Easy budget makeover – from garage to garden room

August 16th, 2020 Posted In: Garden style & living

Francine Raymond, Daily Telegraph gardening writer and author, recently turned her garage into a stylish garden room and potting shed.

And she did it on a minimum spend, without losing its use as a garage. If she needs a garage again, she can take a few things out and drive the car in, without making any structural changes.

As well as writing about gardening, Francine is also the author of several books, many about keeping hens in gardens. And she is brilliant at making things look good on a budget – I’ve written about her tips on how to style your garden here. So I knew that her garden room would have lots of really clever ideas.

From garage to garden room

You can see how easy it would be to use this garden room as a garage again if you needed to.  You’re unlikely to need any planning permission (always check) and you won’t lose the property value of a garage.

Now Francine can sit down while propagating plants or potting up seedlings. And she has somewhere to over-winter tender plants. ‘It’s been a revelation,’ she says. ‘I had no idea how much I would enjoy having a garden room.’

Step 1 – add light

The biggest difference between a garage and a garden room is the amount of light you need. The garage already had some light, because her sons used it for building or repairing cars.

From garage to garden room before pix

The garage ‘before’. You can see windows in the top third of the garage doors (above). And there is a window in the side door, too. Jacques replaced the corrugated iron roof on the other side, so the garage roof looks the same from the garden. He also replaced the door with clear glass double doors.

So Francine engaged Jacques of Cut Once Woodworks  to create lots more light. He replaced half the corrugated iron roof with clear corrugated polycarbonate.  But he only installed it on one side of the roof. If you look at the side of the garage from the garden, you can’t see the clear polycarbonate.

The clear polycarbonate is much cheaper than adding a rooflight or a lantern light to the roof. Whether you are an experienced DIY-er and doing the job yourself or whether you are paying builders, this is the cheapest option. However, it is not as attractive from the outside as a roof light or lantern light would be.

Francine made this work by only adding the polycarbonate area on one part of the roof, so it couldn’t be seen from the garden.

garage to garden shed

You can see the sunlight coming in through the clear polycarbonate on the left of the roof. Photo (of me photographing the garage) by Rebecca Crannis.

Jacques also replaced the side door, which had a window in it, with double glass doors onto the terrace.

Adding light to a garden room

You can see the clear glass ‘French’ doors on the top left of this picture. Francine has used stylish ‘Dexion’ industrial shelving. And I love how she uses old tin cans for potting up plants.

Francine also had an old Victorian window, which she’d taken out when she was renovating her house. ‘I put it in the garage wall because I didn’t want to lose it,’ she says. Now it gives her view over the garden and throws light on her potting bench.

It’s worth noting that Francine combines both a new window and an old window and it still looks good. How much you pay for this sort of a renovation depends on how much you can do yourself and how much you have to pay labour in your area. Installing windows is an expert job, so you will usually need a professional.

But being able to buy mis-matched or second-hand windows can save you money. If you are using professional builders, they may even have windows taken out from a previous job. Otherwise try salvage yards.

Potting bench in garden room

This window at the back of the garage overlooks the garden. It throws light onto Francine’s potting bench. Photo by Francine Raymond.

Step 2 – the walls

A garage walls are usually thin and are rarely insulated. Francine asked Jacques to line it with a layer of fibreboard. ‘I didn’t insulate the walls,’ she says. ‘Although I could have.’

Francine chose Smartply, an environmentally friendly mdf ply. It’s in a very similar shade to the bricks of her house.  So she hasn’t painted it – she has left the texture of the fibreboard bare. You could, however, paint the walls if you preferred.

But not painting walls will save you money. If the budget is tight, you could also leave painting the walls until a later date.

Fibreboard walls

You can even see the brand name of the fibreboard on the walls. Smartply is an environmentally friendly, cost-effective alternative to certain types of plywood.

Step 3 – the flooring

Francine avoided the cost of expensive flooring by simply painting the garage’s concrete floor with concrete paint.  She did this herself. Anything you can do yourself will save you money, as labour costs are often the most expensive part of the job.

But if you really are no good at painting (I’m hopeless), then having the floor painted with a floor paint by a professional will still save you money over having flooring installed.

And it also means that a car could be driven in at any time.

Painted floor

Francine painted the floor with concrete paint. She has a ‘yellow and grey’ theme in the garden, and has carried this theme through to the garden room. It looks particularly stylish and makes inexpensive materials look chic. Photograph by Andrew Crowley.

