‘This has been a game-changer for me’: how a room in the garden can transform your family life

Small can be beautiful, and from about €20,000 you can maximise your garden space and stamp your own identity with a home office or summer house

Oran O’Beirne in the custom-built office at the end of his garden in Kildare, which allowed him to stop renting an office in Dublin city centre.

Last year, Oran O’Beirne made the decision to give up the office space he was renting in the centre of Dublin and instead to invest in a custom-made business premises at the end of his garden in Kildare.

The owner of overdrive.ie, a heavy metal/underground music webzine, and mainstagedesign.com, which specialises in design work for the industry, needed a place to write and create, which would also be accessible and have enough room to host meetings.

After spending a considerable amount of time costing and comparing quotes from construction firms, he gave the go-ahead for work to begin towards the end of 2022 on the 20ftx12ft building, which would incorporate an office studio and an ample storage unit.

“The first part of the process was research, as there are so many companies with clickbait pricing, which soon escalates to a much more extravagant figure than originally advertised,” he says. “This really put me off, but fortunately I came across Craft Garden Sheds, who provided some drawings and a very transparent price for the whole job. Then, after a site visit, I followed their recommendation and arranged for a concrete base to be laid in mid-December.

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“With that part sorted, the building structure was part-built off-site in early January, and would be completed by late February with a proposed installation/build of just three days, as they had to order the doors and windows, which I was told is the longest part of the entire project.

Oran O'Beirne in his Kildare garden office, which is packed with his music paraphernalia.

“In the meantime, I hired an electrician to fit the electricity source from the main house, as well as a CAT-6 internet connection, in early January – this was imperative as it can handle up to 1000 Mbps, which is a necessity for my work. Then all I had to do was wait a few weeks before the structure could be completed.”

With a budget of €20,000, the design of the would-be office studio began to take shape and soon the music mindustry executive was able to envisage the potential of his future work space.

The exterior wood is Siberian larch, which Oran chose for its look and resiliance.

“The structure is south-facing and was to be built with two functions – a workspace office studio, and storage unit,” he says. “The office itself measured 14ft wide by 12ft, and I had the manufacturers fit a storage/shed unit on the left of the build, which is 6ft wide by 12ft deep. The exterior wood is Siberian larch, which has a beautiful finish and although it was a little bit more costly, I feel it was worth it in the long run, due to its resilience.”

Music paraphernalia

Once he had agreed with the construction team on the materials and design for the outside of the office, it was time to start thinking about the interior – and being creative, kitting out his office space was a job which he was very enthused about.

“The inside space is very important to me as I work in the music industry, so I am very inspired by my surroundings,” he says. “I adore music paraphernalia such as vinyl and books and have a varied collection of items which I’ve been gifted and obtained over the years, so I wanted to have a great space which would allow me to have all of this stuff around me while I work.

“Also, much like my former office in Dublin, I wanted a calm space which would be an extension of my personality and interests, so I opted for a warm, yet understated colour (Manhattan Grey from Johnstone’s) for the walls and ceiling, which provided the perfect blank canvas for my framed lithographs and prints.”

The office is fitted with four double-socket power outlets, all of which include built-in USB sockets, so there is an ample supply of power points for whatever equipment is running at any given time.

“For the floors, I chose a light oak-style insulated laminate flooring, and 38mm insulated plaster walls and ceiling, which have proved to be fantastic at keeping the office warm, and energy-efficient,” says the 47-year-old, who is originally from Clare. “It also provides a level of soundproofing, which is perfect for me as I tend to have music on all the time.”

The father of two, who moved to Kildare from Dublin last year with his family – his wife Gráinne and their two children – says the garden office was the next logical step for the couple, whose overall outgoings have been dramatically reduced.

“I have made significant savings since opting out of a city centre location,” he says. “Between the commute into Dublin, the monthly rent and other day-to-day expenses, I am in a far better situation financially. I am also a lot happier, and find myself to be so much more creative because I can walk into this bespoke space whenever I feel inspired and just work to my heart’s content.

“Also, the very fact that I own this structure and don’t have to pay rent or transport any more is an instant bonus for me. There is something very different about that feeling. I can decide what I want to do with the space and not worry about what any landlord might think – and that, to me, is priceless. I would say that having this space has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

This has been a game-changer for me, and I’m so glad I decided to go for it and make it happen

—  Oran O’Beirne

Now, now having had his new office space for a couple of months, the former city dweller says he would never go back to the stress of commuting and spending his earnings on rent – and he would advise anyone else who has the space and the opportunity to consider doing something similar.

