Space Craft, the art of dealing with ‘stuff’.

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I have built sheds for people of all different walks of life, but the one thing that unites all the builds I do is the creation of extra space.  But the enjoyment we get from this extra space is dependent on how the space is designed, what matters to design is how we perceive this space and how we determine what is important to our lives. Probably the main reason I will be asked to build, is to either make a new space in which to put some ‘things’, or to make a new space which will be free from ‘things’, basically because there is no more room in the house. I hear a lot about minimalism lately, and the concept of reducing the amount of possessions we have in life in order to focus on what is important has to be a good one. But since my failings in this area are pretty monumental I thought I would try to give both sides of the story, and try to put into some perspective what space is and what our relationship to it should be for it to be of true value to our lives.

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WHAT IS SPACE FOR.

For the vast majority of us, space in our homes is at an absolute premium. Our lives are full of clutter, all of which serves to cramp us both physically and creatively. The sheds I build offer an opportunity to relieve that pressure; to provide a place separate from where we live, to be creative, to learn something new, to even start a new business. Apart from ideas, the next most important resource in being creative is the space required to do so. Many small businesses would simply never have the chance of getting off the ground without this space. The shed can bring a new freedom, a change in lifestyle perhaps even a change in job, perhaps a chance to become more self reliant.

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When I do site visits it is common for clients to just have storage in mind, people often think their garden just isn’t big enough to make a difference to their life, but for the most part this is a misconception. Building in small places paradoxically, brings better design, and a well designed small space can often out perform a larger area that hasn’t been thought about properly.

The first thing you should do to understand a build is to physically see the space you have. The advice I give to my clients is to map out the shed area in your garden and try to get a feel for it.  Your shed needs to be large enough for its purpose, while still remaining in keeping with your outside space. Building regulations come in at 15 sq. meters, but also you don’t want your shed to be overpowering and needlessly eat into your garden. A nice well proportioned garden shed can add value to your house, but one that overpowers your garden can devalue the space. The height you are allowed to build within permitted development is 2.5m and in my opinion it is usually a good idea to max the headroom out.  Of course, actual physical space is important. But just as critical is our sense of it, our connection to it.  For this you sometimes need to change the way the space is perceived otherwise known as cheating.

Take a look at this YOGA OFFICE SHED I built recently.

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A short walk down the garden path and up the steps takes you to this compact space where you can enjoy peace, quiet and privacy away from the main house. Built as a multi-purpose shed, it acts as a meditation consultation office and a place to practice yoga. It is close enough to feel accessible but separate enough to provide a new head-space.  In a small space such as this shed, design basics come into play, accessories at a minimum and well chosen practical pieces of furniture keep it clutter free. The discreet personal touches make the shed more welcoming, bespoke fitted shelving with familiar reference books, and a simple collapsible desk frees up the space for yoga. An old trunk doubles up as table and storage. Light colours feel clean and reflect the light, the simple natural texture of the wood help make it feel larger than it really is. Skylights the full length of the shed make the most of the natural light, day light and well being go hand in hand, encouraging the flow of natural light will not only make a space feel bigger, it will enhance enjoyment and aid the relaxation process.

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MINIMALISM & DESIGN

This shed is perhaps a good example of how a form of minimalism along with design can have a positive effect on your life.  Undoubtedly there is an advantage to a place being tidy, a tidy space is more likely to be functional and a functional space will be more productive. One questions I ask my clients straight away when designing a shed is, what will you be using your shed for, this might seem obvious, but people will often get distracted by their ideas and the multitude of designs possibilities and forget what the original purpose of the new space was. I try to challenge people to write down what is necessary to make their space function properly and then create a kind of hierarchy based on the time spent doing what. If the space is primarily for work, then the space should be allocated as such. For example, perhaps a large working surface, a good amount of shelving and clean floor space to move around is more important than any seating and home comforts, and vice versa if the space is designed for a place to relax.

