Our Home Office, aka the “World Shedquarters”

by Vanessa Hayes

in Around the House,Office Tech,Organizing,Productivity

I get asked all the time about my home office because I film many of my videos in there.  So, I thought I’d share a little bit about it for those who are interested. Here goes…

We Need a Home Office!

My husband and I had two different “home offices” that were separated from one another by only a few feet.  One was the dining room table and the other was a glider that we bought in anticipation of the birth of our (now almost 5 year old) baby girl. As comfortable as the glider is (it’s the amazingly stylish and well built Luca Glider and ottoman from Monte Design), it doesn’t make for much of an office!  We both run our businesses from home (of course, I run ‘Get Simplifized’ and my hubby does marketing/media consulting). Together, we got pretty tired of our temporary offices and the clutter that inevitably takes over. We decided that an actual office was not only necessary to keep the peace, but also to keep our sanity. So, we built our own! As you can see, it turned out really well.  Well, here’s the story on how we ended up with our dream office…our “World Shedquarters!”

We don’t buy into the whole McMansion lifestyle.  Our home is an ample 1800 square feet, 3 bedroom, 2 bath home. Since we have two kids converting a “spare room” into a home office just wasn’t in the cards. We’re also planning on being in this house for a just a few more years before we move to some land in the Texas Hill Country, so building an addition was out of the question.  We had to think outside the box.  Outside the house, actually.  So, we decided to build a home office (our “World Shedquarters”) in an unused corner of the back yard.  OK, “unused corner” is a bit misleading…our entire back yard was essentially “unused.” But we picked the corner of the yard that would be the least obtrusive to our view from the living room and would hopefully allow us to start using the back yard a bit more.

My husband looked around the Internet and saw a few office shed designs that inspired us but none captured completely what we wanted.  So, armed with what I wanted and what my husband wanted, he designed one for us! He started with a list of what the goals were for our home office:

- It needed to be large enough to have two separate work spaces (one for me, one for him).

- He wanted it large enough to host 3-4 clients comfortably.

- He wanted it “tech infused,” meaning that he could have all his gear there, have it integrated, and attempt to have it visibly as “cord-free” as possible. We both despise visible cords.

- It needed to be comfortable in the hot San Antonio summer and cool winter.

- We wanted it as aesthetically pleasing inside and out as we could make it.

- Be able to take most of the “expensive” items with us when we move.

- If we had the choice we would choose sustainable options over non-sustainable.

Once we knew what our goals were my husband set out to figure out how to make it all happen.  First call was to the city to check applicable codes.  Luckily, he found out that as far as structure was concerned, if it was under 200 square feet the city’s only concern was that it be 5 feet from all property lines.  Unfortunately, we had to take 2 trees down so we called Matt from Land ‘n Lawns (our go-to guy for anything lawn or landscape). As usual, Matt and his crew did a fantastic job and we had them back to do some landscaping later…

Building Our Home Office Shed

Here’s a little “photo montage” of the actual build:

 Did I mention that we (OK…my husband) built this during the hottest summer in recorded history for San Antonio???

A lot of design went into the shed structure itself, but the structure design was born from the functionality we wanted the inside of the shed to have.  It’s the inside “stuff” that makes it a productive office.

Furnishing a Home Office

So here is a little info on what’s inside the office:

SAYL Chair by Herman Miller:  We absolutely LOVE our Sayl chairs by Herman Miller.  These were a splurge for us but it really makes sense that if you’re going to spend a lot of time sitting you really need to invest in a good chair.  We’ve always loved Herman Miller products and took to the modern aesthetic of the new SAYL as soon as we saw it.  On a trip to Portland for Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit we popped into a Herman Miller distributor, plopped down into the SAYL, and were instantly sold!  Don’t cheat yourself, your back, or your productivity…if you spend a lot of time sitting for work you should really consider investing in a good chair! We opted for the chrome base, adjustable arms, and adjustable lumbar support.  We also ordered the chairs with the hard-surface casters, as we knew our floors would be bamboo.  When deciding on the right chairs, we took a long time considering whether the cost of the chairs was really worth it.  Never again…these chairs are amazing! Plus, they’re 93% recyclable (I dread the day I have to haul these beauties to the recycle bin!)