French doors to garage garden room

The glass doors, corrugated polycarbonate roof and concrete floor painted grey.

Step 4 – fittings and furniture

Francine continued the theme of industrial chic with Dexion shelving. Often used in factories and store rooms, it would be relatively easy to move if she ever had to use the garage for cars again.

And she put simple board shelving under the window for potting up plants.

There is an IKEA day bed and a stool. In the winter, the room is full of over-wintering plants. During the summer, there are geraniums and a recovering banana palm.

Step 5 – the cost…

Francine can’t give an accurate cost of the work, as Jacques is her son and she ‘got mates rates.’ And the shelving was a gift from a friend.

‘But if you had to pay full rates to have this work done, I think the whole project would probably cost you a few thousand pounds,’ she says. However, labour costs vary, depending on where you live and how much of the work you can do yourself.

Converting a garage into a usable room is always a major job. If you want to insulate it and add plumbing, for example, or give it proper flooring and paint it to a high finish, then you would expect to pay tens of thousands rather than thousands (pounds, dollars…).

But this shows how a conversion doesn’t have to cost tens of thousands – even if you’re not able to do DIY yourself and have to pay builders.  The other advantage is that you’re not losing the property value of the garage in the long run.

I checked approximate prices for the materials. You can find heavy duty shelving of a similar style (often known as garage shelving) at under £100 per metre. And similar Smartply was around £20 per 2.44mx1.2m sheet. You can find vintage windows at salvage yards, and concrete floor paint from builder’s merchants. I found TA Multipurpose Floor Paint for concrete floors in 18 colours from Amazon at around £25 a litre.

From garage to garden room

The outside of the garage-cum-garden room at the front.

Francine’s books and Instagram…

You can see photos of Francine’s garden room on her Instagram feed, which also features her hens, her garden and her collection of succulents.

And you can buy her latest book, The Garden Farmer, from her website. She also sells a range of useful books on keeping hens, ducks, geese or ‘A Couple of Pigs in Your Garden’, plus bee-keeping and general ‘garden farming’ advice.

Shop my favourite garden products, books and tools

I’m often asked for recommendations so I’ve put together lists of the products, books and tools I use on the Middlesized Garden Amazon store. Links to Amazon are affiliate which means I may get a small fee if you buy but it doesn’t affect the price you pay. And I only recommend products I use myself!

For example, this is a list of what I consider to be the gardening tools you really need, with the brands I use.

From garage to gallery room

Another flexible-use garage – this garage in Australia belongs to Stephen Ryan and his partner, Craig. For most of the year, it houses their van, but Craig is a successful botanical artist, so occasionally the garage is used as a gallery or for dinners.

Pin to remember garage to garden room tips

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2 comments on "Easy budget makeover – from garage to garden room"

  1. Sheila Johnson says:

    How is a few thousand pounds a budget make over when “mates rates” don’t apply? Normally love your middle sized garden posts

    1. I’m sorry, I should have been clearer. Francine said that if you had to pay the full cost of labour, it would probably cost you a few thousand pounds. The labour is, as you say, always the most expensive part of the work, as all the materials are reasonably priced, so the eventual price does, up to a point, dependent on how much people do themselves, how much they commmission out and whether they are getting any favours or exchanges. But converting a garage – or a loft, shed etc – into a usable room is a major job and while Francine saved some of her money on ‘mates rates’, she also saved money on using inexpensive materials and clever tricks. For example, the corrugated polycarbonate roof is cheaper than a Velux rooflight or lantern rooflight, no matter who you pay to install it. But it’s ugly. She made it work by using it on a part of the garage roof that couldn’t be seen from the garden. So if you asked the most expensive builder in Britain to copy that trick, that would still save you money on having the same builder instal a rooflight or lantern light. Not painting the walls saves you money, no matter who your decorator is, because you’re not buying the paint or paying anyone to paint it. Francine chose a shade of Smartply that she liked. Once again, however much you are paying your builder, you would still have the option to save money by asking to see the different shades of ply and choosing one you didn’t want to paint. Painting the floor is cheaper than installing flooring, regardless of who does the work. Most of this work is also within range of a competent DIYer, so the tips would work for those who do all or some of the work themselves. I’ll go back and explain this better in the main part of the article, thank you for pointing it out.

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