Operation Mancave

With our family headcount expanding from two to three, it was time to put things into perspective. Time – here is the operative word (probably the key theme of this blog and perhaps ultimately the reason I have to keep a record of so many random occurrences in my life, online for the world to read). Until early April 2018, we had a small dining table in our kitchen which would become an impromptu desk whenever Michelle or I worked from home. This was not a regular occurrence, but I can recall a scenario in March 2017 when both of us happened (by pure coincidence) to be working from the table one afternoon. I had just got back from a training course in London and heavy snow across the South East had meant my wife had no alternative but to WFH.

In a perfect world, we would keep our professional and personal lives in completely separate spheres. I would prefer to work relatively fixed hours from a single location. The reality of modern life is not so black and white or so simple.

From December 2018 with my paternity leave slowly drawing to a close, my thoughts turned to my return to the ‘real world’. The dining table had gone in the summer as part of baby arrival preparations. We purchased a brand new fridge freezer having coped for over 947 days with an under the counter fridge unit. We had to plan our meals diligently each week in our weekly Morrisons shop, which is easier said than done.

Let me set the scene – like many homeowners I have a garden shed that came with the property. The previous tenants had used this predominately as storage but also kept a big open top freezer unit (which explains the single small fridge in the kitchen). Prior to our purchase, the owner had just dumped a variety of random items from this property, and at least one other (I discovered soon after moving in, the previous owner was a serial property landlord – he owns another rental property on the Temple Park Estate development). Unfortunately, they had also cut the power cables to the shed, although the installation had been poor and unsafe with powerlines running down the length of the fence and connected to a standard plug socket via an open window. Why would you do this? I would rather not have to state that the tenants had young children.

My plan was to replace this outbuilding with a home garden office. Time to do some research. I was going to do this properly and planned to execute my vision over the summer to be ready to use the space from the autumn. The ultimate objective (employer permitting) was to work at least one day a week from home to bring some balance to my work and home life.

Operation Mancave, Binfield, Summer to Autumn 2019Shed InteriorShed Interior

You could easily go crazy and spend the same budget as an exotic sports car on this project. Obviously, my budget was modest but there were plenty of additional costs that came up I had not expected. I looked at various options and retailers including (which you probably find hard to believe) to build myself. Log cabins, plastic outhouses, pods. The market has exploded as people have had access to higher bandwidth connections at home. Plus with many people relocating away from big towns and cities to the countryside to improve their overall quality of life. Who can blame them?

My first challenge was the lack of access to our rear garden. Living in a mid-terrace property – the components would not be able to be bought in through the house. The first point of call –  my neighbours to get permission to take down a fence panel over a weekend to ensure all the work can be carried out (including the removal of the current shed). Thankfully as I had already prepared them for the project from the start of the year, they were more than happy to accommodate my request. All work could now be booked but I had to find the retailer and installation company. I just had to find the right product at the right place locally and then arrange a site visit.

While there are plenty of websites with high-quality brochure-style interactive visuals and videos – nothing can beat going to a show site and looking at the goods in real life. On Sunday 10th March I headed down the road to Moss End Garden Centre. At the back of the site is the Skinners Sheds show site. I had a look at a couple of the outbuildings and settled on the 8×10 Home Office building – the configuration needed to be changed a little and I would potentially need to increase my concrete base by a foot but overall this seemed like the ideal product within budget.

In early April I arranged a site visit on a dull grey Saturday afternoon. The main purpose was to ensure the concrete base met the requirements to withstand a large timber structure. Planning permission is not required if the building does not exceed 2.5 meters in height. However, I would need to extend my concrete base by one foot as this is the footprint required for an 8×10 structure. The alternative was to go for the smallest option 8×8 but I was advised such a building would be too small to use as an office adequately. Limiting storage and creating almost a cubicle housed in an outbuilding. I was hoping they would be able to carry all the parts over my neighbour’s fence but unfortunately, it would need to be taken down to provide adequate access particularly as the double glazed window and door would not be able to be bought in through the house. The joys of living (and owning) a mid-terrace property.

Quite a few things to arrange before I could place my order in June. This started with getting permission from my neighbour to take down his fence and keep it down for just over a week. Conveniently the main removal jobs were going to take place the weekend prior to construction and my neighbours were away on holiday. Things were slowly coming together. Facebook was my friend as I looked for recommendations for individual elements of work.

Finding somebody to increase the concrete base was easy enough. I happened to call a company with the boss on holiday the following week so their workforce was at home with nothing to do. They jumped at the chance to do a quick Saturday morning job. Facebook makes life so much easier as you are able to read reviews and contact other customers before committing to a service or sale.

Finding somebody to clear the shed and empty the contents (most of which could be taken away) was more complicated. As usual, I would book appointments with tradespeople to come and inspect the shed and contents and they would not turn up. I would send photographs and get quoted obscene amounts. In one example I was quoted £800 based on just a couple of images. In the end, I looked out on Facebook and found JCA Recycling and they were available on a Saturday in early August to clear out the shed and contents. The price was less than half the previous quote I had received. No further hesitation my side just get it booked. I recall making multiple calls on the roof of my office building – (one of the few places at work where you are guaranteed both privacy and amazing views across the biggest town in the county.)

Slowly but surely the plan was coming together. I had some housekeeping to complete myself. This involved purchasing a plastic Ketter shed from Homebase and building this out one weekend and moving all my car cleaning kit and car maintenance fluids (oil, screenwash etc). The shed in dark brown now sat perfectly in the corner of our patio area.