Standing desk: Yes, as comfortable as the SAYL chairs are, my husband does like to use a “standing desk” part of the time. Well, his “standing desk” consists of a $10 black “pleather” ottoman we bought from Target years back.  He put felt pads on the bottom so it doesn’t scratch the desk and simply set in on the desk top.  Instant standing desk!  He uses his Apple wireless keyboard and Trackpad and mirrors his iMac desktop to the 42″ Visio TV and voilà, a whole new workstation. It rocks! More on the Visio below…

Visio TV with Internet Apps:  We didn’t run cable for internet or television to the Shedquarters. Our wifi signal from the house’s Apple Airport Extreme/Time Capsule is plenty strong enough to give us good signal in the office.  So, we went “old school meets new school.” He put a TV antenna on the roof and dialed in more stations than we really need and we stream Netflix, Hulu, TwiT, etc, via wifi.  If there is a cable TV specific show (such as news, a documentary…) that we want to watch we simply use our iPads and the free Time Warner Cable app.  So, all of our viewing bases are covered.

Ikea: Upper Cabinets- We don’t have a lot of “stuff” to store so the upper cabinets are really all we need.  Ikea stuff looks good, is inexpensive, and easy to assemble (well these cabinets were anyway).

Filing Cabinet- We don’t have many paper files as we’re essentially digital, but we do use the filing cabinet for printer paper, cleaning supplies, odds and ends.

Whiteboard: OK, we like to use a whiteboard for brainstorming, making lists, fleshing out ideas, etc,  but whiteboards always seem to leave “ghosting” eventually.  We researched alternatives such as Idea Paint, and glass whiteboards.  Candidly, I just wasn’t convinced with Idea Paint (although admittedly I never used it) and it seemed pricier than we wanted to go.  Glass whiteboards were just outrageously priced!  So, my husband’s gears started turning and he began to explore.  We settled on the Vika Glasholm tabletop from Ikea for under $80.  Dan just made a couple of oak cleats and hung it horizontally, with the frosted side facing the wall.  This works absolutely flawlessly!

Other items we got from Ikea include my shelf, my desk light, our trash cans and recycle bins.

From Amazon:  With all the techie stuff my husband is into, he bought a LOT of “stuff” from Amazon, including all cords (HDMI, Apple dongles for HDMI, Mini Display Port to HDMI cables), VGA cables, audio cables, grommets, powered outlet grommets, USB grommets, 5.1 surround speakers, Audio/Video Receiver, speaker wire, speaker connection plates, A/V and audio plates, speaker connection hardware, and some stuff that I have no idea what it is or does!  He also bought our outdoor speakers, ceramic heater, security keypad deadbolt and door handle there too.  Electronic cords and accessories were so much cheaper and easier to get from Amazon than from Radio Shack (which charged nearly double for some items), Lowe’s, or Best Buy.  As an Amazon Prime member the 2-day shipping was free too.  I don’t know how much we really saved in the end by using Amazon.com but it was a LOT!

From Lowes:  My husband bought nearly all the construction materials from Lowe’s, including all lumber, ceiling lighting, fan, siding, low-e doors/screen, plexiglass for clerestory windows, Energy Star window unit air conditioner, HardiPlank siding, insulation, roofing, paint, and the floating bamboo floor.

The only things he bought from Home Depot were the “attic” vents.  Seems insignificant but Lowe’s didn’t have the style we wanted.  The roof needs airflow to prevent buildup of moisture so my husband checked to make sure he had proper venting designed in and the little vents he used were perfect for the job.

The “System”:  During construction we ran speaker wires for outside speakers and 5.1 surround sound inside the office.  He runs our audio through a Sony A/V receiver so we can switch between audio from any of the computers, over the air TV, and Internet TV very easily.  As I mentioned above, we also use the Visio as a monitor and have connections to my husband’s iMac, his Macbook, and my Macbook.  We have a “community” hook-up too for clients to tap in to, as well. Clients/guests use a guest wifi network through our Airport Extreme. Using the Visio has really upped the dynamic and functionality when working with clients.  Clients can see what my husband is doing (or, if they’re hooked up he can see what they are doing) and easily follow along. This system has worked really well and has really paid off when working with clients and partners.  We also added an Apple TV so we can use AirPlay Mirroring from our iPhones/iPads as we do in the house.  So far, even after a year of daily use and minor tweaks, the system rocks!

The office took a couple of months to build as my husband could only work on it nights and weekends.  We did hire a master electrician to do all the rough-in and a drywall guy.  While Dan can do basic electrical, and certainly drywall, we decided to call a pro for those.  I helped lay the bamboo flooring and pitched in on some painting help…and so did Dan’s ex-wife (we’re all friends…but that’s another post).  We also got some help hanging the doors from our friend Steve, but my husband did the bulk of the work himself. He says that he wishes he had more help with the roof and some of the framing, but otherwise it wasn’t too difficult a job.

