Self-Build a Cabin: the perfect work from home solution

Faced with a long winter of working from home, I decided to build my own cabin in the garden. Simply a 2.4m sided cube with a bit sliced off for the roof, this small but functional space has improved both our home life and my work life. Here's the story of my build and lessons learned along the way.

Posted: Fri 16 Oct, 2020, 12:50
It is late summer 2020 and many of us have been working from home since April. The brief hiatus in COVID restrictions over the summer were being rapidly reapplied meaning any hopes of returning to the office were being squashed. Looking ahead, I had a winter of working from home, or as it increasingly felt, living at work. Whilst fortunate to be still working, the prospect of sitting in the spare room for six months was not appealing.

Whilst there was so much I actually appreciate about WFH - no commute, longer in bed, no presenteeism to be tied at my desk - the thing I struggled with was how my home was now also my work that I could never escape. Going back the early noughties, I was always the one requesting a separate work phone rather than handing out my mobile number simply to try my best to keep that separation. With my workplace behind the partition wall where I slept, switching off was becoming increasingly difficult.

And so it was in August that I decided to build a cabin in the garden to work in. The cabin would only be 10 metres away from the house, but it would dedicated and separate. It would also be quiet, warm, fully insulated, have a wired internet connection and a view onto the field behind our house. It would be clad in larch, fitted with wooden double-glazed windows and door. It would be more rustic than polished, small but bright, more of an all-year cabin than a summer-only shed. It would allow me to work from home in a sustainable way.

When I announced, like a small child declaring they are going to build a space ship, that I was going to actually build this myself, the response was a combination of silent doubt fronted by vocal encouragement. In my defence however, I can do DIY. I did a six month evening class at college about how to build your own house. And I can do a scale drawing. What more did I need? In reality not much more except for one thing - time. I never paused my day-job throughout, so the build was squeezed in at lunchtimes, evenings and weekends. It is fair to say that I was wrecked at the end.

As I heard someone say recently, it is sometimes a very fine line between living your dream and being stuck in a nightmare, and this sums up the self-build experience. With deliveries piling up, not enough time and the weather turning bad it seemed that I had actually embarked to a foolish over-extension of my abilities. All my doubters would be proved right! But, as happened later in the project, when things really fell into place and cladding was done, then the roof went on and the windows fitted into apertures I had left for them, on those days, it felt like the best thing I had ever done. There are few things more satisfying than building something that significantly improvement in your quality of life.

For anyone thinking of doing the same, here are some top tips:

  • Book some time off, two week minimum in the middle of the build. The build took me six weeks.
  • A 2.4m cube with a bit shaved off for the roof is sufficient for a single person work space
  • Size the cabin in multiples of 0.6m, as everything that is ordered is 1.2m, 2.4m or 4.8m.
  • Take your time with the foundations. Literature says concrete is must, but mine is resting on a double layer of paving stones, which are perfectly sufficient.
  • Buy a cordless, rechargeable circular saw with two batteries.
  • Site your cabin in a way that fits in with existing natural features. Mine sits under a rowan tree that we were so close to removing, and now so glad we kept.
  • Be careful where you put your windows to ensure the internal space feels good. Humans feel comfortable in a snug corner where they can look out.
  • Run a CAT5 ethernet cable in the same trench as your electric cable is run. Dig the trench yourself to save money.
  • Get help where needed. I got someone in to do the electrics.

Having worked here for three weeks now, I can thoroughly recommend it. My work is better and more focused. When the family are at home at the same time I am working, there is no conflict. They can make as much noise as they want. The network connection is perfect. When the pouring rain is pounding on the roof, when the sun is shining in the late afternoon or when a robin sits on fence just outside my window, it feels like the best workplace ever.