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THE NEED FOR TOOLS

So far in this episode I have focused on how your shed space will be better if it is tidier, but at this point I feel the need to confess, because the way I use my shed space is far from minimalist. I know the rules about space and more often than not I agree with them, but my life has not really turned out like that and to be honest, I am OK with it.
When I moved out of my parents house I traveled to London with just a bag of clothes, I had the idea I would leave ‘stuff’ behind, but it wasn’t long before I realised that the ‘stuff’ was me (I am stuff!) It started with the need for tools, but even then I would still sneak into charity shops on the off chance of finding something ‘remarkable’. What was remarkable was that I would justify buying stuff without anywhere to put it.

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I’ve always been quite suspicious of the phrase a tidy place is a tidy mind, especially in a creative world, like a superior mind confirms to the rule of tidy law. I have chosen to have things around me, my stuff makes the space feel like mine, you could not mistake my shed for anyone else’s, it is filled with things from my past, things that inspire me.

Take a look at the way I use MY ALLOTMENT ROOF SHED

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In just fifteen square meters this multi-purpose shed uses every square inch to cram in an artist studio, music studio, bike repair station and rooftop allotment space. It is a creative workstation in which the design of the build has emerged from its functionality and the solving of practical challenges. Don’t worry about chips, cracks, spillages and blemishes, this is a place to be comfortable in work, the clutter and stuff is not a hindrance, it acts as inspiration. Fold away work benches can stay up and paintings can be left as work in progress and when the day is finished, you can simply wonder back up the garden path to civilisation. It’s a nice feeling knowing that with a wood burner and solar panel you are working in a sustainable space. Unlike houses a shed is a place to create a place from scratch so why not try something different. The footprint of the shed is literally lifted from the floor up onto the roof where a whole variety of fruit and vegetables are grown. The living roof  is not only ecologically sound, but it also reduces the visual impact of the build. Garden tools can be aesthetically pleasing, old tyres make raised beds, a drain pipe takes the rain into a butt, watering wall plants on its route, there is even a tin bath to have a Summer soak after work!

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IN DEFENSE OF THINGS

I know many a minimalist will say that this does not contradict minimalist philosophy, that I decide what possessions are important to me, and with my shed building tools I have put time into refining my kit (see the bevel’s in the detail), but I also do lots of other things and there are so many variables involved that I have great difficulty predicting what future jobs will be, so my default philosophy has favoured the ‘I should keep this just in case I need it’, because the time and energy it takes to replace a particular tool or moving part or object of reference would mean I would need more disposable income and therefore it would potentially change the lifestyle I have designed for myself.

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I should however also admit that I have a reoccurring day dream fantasy which in my mind is a picture of having ‘made it’. It consists of me sweeping up a wooden floor in a room I have built in the mountains somewhere and in that room there is nothing but a record player and my vinyl collection. So it appears I do rather have a longing for both sides of the minimalist equation and a foot in both sides of the space saving camp.

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KNOW YOURSELF

I think what I am trying to say in all of this is that to understand what space is and what it is for, you have to understand yourself. I know roughly what I am, I am creative, thrifty, practical and sentimental and this sometimes manifests itself in a form of hoarding. But this is ok, and it is ok to be whatever you are, as long as you are comfortable with it.
Because even with my strange and useless possessions, the feelings I get are associated with both good and bad times and of people that are alive and are not and I want to feel these things, because these are the things that give more meaning to my life.  The minimalist idea that life is about experiencing things is absolutely right, but it is sometimes possible to have an ‘experience’ through things, the memories an object can bring on, and being linked to these memories can make my work more emotional, more complex and have a deeper resonance.

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The challenge I have in my life is how to avoid my shed becoming a junk yard, but I can manage this and for me it is not worth losing the ‘gifts’ I have in life in order to achieve this. I have worked out that making my life simpler has made me happier, but simpler does not necessarily mean less stuff, simpler can mean spending more time doing the things you actually enjoy. More and more I find that when I am designing a new shed, it is not just about the aesthetics and making it fit a space, it is about the person and making it fit a personality. And more and more I find that my goal is to create a space that will enable a person to have more time to express themselves, and allow them to find a peace in who they really are.

Love what you do, do what you love, Joel

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