a week to work, a dedicated, separate space has become fundamental. Add to the mix the need for what the Americans call a “Zoom room”, somewhere that needs not only to look appropriate but with enough soundproofing to maintain professionalism throughout the day. The garden becomes the obvious location. Those looking for a high-impact solution are setting their sights high.

Holland Green: Home office overlooking swimming pool.

Alongside new-build home offices with panoramic rural views, Ben Holland, co-founder of HollandGreen, is working on a number of big-budget projects, some converting existing outbuildings into all-singing work-and-play centres. “We’re currently creating a ‘Soho Farmhouse-at-home’ for a client so that he doesn’t have to leave the property for anything. The former stable block is being turned into a stylish home office, with a gym, pool, sauna, massage room, yoga and pilates studios.”

Others are having more fun still. The market for full-size treehouses (for full-sized adults) has taken off in recent years, but had a further shot in the arm during 2020. The East Sussex-based firm Blue Forest is leading the way. Responsible for the treehouse pods at Chewton Glen Hotel in the New Forest, they have been commissioned to bring to life a variety of canopy-based dreams, from play spaces inspired by Harry Potter’s Hogwarts to luxury bedrooms complete with claw-foot baths and wraparound terraces. Prior to 2020, treehouse office commissions occasionally came up – Blue Forest actually launched from one, before they outgrew it – but such is the current demand that they are shortly releasing a new range aimed at this market.

Holland Green: Home office overlooking swimming pool.

Alongside new-build home offices with panoramic rural views, Ben Holland, co-founder of HollandGreen, is working on a number of big-budget projects, some converting existing outbuildings into all-singing work-and-play centres. “We’re currently creating a ‘Soho Farmhouse-at-home’ for a client so that he doesn’t have to leave the property for anything. The former stable block is being turned into a stylish home office, with a gym, pool, sauna, massage room, yoga and pilates studios.”

Others are having more fun still. The market for full-size treehouses (for full-sized adults) has taken off in recent years, but had a further shot in the arm during 2020. The East Sussex-based firm Blue Forest is leading the way. Responsible for the treehouse pods at Chewton Glen Hotel in the New Forest, they have been commissioned to bring to life a variety of canopy-based dreams, from play spaces inspired by Harry Potter’s Hogwarts to luxury bedrooms complete with claw-foot baths and wraparound terraces. Prior to 2020, treehouse office commissions occasionally came up – Blue Forest actually launched from one, before they outgrew it – but such is the current demand that they are shortly releasing a new range aimed at this market.

“Nature is a free and highly effective stress buster,” believe Blue Forest co-founders Simon and Andy Payne. “So, it makes sense that outdoor workspaces are a clever way to bring a feeling of peace to your working day.” Treehouses more than 30cm off the ground require planning permission, so the new range will also include ground-based cabins and pods. Designs are bespoke, and the end result is akin to a mini-house with kitchen, bathroom, underfloor heating and double-glazing. They are clad in cedar (sustainable and weathers well), and prices start from around £120,000, depending on size. The modular route is another option. Bert’s Box, whose designs feature at The Pig at Brockenhurst, have created the Study Box specifically for home working. Far from clinical and office-like (as “pre-fab” suggests), they are made from salvaged materials, with Crittall-style, double-glazed windows, and wood-burning stove an optional extra. Prices start from £33,000.

If the boxy shape of Bert’s isn’t organic or eye-catching enough, another pre-fab option is a cedar-shingled pod. Shaped like a giant acorn, the most popular of Podmakers’ collection is their Escape Pod. Costing from £23,760, it stands on a raised platform, allowing it to be rotated to catch the sun.

A transformative return to a simpler way of living and a renewed affinity with the land

Games room as part of a home office.

Some want an office embedded deeper in nature that transports them both physically and psychologically even further from the distractions of home. Enter the cabin home office. Devon-based Out of the Valley create buildings, furniture and interiors that connect people with the rhythms of nature. Their wooden designs invite “a transformative return to a simpler way of living and a renewed affinity with the land”, explains founder Rupert McKelvie. His latest design, the Cedar Cabin, perfectly sized for a garden office, costs from £38,000.

Aside from the structure and views, interiors play an important role in the working environment, adds Amalia Boier of Knight Frank Interiors. Alongside the practical elements of a comfortable chair and appropriate table height, details such as rugs, plants and books create an uplifting, work-conducive atmosphere.

It is impossible to put an exact figure on the return on investment, but by some estimates, a dedicated home office can add as much as 10% to the value of a property. Such is the current demand that a ready-made solution can make the difference in a house finding a buyer or not.


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