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Converting a wooden shed into a music studio

Period buildings expert Marianne Suhr looks in on a new project to transform a 1940s wooden hut in a cottage garden into a timber-framed music studio.

Richard and Charlotte bought their beautiful 18th-century listed brick cottage five years ago. They were looking for a home to raise their two children Eddie and Dulcie, and after months of searching they knew straight away that this was the one. Charlotte told me how they immediately appreciated the friendly atmosphere and feeling of comfortable familiarity the house gave them.

Charlotte’s only concern was the rather dark and small kitchen; as she and Richard love to cook and entertain, it wasn’t ideal. But this downside was outweighed by the existence of a ramshackle old painting studio in the garden. Richard is an opera singer, Charlotte is a professional pianist and piano teacher, and the studio provided the ideal space in which to rehearse, somewhere to switch off from domestic life and to work after the children had gone to bed.

Marianne and Charlotte on the concrete base
ABOVE: Marianne and Charlotte inspect the concrete base.

Rethinking the space
The wooden studio was built in around 1940, and was not in the best condition. After a cold winter working in coats and scarves, and discovering that the strings on Charlotte’s beloved grand piano had started to rust, Richard and Charlotte began to seriously reassess their options.

At first, the plan was simply to improve the existing building, insulate the walls, rewire and re-roof it. But as they started looking at what was required for a good long-term solution, it gradually became apparent that the best option would be to knock it down and start again. It can be difficult to gain planning permission for large garden structures, but as there was already a building on the site, they had a good case for putting something new in its place.

Charlotte and Richard knew they wanted to build something out of timber and were keen to have a structure with sound eco credentials.

The house before and during the project
ABOVE: Work starts on the house; The house before the project gets underway.

Making a start
They started their search by googling ‘timber-framed buildings’ and found a number of architects in the area that specialised in exactly that. But they were particularly struck by the website of Cameron Scott of Timber Design Limited (timberdesign.com). When they looked in detail at some of his projects, they realised that a good friend of theirs had been a timber framer on one of his jobs, and they wasted no time getting a character reference before making contact.

When Cameron visited the site, Charlotte described how excited he was about the project and she felt confident in his ability to interpret their vision. They got so carried away they decided to extend the rather dark and gloomy kitchen at the same time. Even though the studio was a separate building, they wanted a link between that and the old house. By extending the kitchen in the same materials, they were able to achieve exactly that.

Rules about garden structures

If your house is listed, then planning permission is required to construct a permanent detached structure within the grounds. If this is attached to the house, then listed building consent is also required.

If your property is in a conservation area or national park, then an outbuilding cannot be built to the side or front of the house without planning permission.

If your house is not listed, in a conservation area or national park, then a garden structure is considered ‘permitted development’ – planning permission is not required, provided it fulfils the following criteria:

  • It mustn’t stand forward of the front elevation of the house.
  • The total additions added since 1948 must not exceed 50% of the total area of garden.
  • The structure must not be for living accommodation.
  • It must be single storey, with a pitched roof below 4m and flat roof maximum 2.5m high.
  • Building regulation consent is not required for a detached garden structure provided it is less than 30m² in area, single storey and doesn’t contain living accommodation.

For more information and planning advice go to planningportal.gov.uk. If in any doubt always contact your local planning authority.