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The Agony of Choice - which shed should I buy for my garden studio? Home Subscribe Email PDF Print

Choose the best optionOK, so I've decided to buy a log cabin to convert into a composer's studio, but which one is right for me?

Well, I guess you need to know your criteria before you can start to weigh up the options, and for me the basic ones would be:

  • How big / what dimensions?
  • How thick do the walls need to be?
  • How high / roof style (flat, pent, ridged)?
  • General aesthetics (modern, traditional etc.)

Is size important? You'd better believe it! How big of course depends on what you want to do in it. Log cabins are available with partition walls to divide the structure into rooms, so if you wanted a recording booth / waiting area / kitchen etc., then that would need to be factored in depending how grand your design is planned to be. For me, I just need a space where I can work on my DAW and store my books / scores / admin / gadgets / gear etc., and maybe room for clients to either sit next to me or in comfort somewhere behind.

The kind of 'fixed item' for me that dictated the space was a combination of needing something very similar in dimensions to my existing shed (to keep the conservation officer happy and make use of the existing concrete base) and the workstation I needed to accommodate. The existing shed is w: 3658  d: 2591mm h: 2400mm or roughly 12' x 8' in old money. The width I can't really do much with but I can flex up to a metre on depth if absolutely necessary. You need to remember however that what is important is the internal dimensions, because that is where you are going to need to work.

For starters, these cabins are measured from the outside edges of where the logs overlap at the corners - so you automatically lose 10cm x 2 per dimension before you've even started. Then there is the thickness of the walls to consider - including the amount of insulation you have chosen to add + a gap if you're going to get really  geeky about the sound-proofing (the 'shed within a shed' concept requires that the two sheds have a small air gap between them). So, if you decided on a 50mm wall thickness with 50mm insulation, a 15mm gap and 12.5mm acoustic plasterboard = remove 455mm ( 1.5' ) from both width and depth to arrive at your workable internal space.

Therefore, conversely, you need to understand what internal space you need to be able to calculate the size of cabin you're looking for. For me, that question started with understanding what desk I need - and that starts with a little 'old skool' geometry!

Monitor Placement
Conventional wisdom has it that your monitors and your head should form an equilateral triangle. In practical terms therefore that means the further apart your monitors are, the further back you need to be sitting. 

The width of the desk is kind of determined by what you want to fit between your monitors - which will determine how far apart they need to be, which in turn determines where you will need to sit to be 'in the sweet spot' - which in turn determines the depth of the desk.

So, if we take my case as an example:

  • I routinely use 3 LCD monitors; 2 for the sequencer (Cubase) and one for the sample hosts / slaves (switchable with a KVM switch). Their widths are 474mm, 560mm and 555mm respectively - adding up to a total of 1589mm. Allowing a little space here and there, that adds up to my monitor speakers needing to be 1709mm apart.
  • Using the aforementioned geometry, the height of an equilateral triangle is calculated by taking the distance between the monitors squared (2,920,681mm) subtracting half the distance squared (730,170.25) and calculating the square root of the result.
  • (2,920,681 - 730,170.25) = 2,190,510.75 , the square root of which =  1480mm - the distance away I would need to be sitting.
  • If I allow say 300mm to comfortably fit my belly between me and the desk and allow 300mm between the back of the monitor speakers and the wall - and that the monitor speakers are 190mm deep, that means that my desk would need to be 1670mm deep.

So, returning to the real world for a moment - just sit at the biggest desk / table in your house with an extending tape measure and extend it to 1.6 metres. Right, that's not a desk, that's a ping-pong table - you're gonna need binoculars to tweak dynamics in Pro Tools.

This was the point at which I realised I needed to re-assess my desk layout. 

Plan B is therefore to determine that the sample host LCD monitor needed to be somewhere other than between the monitor speakers. If I now just use the two DAW LCD monitors on the 'top shelf' that reduces the distance the monitor speakers need to be apart to 1255mm - and if we cheat a little on the Pythagoras stuff and just use 86.6% as a rough calculation, that leaves me with a desk that is 1,276mm deep, still big - but workable.

Now, I need to accommodate that other LCD monitor on the lower desk, and it can't get in front of the monitor speakers - I therefore need to add it's width to one side - and to keep everything symmetrical, to the other side too. So, 1255mm + (2 x 474mm) + (2 x 200mm [the width of the monitor speakers themselves] = 2,624, the required width of my desk.

