Laura Cartledge learns about the exciting projects going on at the bottom of people’s gardens.
Thinking outside of the box has become somewhat of a business cliche, but for garden room business Harrison James it is a fitting mantra.
“Some places have set designs and off the shelf models but we wanted to be able to say yes to things,” explains design consultant Charlie Lear. “One of my clients in Brighton had a tiny little garden at a mid terrace house and he said ‘what can you do with this space?’
“He had a tree and I said ‘I suppose you are happy to get rid of it’, but he wasn’t. He was keen to keep the maturity of the garden so I designed a C-shaped room that went around it,” Charlie reveals.
“That was probably the most obscure project. He has a futon at one end and his work bench in there – it has so much light it is brilliant.”
The company is keen to show customers what is possible – something brilliantly demonstrated at its show site at Old Barn Nurseries, Dial Post.
“A lot of people are very surprised by what you can achieve and the pitched roof makes it feel like a real room in a house,” admits Charlie. “We wanted to show we can do what you like.
“People are quite imaginative, they will say ‘I like that room but I’d like it with that door and those fittings’,” he says. “Because we have the workshop here I can draw something on CAD and have faith they can produce it.”
While the ‘bread and butter’ of the business is home offices, Charlie has seen an increased interest in larger builds too.
“If you get something unusual you can think more, whether it is to work around a tree or in a tight space or working to a boundary,” enthuses James Willmott, company founder. “We did one which had one right angle on it and then it curved around.”
Inspired by the variety and challenges the builds can bring, the team has seen its client base grow and spread to the point it is now planning a second base nearer London.
“It is not just selling a box. It is a service, you go from the ground up – starting with that they want and then you work up from there,” says Charlie. “It can go through five or six incarnations, they will say I like this but can we change that. They for me are the most rewarding briefs.”
James echoes this when he reveals his favourite part is ‘going beyond people’s expectations’.
“It might start as one thing that turn into something else,” he explains.
“It could be an office or somewhere to put the kids, everyone has a story – and as a result we build up good relationships.”
Intergenerational living is the term Charlie has coined for one of the key reasons people get in touch.
Encompassing the boomerang children and increase in home care, it has created a growing need for space solutions to cater for the larger families sharing the home.
Another common request sees Harrison James called upon to create dedicated rooms for start up businesses.
“Everyone is entrepreneurial now, it is cool,” agrees Charlie. “And because of George Clarke and people like that people are more open to doing these things.”
There’s a strong nod to programmes like Grand Designs too with people willing to make braver design decisions with their property.
“They don’t necessarily want a cottagey shed to go with a cottagey house. A lot of the advice for listed buildings is not to be in keeping but to do something different,” explains Charlie. “It will work better aesthetically than trying to match that with that.
“I have a Victorian house in London which has a great modern glass orangery on the back.
“You don’t look at it and think that is wrong, you just think what a good contrast of old and new.
“Because I do it from zero to the end result it is so satisfying to be part of the whole project,” he enthuses, “You go from sitting here talking about it to them taking phone calls in their office.”
Charlie’s approach to such a build...
“First it is about working out what they want to achieve – is it driven by looks or by a need for more space?
“Then you can get into their mindset and adapt the approach accordingly.
“Then it is about being realistic. My job can be about managing expectations for a budget and working out if it is the right thing for them.
“This isn’t a log cabin, this is more like a timber clad house. It is not something left at the roadside that you have to put together yourself.
“We always do a site survey for a job. Often if people have a specific space in mind it is because it is the obvious space, but sometimes you can say ‘how about we spin it around – look to where the sun comes from’.
“It is things like that which get people really excited. They realise it is going to be a nice space and they get excited by the project and it all starting.”
Harrison James’ show site, Old Barn Nurseries, Dial Post, is open Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am – 4pm.
For more information call 01403 713766 or visit www.contemporarygardenrooms.com
April 1, 2016 Interiors and Property