The Workshop Design

PART 2: Planning Permission and Design Considerations

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Planning Constraints

My original plans were for a long shed with a pitched cedar tiled roof like the Cabin which we built a few years earlier.

Aesthetically this would have helped the new ‘shed’ fit in well visually in the garden. However, a few days before I was about to start building it I discovered quite by chance that the planning regulations had changed and my planned design would now be illegal!

The current* regulations stipulate that any garden building built within two metres of a boundary must be no more than 2.5m (8′ 4″) high. This meant that only a flat roof structure would be possible… Back to the drawing board.

These new regulations are, presumably, meant to limit offence to neighbours by minimising the height looming over the fence and blocking light etc, but they do not necessarily work: With a considerately designed pitched roof the eaves to the rear (close to the fence) could be as low as 1.8m (6′) – i.e.  level with the top of the boundary fence. Sure, the ridge would be higher, but the roof to it would slope up and away from the boundary, minimising the visual impact and shading potential. The requirement to limit the maximum height to 2.5 m makes it almost impossible to design a sensible pitched roof structure that complies – and a flat roof needs to be close to the full 2.5 m high to work, if that is, like me, you wish to use full height standard doors (2.1m including frame), and have a sensible pitch. This means the neighbours look out onto a vertical rear wall rising 60cm (2′) above the fence line – far less attractive and more intrusive.

Rant over.

The ‘shed’ I designed, therefore, would have to have a flat roof. However, I turned this limitation into a creative opportunity and created a green roof. This was no small matter – green roofs require considerable attention and planning to make them successful! (See Green Roof design details here) 

Designing for function

This shed contains three internal rooms to serve a range of functions:

  • A garden office room in the central section looks out over the garden and contains garden furniture and ample cupboards. It is used as an informal office and project room, but can quickly be configured as a garden room for evening meals or as a sitting area during a garden party, or as a den for teen sleep-overs.
  • A potting shed at the north end is used to store garden tools close to the vegetable garden, but also houses a freezer and open shelves for storing garden produce.
  • A woodwork shed at the south end contains basic woodworking tools for the kind of DIY projects I do around the garden and home.

External style

The external styling is based on a local vernacular – black clapboard with contrasting white windows and doors. Similar features can be seen on many local country buildings e.g. on the Goodwood estate. The colours harmonise with the other garden buildings (The Greenhouse and Cabin) and follow the theme of our house which has black window frames and off-white walls.


The design includes plenty of eco-features, including a green roof, local grown timber for the cladding and sheepswool insulation.


This is one of the most structurally ambitious DIY projects I have undertaken, close in many respects to timber-framed house design. If you are thinking of building your own house one day, I would recommend you start with sheds and other garden buildings – no building regs to worry about, and less costly if you make mistakes.

Like all my building projects, I start by creating many quick designs on the back of an envelope. When I have one I like the look of I draw a scale drawing on the computer. Sometimes in MSWord (Insert drawing), other times in Open Office Draw. I draw each piece of timber, windows and doors and fit them together on the drawing to make sure it all fits properly – this is particularly important where you are working within height restrictions.

I literally build the structure piece by piece from the ground up on the computer screen, as detailed elevations. As I draw in a rectangle for, say, a 2″ stud I am thinking about the fixings, rigidity, material economy and sequence of work. During this process I often find I am not sure how to approach a certain detail, but having identified it I am able to seek expert help from the internet, books or the local timber merchants for example.

I find the process of creating accurate scale construction drawing an essential step, and would strongly recommend you do this yourself before you undertake any shed construction. The benefits are numerous and include:

  • Identifying areas of difficulty in advance, minimising mistakes.
  • Clarifying the construction sequence so you don’t waste time.
  • Enabling the creation of an accurate order list for materials.
A partially completed construction drawing in Open Office Draw

In practice I often deviate somewhat from the initial drawings as I find that once I am actually working with the materials new ideas and innovations suggest themselves. This does not mean the initial construction drawings were pointless – far from it – they provide most of the essential thinking needed to enable anything meaningful to start. Unlike house building, though, where planning control often restricts modifications to the specified design, with a garden building the design can be modified somewhat as one goes, in response to the reality in front of you.

I find the whole exercise of design, planning and execution intellectually challenging and stimulating. It lets you be architect, quantity surveyor and builder – highly recommended!

*Check your local building regs – don’t assume that what was true when I built this building will be true for you!

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