Assuming I decided on a 50mm wall thickness with 50mm insulation, a 15mm gap and 12.5mm acoustic plasterboard [ = remove 455mm (1.5') from all 3 dimensions] then I need an external dimension of at least 3079mm to accommodate my desk! So the grand conclusion is that I need to be looking for a w: 3.5M x d: 3.0M cabin [and am going to have to extend the concrete slab by 500mm :-( ]

Is thickness as important as length? Well, that all depends how fussy you are about the soundproofing (I'm not going to talk about thermal insulation as a separate item, as you get that as a bonus of the sound insulation in any case). If you were planning to install a drumkit for practice purposes, the advice I've received is that you would need to go for a shed within a shed - both with 30mm walls have 150mm of sheepswool / rockwool and a 20mm gap between them. So, using the above calculations that means a wall thickness of 230mm ( 9" ) with duplicated double glazed windows and doors for both structures. That also means you will need to add 660mm to your external dimensions to determine what size of shed you need to order to achieve your internal dimension goals.

Can you cut that back?, - well I hope so, because that is the choice I've made! I am assuming that if you write a lot of trailer music for action films and need to audition it at full volume at 3am - you're going to need the full monty. If you write lots of emo piano stuff for documentaries about poorly pussy-cats then maybe you can afford to live without the second skin and some of the insulation.

I've opted for a 44mm wall with 50mm sheepswool insulation encased in 12.5mm acoustic plasterboard - with no gap. I am not recommending this option until the shed is built and I've tested it, but I had to make a decision and that is it for now. I'll come back to edit this post once I know more!

I can't think of a penis related double-entendre for height. In my case the pent roof (sloping) is necessary for similarity to the existing shed, and I've increased the height slightly to 2302mm at the front / 2082mm at the back. In terms of internal height I've had to allow for the 50mm insulation and the creation of a false plasterboard ceiling so the internal structure is flat (so I don't get odd reflections due to the right monitor having more height above it than the left). This means the internal height will be 2019.5mm, approximately 165mm (6.5") above my head when standing (cozy!) - well, at least it will be easy to change light bulbs! I may yet change my mind and just install a floating ceiling above the monitors and extending the full depth of the desk if it feels too low once the shell is built.

Does it matter what it looks like, when what counts is how you use it? (back to double-entendres). This is I believe a matter for you, your partner and your neighbours! It's a combination of what would look right in your garden and how you want windows / doors etc laid out (dictated by what you want to put inside and how concerned you are about security). I chose what I chose because it looked a bit like my existing shed and didn't have too much glass (which not only uses up internal space but also raises security issues). My plan is to install shop-style roller shutters over the window and doors for when I'm not at home, and heavy curtains on the inside to help with late-night soundproofing.

As these cabins are predominently designed for leisure use, many of them have a lot of glass - which puts your investments on display to passing burglars as well as uses up space. Also, temperature regulation in studios can be problematic in hot weather (viewers in Lancashire please skip to the next sentence) and an excess of glass may make that difficult. Looking on the bright side - many suppliers offer a customisation service.

Who deserves my hard earned cash? I suspect every supplier has fluctuations on their standards of customer service depending on what else is going on in their lives, so I don't intend to offer any recommendation - just to tell you what I did and why. What I would definitely recommend is to shop around, once you have chosen your basis spec, there will be several companies able to supply it - so ask them all to quote (or at least 3) before you click the order button. In my case I had variations in price over £1,000 and went through a process of having to demand my money back having actually placed an order when the supplier tried to up the price. Just Google 'Log Cabin xM x xM and start researching!

I chose to buy the following:
The Rho

If you click the image it will take you to the supplier's website. There were several suppliers offering an identical product, but I went for Tiger Sheds because of the way they handled my customisation request.

I requested this product, but with the following modifications:

  • Window on the left gable removed (because that will be behind my monitors on the workstation)
  • Double doors moved to the right gable (not visible from off the property and will open out onto decking I've already built)
  • Window on the front moved to the middle ( to get it out of the way of the workstation and place it infront of a small desk at which I'm going to do my admin on my MacBook ).

Their charge for making these changes was £70 - bringing the total up to £2175.48 inc. VAT delivered. The insulation and boarding out I will do myself (covered in later posts). For similar customisations the charges ranged up to £600 - £1045 in other quotes I received.

I formed the opinion that some of the shed websites belonged to manufacturers and others to 'agents' who take their cut for effectively passing the order on and doing the admin. All the websites seem to do their best to imply they are the manufacturer.

Even if you don't buy from these guys, their website is worth a visit if only to watch the CAD video they have made of how the cabins are assembled - which will help give you an idea of what you are letting yourself in for!

Anyway, those are my thoughts on how to choose your 'Posh Shed' - subsequent posts will cover desk design, site preparation and construction in more detail - as well as the all-important budgeting! 

If you want to ask and questions or give me some feedback, please use the comment form below! If you want to keep posted on how things are progressing, please click the subscribe link just below the title and select the category 'Posh Shed'


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