In June I placed my order and picked out some colours. However, after a visit to Long Acres Garden Centre just outside Bagshot for inspiration, my better half decided to travel down to Moss Garden Centre on the day after I had placed my initial order to change the colour combination and double glazing frame colour. Instead of a brown outbuilding, my wife decided on more pastel professional colour contrast. You will be able to judge for yourself in the photograph below.

Operation Mancave, Binfield, Summer to Autumn 2019

By mid-August the week of construction had arrived, I had arranged for the neighbour’s fence panel to be removed. My regular gardener came and cut the confer tree at the back of my property down to ensure the 2.5-metre structure would fit perfectly. Technically speaking this confer belongs to my neighbour at the rear but rather than course a fuss and dump the confer debris in their back garden I decided to just dispose of all the trimmings in my own garden waste bin. I was starting to get excited as I headed off to London for a work evening event on 19th August. The day finally came around on Thursday 22nd which I had taken off. However, I would need to be patient. Once the shell of the building was erected the actual job was not completed until early October for the internal cladding to be installed and then finally internal painting and connection of networking and power.

A slight tangent if you will. I am not a proper manly man. I cannot complete any true DIY task. As an example for my car unless the task is a single spanner in the Haynes manual I will not attempt anything and I will seek expert professional advice and eventually service. I know many people will take issue with me paying out hard cash for tasks that I probably should be able to complete (in most cases quite easily) by myself. I am afraid – you do not know me.

Cute Frank Spencer!

[Image courtesy of Christine]

Considering I am about to hit the big 40 next year I believe I have come to the point in my life whereby two cultural reference points are required. As you are well aware I was a latecomer to Gavin & Stacey but the show does hold fond memories – one, in particular, captured on this blog.

Smithy's Volvo 850

I would rather pay a competent individual to do something correctly the first time, than attempt a botched job for me only to have to call someone with the embarrassment of resolving something I had started. I know my limitations as a Dad, a Husband, and most importantly human being. One of the most precious resources for me these days is time! Of course, I, therefore, miss out on the satisfaction of ‘dining’ out on my great workmanship and that sense of pride of having built something with my own hands. On this particular topic, I actually spent a considerable amount of time hunting out some people for reference points out on the interweb. I stumbled upon Jack’s YouTube channel – initially on his home working setup (within in suburban Bath home). However, what piqued my interest was his plan to build his own garden office during the same time period as I. He could be someone to compare and contract my build again, although I think his construction was more complex due to all the additional work carried out. Having said that, kudos to him for attempting such an epic project with a growing family (I believe as the project began his partner had had their second child). Thankful for the rest of us Jack has created a YouTube playlist containing all 13 videos which detail his garden office project step by step. Well worth watching if you are planning to go attempt such a mammoth task yourself – there are some great tips in there and it is always valuable to have another person’s experience as a reference point.

All the key photographs have been uploaded to a new FlickR album. I suppose I should provide three images, the before, the middle and after.

Operation Mancave, Binfield, Summer to Autumn 2019Operation Mancave, Binfield, Summer to Autumn 2019Operation Mancave, Binfield, Summer to Autumn 2019

I should clearly clarify although my garden office was ready to use from January 2020, I decided to post this entry on Tuesday 17th March. (I do feel like Winston Smith from 1984 making tweaks to entries from the past to suit the present narrative. Not an easy task even with my amazing ability for total recall.) This was the official first working day at home for me as we quickly approached the UK first national lockdown (although it would be another 7 days before PM BoJo would declare officially the government response to COVID-19 and the legal binding stay at home orders). I wish I could say I could have predicted a global pandemic but this was not on my agenda – I had decided to WFH every Friday at the start of the calendar year and was in the process of kitting out my working space (at my own expense I might add). This process accelerated as you can imagine but the plan for the 8ft by 10ft room is actually as an outfield base of the Rebel Alliance. You know I do love me a To Do List. So please watch this space. Those that follow me on my personal Twitter may get updates in due course. In fact I would also track my professional Twitter account which is open to all.

Home Office Wish List

Probably deserves an entry in it’s own right but I wanted to briefly mention the wonderful gift from my sisters, Samantha & Natalie for my 24th birthday. Something I would tweet later in the calender year. The framed Arsenal Invinicbles photo would remain in my office at my parents home for many years. I actually got the frame re-framed from black plastic to wood but had a vision. I would build a wall dedicated to the North London club once I have my own home and my own office. Took me 15 years but finally I was able to put the frame up and begin my Gunner wall. Watch this place – plenty more to arrive in the next few months.

Arsenal Invincible WallRebel Alliance Desk 001

4 Comments

  • Dave Jones Reply

    Loving the decor – what did you use for internal cladding?
    And did Mr Fox approve of the renovation?

    • teg Reply

      Treated timber internal cladding with foam for insulation – not too cold in the winter but in the heatwave last year – I was melting trying to record a training video… Air Conditioning was a £2k option which my budget would not extend to. Plus as you can see there is limited clearance on either side of the outbuilding to install the large Fujistu unit. As for Mr. Fox he did return once to try and climb the pent roof but gave up and has not been seen since.

  • heythrive Reply

    Wonderful to see all the resources you used along the way. You made me feel like I was on this journey with you. Enjoy!

    Perhaps you might like to add a map showing the places that played a role here, from Moss End Garden Centre to Long Acres Garden Centre. #datavisualization

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