It’s hard to express how truly happy we are with the results.  The office is a great place to work and lets us separate “work” from “home,” yet is only steps away from our back door.  Plus, everyone who sees it loves it.  We’ve even had a few tell us they were jealous!  It feels great to know we did it ourselves, and for the most part, on the cheap.

So I guess I’ll wrap this up by saying if you’re stuck in a rut with your work station or office, there are options. We’ve always been the DIY kind…but we both really learned a lot on this project.  We all need our own little “sanctuary” where we can get away and concentrate.  I guess I’m really lucky that my office is that place. When I’m not working in clients’ homes or businesses I have this great little office to come “home” to.  So, next time you see one of my videos from the office, or if you hire me to do some virtual organizing or consulting, you’ll have your own visit to our “World Shedquarters!”  And know this…you’re always welcome! That said, if you have any questions or comments on the project feel free to leave a comment below.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Pedrotti September 19, 2012 at 7:32 AM

Hi Vanessa,

Great post! My husband is a freelance writer and it has been my dream for quite some time to build him a writing studio. I’m going to save this post so I can refer back to it when the time comes to design and build his studio. You have inspired me…again!

Vanessa Hayes September 19, 2012 at 9:09 AM

Lisa, we absolutely love this office.! Candidly…I was a little opposed to it because I thought…why spend money when we can just deal with our makeshift offices (dining table and glider chair…ha!)? But of course he built the office on an amazing budget and it has totally been worth it! My productivity is off the charts compared to being in the house. I would get distracted by the the dishes in the sink, the laundry needing to get done, straightening up the bathrooms, checking out the pantry, testing all the snacks in the pantry, etc. When I’m in the office I’m out there for hours and the time flies! So…feel free to contact us if/when you build your own studio…Dan would be excited to share his experience and advice with you!

Jennifer Korbich October 17, 2012 at 12:24 PM

Hi Vanessa,
My husband and I are both designers and architects and although we have a wonderful home office downstairs in our basement we still wish for that backyard office too. We already have it designed and modeled. Like you said, it’s hard to justify the money to build a separate building when you have a perfectly good space in your own home. After reading your article and that your shed has boosted your productivity, you may have just pushed our “dream” into a reality. Nice article. Thank you. Check out our website http://www.korbicharchitects.com for our dream shed!

Vanessa Hayes October 18, 2012 at 8:23 AM

Wow Jennifer, your work is amazing! Love the before and after photos of your projects. Yes…I absolutely love our Shedquarters. Something about detaching it from the main home really makes a difference. I’m not exactly sure why but it does! We love simple streamlined design and that’s exactly what my husband produced (although he’s no architect..he’s damn good DIY’er)! The big T-shaped desk allows us to spread out our work and let clients share desk space too if needed…the french doors with sliding screens is great for opening up to the outdoors…and a television and sound system with speakers for inside, outside or both so I can listen to Adele, the Foo Fighters or Jason Mraz is awesome….oh and of course the Herman Miller chairs (a big big purchase for us but totally worth it for our backs)!!! Anyhoos…if you don’t feel as inspired in your basement office, then I say go for it if you can! I’m definitely not a huge advocate of having more (“less is more” is more my gig), but if your productivity is stifled then maybe a backyard shed is your answer! Thanks so much for your comments and sharing your work!

Alexa October 26, 2012 at 3:30 PM

I am curious at what the cost of the build (not the furniture/decor) ended up at? I want one!

Vanessa Hayes October 27, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Around $12K. That’s primarily because my husband did most of the labor except for the electrical and drywall. So again, that includes materials and subcontractor labor. It’s crazy cheap considering a prefab building like this runs at least double or more! I am very fortunate to have a talented husband (although I’m sure at times he’s not so grateful…lots of back breaking labor)!

William Rowe November 10, 2012 at 1:49 PM

How unique! haha my neighbor built his own tool shed and it looked really cheap to do… $12,000 seem’s like a lot lol. My Dad’s car garage up at our cabin was more expensive than that. :/

However, I Googled Internet into shed to see how I could run a 50 foot cable into my shed for my servers. Somehow I got this but it actually really gave me a good idea that I should ask my ex’s dad if he could supply me with the material because he own’s a lumber yard and I’m pretty sure he would help me out.

What a great idea though!

Vanessa Hayes November 16, 2012 at 9:35 AM

Thanks William! I thought our shed was a lot of money but then I thought about how it’s much more than a shed….it’s got a solid foundation, insulation, drywall, hardiplank siding, bamboo flooring, air conditioning, double “freedom” doors, custom desk, electrical outlets, multiple USB outlets, lights with dimmers, a ceiling fan, a front deck, and of course a flat screen tv mounted to the wall on and arm! Waaaaaay more than a shed, right?!!!! Glad we could inspire you!