“I feel very fortunate that there were no hiccups with the build,” he says. “I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, and once I found the right people to build my vision, it was just a matter of having patience while the work was being done.

“I’ve worked so hard over the last few decades, and I honestly never thought I would ever own anything like this. I still have to pinch myself sometimes when I walk through the door and say, ‘I can’t believe this is mine,’ before I sit down and begin working.

“This has been a game-changer for me, and I’m so glad I decided to go for it and make it happen.”

Bring the outside in

Martin Fitzgerald erected a summer house at the end of his long garden on the Tipperary/Kilkenny border.

Having a nice home is a blessing, but if it’s very full (or noisy), you work from home or you simply like your own company from time to time, then having a bolt-hole in the garden can be the most wonderfully indulgent luxury, while also adding interest and structure to your outside space.

Martin Fitzgerald decided to erect a summer house for relaxation and socialising in the grounds of his family home, which was built in 1700.

Close to the Tipperary/Kilkenny border, Jessfield House has seen generations of Martin’s family farm the land for 250 years, but an interest in horticulture is also evident and while the garden itself is impressive, he thought it would benefit from a summer house.

The roof of Martin Fitzgerald's summer house can just be seen amid the garden growth.

“There has been always been a keen interest in gardening in Jessfield as can be seen by the presence of some large mature trees,” he says. “But the garden is quite long and I felt it needed a focal point at the farthest end to bring some balance and interest. The option was to plant some more trees or to build something interesting like a folly or summer house.

The ceramic floor tiles were sourced from Qualitile in Waterford and are based on an old Victorian floor pattern often seen in 19th century churches.
A clear view of the tile pattern.

“So I decided on the latter and put a lot of thought into the design. I have a love of old buildings, particularly the stonework in gate lodges, castles and abandoned houses, and eventually settled on a small structure of classic design and lovely proportion in keeping with the surrounding garden and house.”

The dimensions of the building are 12ft by 11ft but the internal space is only 80sq ft (7.4sq m) – although Martin says it is still “plenty big for three or four people to sit in on a summer evening”.

“I had to resist the temptation to make it bigger and trust my initial thoughts that its charm lay in its compact size,” he says. “Four windows and large double doors in a building of that size shouldn’t aesthetically work but in this case it does. It was built by local stonemasons Martin Bourke and Sons, using a ready-mix raft foundation to ensure damp proofing and stability.

Martin Fitzgerald's summer house interior design is all old-fashioned.
The cut limestone window and door surrounds are based on a design taken from the lodge leading to Castle Durrow in Laois, replicated here in Irish limestone.

“We used lots of limestone that I’d gathered from old walls, piers and buildings around the farm, so there are no modern cement blocks used. The cut limestone window and door surrounds are based on a design taken from the lodge leading to Castle Durrow in Laois, which Manor Stone replicated in Irish limestone. Because the building is so small it was largely finished in three weeks, followed by roofing at a later date.

“I tried to use as much salvaged or natural materials as possible, and local joiner, Mick Smyth, made and fitted the windows and doors, as well as making all the furniture, including sofa, table and wall shelf. The ceramic floor tiles were sourced from Qualitile in Waterford and are based on an old Victorian floor pattern often seen in 19th century churches. I chose this classic look and pattern to enhance the overall effect.”

Our summer house draws people to the end of the garden where we sit and solve all the problems of the world

—  Martin Fitzgerald

Old cast-iron gutters and downpipes which were salvaged from various old buildings in the area were sand blasted, primed and painted for use on the outside of the building. The kerbstone is made of limestone and having found a beautiful old hearthstone lying on the floor of an abandoned farmhouse nearby, Martin used this as a large flagstone outside the front double doors.

Electricity was installed at a later date and the overall cost of the project was about €25,000 – which, he says, was money well spent.

“It was around the cost of a small new car but I think the building will last a lot longer,” says Martin. “I would advise anyone thinking of doing something similar to put thought into how it looks and whether it will survive the test of time. Also, resisting the temptation to go too big will make the project more manageable, both financially and practically.

“Our summer house draws people to the end of the garden where we sit and solve all the problems of the world.”