Some like it Hut
Gabrielle Fagan scopes out the Shed Of The Year finalists and reveals how anyone can create their own backyard sanctuary ...
Take your dreams off hold if you're yearning for a quiet retreat or private space to enjoy that all too elusive 'me time', because it's probably already there - at the end of your garden.
Turning your attention to the modest shed - surely wasted on spiders, a lawnmower and a clutter of discarded possessions - could pay dividends, providing that longed-for sanctuary for relaxing or hobbies.
If you're still unconvinced of that shabby-shack's potential, there's plenty to inspire in the finalists in the annual Cuprinol Shed Of The Year competition. Entries range from the quirky to the captivating, and include a beach hut built from debris washed up in a tidal surge, a cabin on wheels, an Art Deco-style retro diner and a Hobbit-style garden house, half-buried underground.
"Since launching the competition nine years ago, I've certainly seen a trend towards people viewing their shed as an extension of their home," says Andrew Wilcox, founder of the contest - which will also feature in Channel Four's Amazing Spaces series later this summer.
"Our brilliant winners in the past have included a Roman Temple shed, a pirate shed and sheds with a pub or music theme. There's literally no limit to what people can create, and it's great to see the Great British shed getting the recognition it deserves."
Another source of inspiration is a must-have guide for aspiring sheddies, Shed Decor: How To Decorate And Furnish Your Favourite Garden Room.
The book's author, Sally Coulthard, confirms the growing trend to recognise the value of sheds, or their more expensive alternatives - summer houses, garden rooms and home offices.
"In the last few years, sheds have gone from being a niche interest dominated by enthusiasts to structures which are now viewed as a real asset to a property. The trend reflects the fact we're more likely to stay and improve our homes, rather than move, and we're looking to make the best use of every inch of space," she says.
"After all, where else can you carve out a space that's completely and utterly your own, decorate it as you please and lock yourself away for hours relaxing or enjoying a hobby?"
Those already wooed by sheds - 21 million of us own them - will spend up to a year of their lives in them, according to a survey by Cuprinol, and splash out hundreds of pounds doing them up.
Whatever your budget, Coulthard says a shed's importance can't be over-emphasised. "There's something really important about creating a space in your life where you can be yourself. So many of our waking hours are spent doing things for other people - working, commuting and domestic chores.
"That's not to say we don't enjoy the comforting, familiar chaos and routine of daily life, but it's also crucial to save something for ourselves. Sheds give us the freedom and permission to do something that's life-affirming, creative or just really good fun."
So shake up the shed and enjoy a space to work, rest or play...
Grow the Look
This is a space where you can feel free to experiment with decor, and make the interior as simple or elaborate as you like. "One of the delights of working in a shed is a connection to nature and one of my favourite looks for an interior is rustic, because its palette is primarily neutral tones of natural materials," says Coulthard.
"It's a relaxed, unaffected style, and the key to creating it is combining rough-tough elements, such as sun-bleached timber and hard-wearing coir matting, with softer, more forgiving materials like linens and wools, and adding odd splashes of colour to enliven the scheme."
If you're working on an existing shed, start by giving it a makeover by painting walls and the floor, she advises, and then kitting it out with storage, maybe old fruit boxes or wooden trunks.
"A comfy chair or old sofa and accessories with a botanical theme, prints and cushions, to mirror the great outdoors, will conjure a peaceful space for a very small outlay."
DIY stores - including B&Q, which has a generous-sized, two-door Apex Shiplap Wooden Shed, £680 - offer a huge range of well-priced sheds and garden buildings.
John Lewis' range has an undoubted star, the Crane Round Pavilion Summerhouse, £7,395.
Alternatively, you could indulge your fantasies with a bespoke model from Shackadelic, which specialises in garden shacks, studios and cabins.
Personalise a retreat inside and out with decor accessories and it will feel even more special. A fresh coat of paint can work wonders, and the Cuprinol Garden Shades Woodstain range, from £8.80 per litre, B&Q, has a new collection of colours with enticing names, including Purple Pansy, Forest Mushroom, Fresh Rosemary and Pink Honeysuckle.
A Swirl Three Hanging Pots set, £12.99, Dobbies, could look charming hung below a window outside.
Seating should be simple, and there's nothing more traditional than a deckchair, which can be moved outside on sunny days. In-Spaces' Sante Fe Fields Deckchair, £110, depicting a country landscape is super-appropriate.
B&Q's nature-inspired accessories include a Harrietta Butterflies Natural Cushion, £11. For a brilliant finishing touch, a Personalised Garden Shed Desk Tidy, £35, Bombus.
Sheds by Region
Forking out around £400 on the structure itself, and an average £119.82 doing it up, Northern Ireland is home to the biggest shed spenders. We also spend a lot of time in our sheds, averaging 119 hours a year. Plus, 18% admit we use this space to make secret phone calls.
Averaging 120 hours of shed-pottering a year, the Welsh spend most time in theirs (though their sheds are also the messiest). They're most likely to use them for DIY chores (38%), while 13% retreat to this garden space to mull over relationship problems.
Some Scots love their sheds so much (six per cent), they'd even like to get married in them. Most, however, stock their sheds with old tools (75%) and rusty bikes (41%).
With 12% admitting they keep a TV in their shed, old suitcases (26%) and even the ashes of dead pets (five per cent), Londoners are most guilty of using this space for hoarding. Around 12% would rather spend time in their shed than with their partner.
They're more modest on their average shed spends, forking out £198.31 on the shed itself and just £63.75 doing it up. However, seven per cent agree that being in a shed lifts their mood.
Shed Decor: How To Decorate And Furnish Your Favourite Garden Room by Sally Coulthard is published by Jacqui Small, priced £25. Available to readers for £20 (inc UK p&p). Tel: 019 0382 8503 and quote code: APG 340.
For more information about Shed Of The Year, visit readerssheds.co.uk