Chris December 14, 2012 at 11:42 AM

Hi Vanessa,
I just stumbled across your site while researching doing the same thing in my backyard. I was wondering what size your shed is. I’m in downtown Toronto and don’t have all that much space in my backyard, but definitely don’t want to go to small and regret it. I’m thinking a minimum of 108 square feet (max. for no permit) and maybe going the permit route and upping the space.
I’m going to guess by the plywood that yours is 12×12?
Thanks! Your shedquarters looks great.

Vanessa Hayes December 14, 2012 at 9:38 PM

Thanks, Chris, and you’re absolutely right! It’s 12 x 12. Good luck!

Vanessa Hayes December 20, 2012 at 8:34 AM

Before I tell you what helps me, let me recommend a fantastic book…it’s called Platform by Michael Hyatt. It’s chock full of tips in short, easy to comprehend chapters. One of the things he talks about is creating a blog schedule or calendar. Making a list of blog topics and ideas is very helpful in at least narrowing down your thoughts. I have seasonal topics and then once a month, I kind of think about what other topics I want to discuss throughout the month. I’d like to do more but with working with clients, recording a podcast and then recording videos or writing a blog post…I can only do 4 posts per month.

I sometimes keep notes in Evernote under a notebook I’ve titled “blog topics.” Evernote is great for capturing ideas via a quick typed note, voice memo, forwarded email notes, web links, web pictures. etc. So that might help.

Other tips to help you with the flow of writing could be to:

1. Think about your topic the night before…sleep on it!
2. Create an outline: Intro, body, and conclusion…with 3-4 sentences in each paragraph and transitions into each (basic writing skills, right? ;o)
3. Don’t edit as you write! I used to do this and it would take forever to write. Just keep writing and worry about making corrections later.
4. Decide to do nothing else but write. Stay focused by tuning out all other distractors. It takes discipline but turning of your phone, FB and Twitter really helps!

Hope some of these tips are helpful. And BTW…thanks for the compliment on the blog and thanks for checking it out!

ClInt December 29, 2012 at 8:14 PM

I came across your blog when searching for ideas and I used your idea to create my “shack in the back” for my home office. After further review, I saw you guys also live in SA!! You should come see mine! Just finishing siding now. Email me and I will shoot you some pics!! Thanks for the idea!!!

Vanessa Hayes December 30, 2012 at 6:47 PM

That’s awesome!!!! We love SA and we absolutely love our backyard “Shedquarters” and don’t regret for a moment building it. Looks like you’ve got a catchy name for your shed too! Would love to see some pix. You can email me at vanessa@getsimplifized.com Thanks so much and glad you got inspired!

Michael January 22, 2013 at 12:49 PM

Oh. My. Gosh. I love this whole idea. Jealous? You bet! You guys did a fantastic job. Wow!

I am trying to convince my wife to convert our spare bedroom (which NEVER gets used) into a home office for us. Say a prayer: I think she’s almost convinced that it makes good sense.

Again: congratulations on your marvelous workspace.

P.S. Found your site via a link that Daniel has in his profile over at Platform University. I’m a member and look forward to interacting with Daniel and others. : – )

Vanessa Hayes January 24, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Michael,
Thanks for the comments! We do love our Shedquarters…having a dedicated office space makes such a difference in our productivity! You might consider having a dual purpose guest room / office by putting in a murphy bed (fold down wall bed). We did this in my daughter’s room for a couple of years when she was a toddler before we built the office in the backyard. She would sleep with us when guests were over. The nice thing about the murphy bed is that you can fold it up when you don’t need it and just pull it down when you do! Just a thought…

Congrats on Platform University. Dan’s excited about it too! I shared your comment with him and he said thanks (he did put a lot of blood and sweat into building the office so it’s nice to get feedback like yours). Take care and best of luck with that home office!!!

Richard February 4, 2013 at 11:53 AM

First I’d like to say great job on this project. I am a “do it your selfer” and the office looks great. What did you guys construct the T-shaped desk from. I have a similar space in the house we’re using and a desk as such would give my wife and I more space.

Vanessa Hayes February 9, 2013 at 1:27 PM

Thanks, Richard! It was a fun project and we’ve really been enjoying it since we finished. The desk was made with oak plywood. My husband simply attached 2 x 4 cleats to the back wall and the side walls. He then constructed a frame for under the desk with 2 x 4′s shaped like a “T”. Then the plywood top was added. He doubled the thickness of the plywood along the edges and finished the edges with oak veneer. The only leg of the table is the big leg at the base of the “T”. He simply made a 2 x 4 frame, sandwiched oak ply on each face, & used wide veneer to cover the side edges to make it look like one bog monolithic piece of oak. That’s it for the construction. The he added power grommets and a USB grommet. Hope this helps!

