Is the term shed losing its meaning?

When is a shed not a shed? Sharon Dale reports on the semantics and looks at the planning rules for garden buildings of all shapes and sizes.

Rachelle Blondel's caravan doubles as a guest room and playroom. Picture from Granny Chic by Rachelle Blondel and Tif Fussell. Photography: Catherine Gratwicke

The Shed of the Year 2017 shortlist has sparked some debate about what should and should not qualify, even though awards founder Andrew Wilcox has included a “#notashed” category to pacify the pedants.

Andrew, who runs the phenomenally successful, really needn’t have bothered as most of us don’t care about the semantics. Shed trips off the tongue far more easily than garden building and it sounds relaxed, while whispering “escape.” Yorkshire-based writer Sally Coulthard, author of best-selling books Shed Chic and Shed Decor, says: “When I was writing the books, there were lots of small buildings that we wanted to include that wouldn’t necessarily come under a tight definition of ‘shed’. I can think of shepherd’s huts, caravans, treehouses, railway carriages, tents, and showman’s wagons that all made the pages. We included them because the spirit of the shed was definitively in them, the idea of a small, portable or temporary structure that has been transformed into a useable space.

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“For me, sheds are just as easily defined by what they are not. They are not supposed to be permanent living accommodation or a replacement for a home; sheds also can’t be built from permanent materials like brick or stone, they need to be materials that can be deconstructed or moved if necessary, like wood or metal sheeting. For me, a shed is a retreat, or an extra space, that enhances your home, somewhere you can express yourself or carve out a quiet corner. “

The Carriage Shed owned by Michael and Glora Smith

Designer maker and author of Granny Chic Rachelle Blondel, of Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales, agrees and invested in a 1980s Monza caravan six years ago. Known as “Maud”, it is now parked in her garden and serves as a retreat, guest suite and a playhouse for her daughter. “I got it for £350 from eBay, re-did the inside, put some electric in and painted the outside off-white. It was a cheap solution and because it is technically mobile, it isn’t a problem planning wise,” she says.

Alex Johnson, who runs and writes on microarchitecture for The Idler magazine, is a former Shed of the Year judge and believes that the definition of a ‘shed’ is now notoriously tricky to pin down.

“I think most of us would agree that while some builds fall under the heading of ‘microarchitecture’, they are only shed-like at a considerable push. However, I wouldn’t like to see people discouraged from entering Shed of the Year because one of the great successes of the competition is that it has thrown up so many examples of incredible ingenuity within highly restricted spaces.”

He points to some of the builds he has shared on They include a 4m high boat pod constructed from the former bow section of a Cornish fishing trawler, a contemporary garden office clad in cork and the theatrical Flying Black House by Czech architects H3T. This shed is suspended in mid-air under the arch of an old railway bridge.

Michael and Gloria have spent 27 years restoring the Victorian sleeper carriage

Among the most unusual buildings in the Shed of the Year finals is the Carriage House, which is in the “Unexpected” category. It is owned by Michael and Gloria Smith, of Newton-on-Ouse, near York, who have spent 27 years restoring a 54ft Victorian railway sleeper carriage that was once accommodation on a holiday park at Cayton Bay. To keep its teak facade dry, they built a gigantic shed to keep it in. You can see it and vote for it online at The Carriage will also feature on Channel 4’s Amazing Spaces Shed of the Year series in late summer when George Clarke visits some of the finalists and announces the winner.

If you want a shed/garden building of your own you probably won’t need planning permission if you place it your back garden and it is lLess than four metres in height with a pitched roof and less than three metres high with a flat roof; it is no taller than 2.5 metres at eaves height and no closer than two metres to the boundary. There are different rules for outbuildings in National Parks, conservation areas and World Heritage Sites, so check with the relevant authority. Planning permission is always required for garden buildings within the curtilage of a listed property. Putting a caravan/mobile home in your garden falls under the same law as parking a touring caravan in your drive, though some new housing estates prohibit this. Check with the local authority.

*Where to find shed inspiration, run by Andrew Wilcox, aka Uncle Wilco, is sheddie heaven and a must visit if you are looking for ideas, as is Sally Coulthard’s books Shed Chic and Shed Decor are best-sellers for good reason and are published by Jacqui Small. You can see Rachelle Blondel’s caravan and her home studio at Newby Cote Farm at this year’s North Yorkshire Open Studios event. She is showing her fabric and clay designs, along with work by mixed media artist Rachel Thornton. There will also be signed copies of Rachelle’s books, including Granny Chic published by Kyle Books, on sale,

Tom Raffield's Gwenver garden room launched at the Chelsea Show and is made from bent wood. It costs £59,750,
The Carriage Shed owned by Michael and Glora Smith
Michael and Gloria have spent 27 years restoring the Victorian sleeper carriage
Tom Raffield's Gwenver garden room launched at the Chelsea Show and is made from bent wood. It costs £59,750,