A London Family Makes the Most of Their Garden With a Clever, Kit-of-Parts Shed

A London Family Makes the Most of Their Garden With a Clever, Kit-of-Parts Shed

By Kate Reggev
Built using eco-friendly, flat-pack materials on a tight budget, this avocado-green pavilion gives one family more room to grow.

Londoners Jonnie and Rachel Allen were looking for a way to stay in their South West London garden apartment instead of moving out to the suburbs. They envisioned a backyard solution that would provide extra space for work and play—one that was sustainable, easy to assemble and disassemble, and budget-friendly to boot.

In search of a medium-term solution that would allow them to stay in their garden apartment instead of moving to the suburbs, Londoners Jonnie and Rachel Allen looked to their backyard for extra space. They wanted a structure that can be easily taken apart and rebuilt, in case they ultimately decide to move and bring the pavilion along.  

Up for the challenge was Studio Ben Allen, a London-based architecture studio that has developed an expertise in well-being and health, having completed the first WELL Building Standard–certified project in Europe. 

Says studio founder Ben Allen, "From the start, the client wanted a highly sustainable structure that was innovative from both a design and environmental point of view."

Allen noted that the clients requested the use of VOC-free materials as an eco-friendly measure and a protective measure for a young child who has allergies. As a result, the team selected materials and finishes with a low environmental impact.

With a tight budget to balance, the firm began exploring ideas for fabrication, material selection, and design. They determined that a series of plywood and MDF elements cut out using a 2D flat-bed CNC mill would be easy to source and fabricate. Each element would be notched, allowing them to interlock, or have pre-drilled holes. This would save time on measuring and drilling on-site, ultimately speeding up the construction process.

The exterior cladding, like the rest of the pavilion, is constructed of pieces of plywood and wood panel products that were cut out of a flat-bed CNC mill. This reduced extraneous waste and made for easy assembly on site.

The flat-pack components arrived on site as a kit of parts. Constructing the pavilion frame only took two people two days to complete. On top of that, the construction process was free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) because no on-site cutting was required.

Colors, materials, and patterns on the interior echo those on the exterior. A large window and skylight help the structure feel connected to the backyard.

The resulting design is not only safer and more environmentally responsible for the clients, but also for the fabricators. "The health and well-being of fabricators will be a big issue in coming years as the conditions on construction sites, particularly in relation to air quality and particulate matter, remain extremely poor," says Allen.

The octagonal shape of the floor plan, which evolves into a hexagon at the roof, is emphasized with the exposed plywood trusses.

For the exterior of A Room in the Garden, the firm was interested in exploring both the playful aspects of a garden folly—a decorative feature in traditional English gardens—and a complex geometry. The team selected a patterned, green cladding that "is intended to partially and surreally camouflage the building in its natural surroundings." Dark green near the base of the building, it gradually evolves into lighter shades at the top. 

The back half of the pavilion features a deep bench—the perfect space for extra storage, reading, and a pull-out bed.

At about 160 square feet, the pavilion provides the growing family with extra space for work and play. 

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In plan, the pavilion follows the form of an octagon, giving way to a hexagonal roof that frames a square skylight. The interior is fit out with materials and colors that match the exterior, placing an emphasis on tactile textiles and multifunctional, transforming pieces like a fold-out bed and a built-in desk.

With a team of two people, the main frame took two days to erect, and the external linings and cladding took four days to install. The internal linings, underfloor heating, flooring, and furniture took a further four days’ work, for a total of 20 person days. The only specialists required were the spray insulation contractor and an electrician.    

Spray insulation means that it takes little energy to heat the building for year-round use. Underfloor heating, lighting, roof lighting, and an extract fan with a humidistat can all be controlled remotely from a smart phone. During the summer, double doors allow fresh air to waft in. 

The gradient of dark to light green mimics the tones of the greenery around the pavilion.

If the family decides to move or take down the pavilion, the building’s flat-pack components are simple to demount and then reassemble in a new location—a major tenet of circular design.

Pre-drilled holes meant that no dust was created on site. Here, each shingle's attachment was designed so that it would be covered by the shingle above.

On the interior, shades of green continue, along with exposed plywood structural members. The gray of the upper portion of the pavilion adds a neutral color to the material palette.

Related Reading:

Budget Breakdown: A Moldy Shed Becomes a Lively Backyard Hangout for Less Than $40K

This Bright and Airy Backyard Cottage in Los Angeles Feels Like a Cabin in the Woods

Project Credits: 

Architects: Studio Ben Allen / @studiobenallen
Team: Ben Allen, Omar Ghazal, Marco Nicastro, Arthur Wong, Massine Yallaoui
Structural Engineer: Format Engineers
Landscape design: Daniel Bell Landskip
Installer: Sullivan and Company
CNC cutting: Hub Workshop
Photography + film: Ben Tynegate 

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