Brady April 20, 2013 at 8:40 AM

After tirelessly searching the web for a picture of my dream backyard studio, I finally found this one! This is exactly what I want to build for me and my wife. My wife teaches violin, and thus, creating a space for her and her students (many of which are beginners) away from the house seems like the best option. We are also planning to pour a concrete foundation for our backyard studio, probably with hot water heating, seeing as we live in Winnipeg MB. Thanks for the pictures and the write up! It is really inspiring, and just what I need to get on my way. Just out of curiosity, do you have plans for the “shedquarters”?

Vanessa Hayes April 22, 2013 at 7:50 AM

Hi, Brady! So glad you like our “World Shedquarters”! Candidly, we love it more and more every day and it has been a great place for us to work and to record our audio show Simple Life Together. Since we do audio recording in there we did hang some sound absorbing panels that my husband design/made to absorb some of the echo. That made a world of difference as with so many hard parallel surfaces it was a bit “echoey”.

We don’t currently have plans but we’ve had so many people ask that we’re actually getting an architect to draw some up for us with some other options that my husband thought of, too. I don’t have a firm timeline though as the architect is doing as a “side gig” to their day job. If you’re interested, I’ll send you an email when they’re done.

Best of luck with your project! I’m sure your wife will love it and it’ll make a fantastic studio for her!

Fred eisenlohr May 12, 2013 at 10:51 PM

Hi there. Love the detached office ! Was this a kit or built from scratch by your husband ? What were the dimensions of the unit and the final cost of it’s construction ? Thanks for the inspiration ! Just beautiful !

Fred Eisenlohr

Vanessa Hayes May 29, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Hi Fred! Thanks so much! My hubby built it from scratch. I think he may have email you too… Good luck with your project!

David Suzuki September 13, 2013 at 11:33 PM

Wow Vanessa ! I love the backyard office and would be very interested in buying the plans when they are available !

Vanessa Hayes September 30, 2013 at 9:08 AM

Thanks! We were in the process of getting plans made but it kinda fell through…our guy got too busy with his full-time job ;o) So, we still want to make plans but just haven’t gotten back to getting them made. We checked out your website and we’re getting our own CampInn 560 Ultra camper trailer in November! We are so anxious to get! We had a chance to camp in a 2006 rental for almost a month and loved it! We even recorded a podcast in our campground talking about how much we loved the little camper: http://simplelifetogether.com/slt-035-living-in-50-square-feetvacation-simplified/

Anyhoos…thanks for the comment and hopefully we’ll get plans made up someday!

Precy Jane October 22, 2013 at 2:24 AM

This is absolutely awesome. I will make one like this too. My lil’ home office.. So love it! Another addition to my to do list.. :)

Vanessa Hayes October 22, 2013 at 3:12 AM

Thanks, Precy!!!!

willie kutz December 6, 2013 at 5:02 AM

Thanks vanessa….

Steven K February 13, 2014 at 7:37 AM

hey there,
love the shed. just built one myself in austin for a home office. i’m struggling with how to heat and cool. does the window ac cool enough in the summer? is it too loud? i’vce been considering a mini split system but they seem complicated and expensive.
thanks.
steven

Wendy February 26, 2014 at 1:30 AM

This is a huge endeavor for a beginner, seeing as I also live in San Antonio I was wondering if you have any ideas of who offers classes for DIYer’s who want to learn to use the various power tools that are required to build projects like this. I’ve checked everywhere I can find online to no avail. It seems like it’s the trend now to do it yourself, but even though I own the tools to DO this, I don’t know how to use them! Videos are great, but they don’t offer the hands on training you need to really feel comfortable using tools safely..

Thanks,
Wendy

Vanessa Hayes March 3, 2014 at 9:22 AM

You may want to check with places like Home Depot or Lowes. Sometimes they have classes and may be able to help you find training. Maybe look up Adult Continuing Education for classes on carpentry etc. Fortunately I have a crazy husband who researches the heck out of things and can do a lot of DIY!

Vanessa Hayes March 3, 2014 at 9:27 AM

The little window AC works great for us in this small office space…even in the Texas heat. As for heat, we simply plug in a space heater when we need it and it warms up just fine (sometimes we start the heat a few minutes before we go back out). Fortunately we don’t have to use the heater as much as the AC since our winters are pretty mild in Texas as you know!

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