Easy budget makeover – from garage to garden room
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.
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.’
Francine’s garage is unlikely to have been full of clutter. But mine (and perhaps yours) certainly would be. So you may be interested in how to de-clutter your shed or garage quickly and easily.
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.
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.
Jacques also replaced the side door, which had a window in it, with double glass doors onto the terrace.
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.
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.
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.
Step 4 – fittings and furniture for a garden room
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 turn her garden room into a 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 of a budget garden room…
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.
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.
More ways to save money in the garden
See here to save money on garden design. And here to save money on your regular gardening. Both posts have tips from experts which have worked for me, not silly ‘hacks’.
Buying new plants can be expensive. So I’ve found that it saves money to divide plants up and also to move them. You can give the leftover to friends – or you can benefit from their spare plants, too.
I also find that allowing some plants to self-seed saves money and effort, so here are my 25 favourite self-seeding plants.
And when it comes to saving money on sheds, do you really need to replace a battered old shed? Read this before buying a new shed. Sometimes a coat of paint can work wonders, as you can see in ‘What colour shall I paint my shed?”
And as for the interior of the shed, there are clever ideas here for upcycling and organising your shed.
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For example, this is a list of what I consider to be the gardening tools you really need, with the brands I use.
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