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Converting a garden storage room into a workshop

Jo has an end of terrace house in need of a bit of love in the Poets’ Corner area of Brighton and Hove. In this series she’s sharing her experience of the purchase and renovation process.

In this post – renovating the ‘workshop’

Finding the flour-shed

Something that made our house hunt in Hove a bit tricky was that we were looking for a garden with enough room for a workshop building. The terrace houses in the Poets’ Corner area were otherwise perfect, but most have fairly bijoux square gardens and no garages. We were pretty excited when we found this house – as an end of terrace it not only had a larger than average garden, but already had a good-sized brick building at the end. A snippet on the archival website ‘The Keep’ indicates permission was granted for a storage room when the house was a bakery, so this was probably once a flour-store.

Reclaiming the spider-hotel

Although having an existing building to work with was a massive bonus, it needed a lot of work to get into working order. In fact, the renovation project covered a lot of the steps and challenges of a normal house renovation – just on a smaller scale.

The previous owners had kitted the store-room out as a recording studio with pretty comprehensive sound-proofing, but an unchecked leak had seriously damaged the interior finishes. As a result it had fallen into disuse, except as a somewhat horrifying spider-hotel.

The first step in the renovation project was to get it weather-tight, which we included in the spec for roofing works to the main house.

Unpacking the tardis

The next step was strip-out. We briefly considered doing this ourselves, but that would have been a mistake…

Our house has no side or back access, and no space at the front for a skip as the business next door has an in-use driveway that can’t be blocked… so getting rid of debris was tricky. The biggest challenge though was just how much stuff came out. As well as all the building debris, the previous owners had managed to squirrel a surprising amount of gubbins into hidden corners.

Our contractor worked with a local disposal company to sort and remove the debris – a good solution as they focus on extracting value from waste via re-use as e.g. hardcore. We were also able to re-use some materials such as insulation.

I increasingly refer to strip out as ‘strip out and discovery’, as this is the time you can expose the bones of the building and find out if there is anything that needs fixing (or very occasionally a pleasant surprise like a hidden high ceiling).

Aside from a wonky floor (more on that later) the building was pretty much as we expected and we were fortunate that the roof joists were in reasonable condition.

It was also fairly tardis-like. We had some idea of the inner measurements from the outside, but the old recording studio structure occupied a lot of space and once stripped out we could see how big it really was.

Creating the workshop;

Once we had the room empty, we were ready to put it back together;

  • New doorway; To make it both a more practical and attractive space, we had a new opening made for part-glazed French doors, and the old doorway bricked up. The new opening had to be made ahead of the damp coursing work, but the doors couldn’t be fitted until after some of the internal work was done so for a week or so we effectively had a cave at the end of the garden which was pretty fun.
  • Damp proofing; The store had no damp course in place, so we had a new membrane system applied to walls and floor by a damp-proofing specialist.

  • Inner walls; In order to insulate the workshop, our contractor built a new studwork frame inside the brick walls, and added insulation and two layers acoustic plasterboard with an air gap between for a bit of extra sound-proofing.
  • Levelling the floor; With the wooden platform floor stripped out we could see that the original floor had a significant slope from back to front; it looked like it had been designed that way to allow for sluicing out the floor. By the time this was levelled, and insulation and screed added, the floor level was raised enough that we needed a step or two outside. We opted for one deep step that could double as a place to perch.
  • Electrics; The workshop already had an electrical supply running from the main house but this was a standard cable protected by a plastic tube. We had this replaced with a proper rubber-clad outdoor cable and a new consumer unit. As well as sockets and lighting inside, we took the opportunity to add remote operated outdoor sockets – so we could have plug-in lights and easily control them from inside the house.
  • Interior cladding; As this is a workshop room, we’ve had the walls clad in birch ply rather than plastered and painted. This makes for an easy-to maintain finish, and is easy to fit shelves and hooks to, and smells lovely!
  • Rendering & decorating; We had the outside fully re-rendered as the existing finish was in poor condition and would have been difficult to patch repair. I’ve taken great pleasure in painting the French doors and starting to add a splash of colour… We haven’t painted the outside wall yet – the render has a high alkalinity level which can ‘burn’ new paintwork if applied too soon. This will settle after some time and rain-showers – and to be sure we’re checking the PH with litmus paper.

Starting work on the garden

With this bit of the work done, we’ve been able to start work on the sunny end of the garden. We have future phases of renovation work planned (and will need somewhere for the contractors to store debris, tools, and erect scaffolding) – so we’re leaving the garden near the house a bit of a mess until then – but it’s been an absolute joy to get the patio finishes and start building raised beds and a (sort of) pergola.

Now I just need to get a cubic meter of topsoil through the house with an excitable puppy in tow!…

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