Nfld. & Labrador

Souped-up sheds and other pandemic-inspired workspaces

In the wake of the pandemic, the future of work is interesting to ruminate on, but one trend that's already taking hold is the construction of backyard workspaces.

Check out these examples of backyard workspaces built during the pandemic

Dave Lank's shed exterior was designed to blend with his mid-century modern home. (Submitted by Dave Lank)

Social scientists are going to be busy for years studying and unpacking the ways in which COVID-19 has changed how we work.

What happens when people are able to work from anywhere — should we be expecting a mass exodus from cities? Does remote working lead to an increase or decrease in gender equality and diversity in the workplace? Will meetings that could have been an e-mail now become actual e-mails? 

In the wake of the pandemic, the future of work is interesting to ruminate on, but one trend that's already taking hold is the construction of backyard workspaces.

Jane's studio shed

With spectacularly bad timing, Jane Walker purchased her first home in Bonavista in January 2020. Shortly after, in the early days of the pandemic, she was laid off from her job as an arts administrator. 

"A bit of panic set in. 'How am I going to pay my mortgage? Who am I without my job?' But I told myself to relax and commit to my art practice. It was the first time I had time to myself," she said. 

"I made the decision to hire someone to fix up my shed once alert levels were suitable."

The shed was already on the property and was heated, but wasn't ready for use as an art studio.

"I had just bought the house and was very much in the grind of things, so the shed was being used for storage, it was just full of boxes. In the spring, Bonavista Living, whom I bought the house from, built me a custom shed door with better insulation," said Walker.

Jane Walker's property already included this shed, but minor upgrades enabled her to turn it into a working space. (Submitted by Jane Walker)

In all, it only took about $400 to make her space functional. Walker also had a workbench and some shelving built and tidied up the shed.

"In the later summer and fall, when it was safe, I held socially distant one-on-one art classes with children in the space, or small group classes with children who were in the same bubble," she said.

"I also use it for my own work as an artist. I saved money where I could. I thrifted the tables, my parents gave me their old chairs." 

The art lessons gave Walker a little financial boost, helping her to make up some of the income she lost from her job. Having a separate space also helps her differentiate her art practice from the rest of her life. 

Using the shed as an art studio and teaching space has helped Walker supplement her income. (Submitted by Jane Walker)

"Having a functional workspace that is near my home, but isn't actually in my house, has been wonderful," she said.

"I still do arts administration work on a freelance basis, and for those duties I head to the Commons — when allowed, of course — which is a co-working space in Bonavista."

Dave's outdoor office

Having moved to Newfoundland from Montreal in 2019, Dave Lank had already adjusted to working remotely when the pandemic hit. 

"I work as a business content writer and I'm developing a tourism project here, so I was already working remotely," he said.

"I had my meetings from the table in my kitchen, or I worked at coffee shops, but buying a few coffees or a sandwich every day is expensive, so I realized I needed an area to work out of before the pandemic even hit."

The pandemic moved the process forward for Lank to find his own space to work. 

"Suddenly, the kids were home and space became an issue. I found it harder to focus and meetings became difficult to organize."

However, Dave's solution was simple.

"My wife and I studied some plans and sketched out some ideas for what a backyard office should look like. We were really inspired by Scandinavian design and I wanted this to be functional, minimalistic, but also cozy. Our house has a mid-century design, so we wanted the office to blend in with that particular style." 

The interior of Dave Lank's shed was inspired by minimalism and Danish design. (Submitted by Dave Lank)

Lank teamed up with a local builder.

"I originally budgeted for it to cost about $6,000, but like most home renovation projects, I ended up spending more."

The shed's finished cost about $10,000, but Lank isn't too worried.

"It adds to the overall resale value of the home. The outdoor office is heated, wired for electricity and the internet is fantastic. It's big enough so that, in non-pandemic times, it could be used for meetings.  I've spoken with a few artists who seem interested in potentially working out of it when things are safer," he said.

This backyard office is sparsely but stylishly furnished. 

"There's a daybed, a desk setup for my laptop, a good coffee station and framed artwork on the walls. It would be a great space to do a podcast. There's lots of potential for it. "

Lank believes that remote work is the future.

"People can live where they want, not just where the company office is located. They can move out of the expensive cities and have more space, a better quality of life, far less stress," he said.

"I think remote working presents an opportunity for small cities to attract new talent—especially in the tech sector."

East Coast Homes

Jess Mackinnon, alongside her business partner Louis Horvath, owns and operates East Coast Homes, an independently owned and operated construction company based in Charlottetown, P.E.I. 

"Our business is a relatively new one — just two years old — but we have over 25 years of experience between us. We design and build tiny homes, prefabs and home renovations, but there's been a huge leap in office sheds over the last year," she said.

Mackinnon believes that custom sheds are an innovative solution to problems created by remote working. 

"People are working from home and they are starting to outgrow their spaces. Families are home at the same time and the house just starts to feel tight."

Shed offices add value to a property and help folks create a sense of separation between working and life. (Submitted by Evan Ceretti)

Buying a new house might seem like the obvious solution, but prices have climbed, Mackinnon said. 

"Once a family rules out buying a bigger home, they'll call [to] chat about renovations, but in the pandemic, they need a fast solution," she said.

"The home office is what many people land on. You're increasing the square footage of your property, so you're adding value"

Not all of the backyard structures that Mackinnon has built in the last year have been offices, however.

"The first one we built was a gym. The owners affectionately call it, 'The Iron Office' now," she said.

So, if the idea of building a small backyard office shed appeals to you, what should the next step be?

"Well, first I would check your zoning laws and get in touch with someone who can break that down for you. Each municipality is different. Next, head to Pinterest or the library and get inspired. Then, I'd make a wishlist of what you need and want from the space. Finally, reach out to a builder."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andie Bulman

Contributor

Andie Bulman is a chef, writer and comedian in St. John's.

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