As people around the world continue to hunker down and work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to set up a quiet and secluded home office. We’ve rounded up some of the world’s most impressive backyard studios and retreats to get you thinking about how you might devise the workspace of your dreams.
After working from home for over a decade, Canadian architect Randy Bens found himself in need of a little more breathing room to accommodate the growth of his New Westminster–based architecture practice. Rather than rent an office, Randy decided to maintain his no-commute lifestyle by transforming an industrial shipping container into RBA Studio, a cozy 350-square-foot backyard office.
Oliver Dang, architect and founder of Six Four Five A, typically works from home, but his rambunctious toddler made him recognize the need for more space with fewer distractions. Instead of immediately turning to office rentals, however, Oliver built a 100-square-foot workplace in his own backyard in Toronto, Canada.
Architect Bulent Baydar, of Harrison Design, devised this studio for screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan’s home in Arlington, Virginia—and although it was never in the plan, it’s as much an entertaining space as it is an office. "Matthew had been working in his basement," Baydar says. "He’s the father of three young daughters, and he needed a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of the family where he could write." Carnahan commissioned the architect to imagine a freestanding structure in his rear yard that would provide peace and quiet—and plenty of sunlight.
Lauren and Holt Williamson of Austin, Texas–based design/build firm Cedar & Oak Homes always knew that their backyard shed was destined for greater things. "When I started working from home, I dreamed about turning that unused space into a home office," says Lauren. But before the Williamsons knew it, they found themselves designing much more than an office. "Holt quickly jumped aboard my dream train, and instead of adding just a window and a desk, we found ourselves sketching a full-blown tiny house," Lauren says.
Brothers Marlin and Ryan Hanson, of Hanson Land & Sea, designed and built a 250-square-foot hexagonal studio for their client, a birth doula and mother who lives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. It rests in her own backyard among a woodland of cedar, hemlock, fir, and maple trees. "I live on forested acreage in the small community of Roberts Creek," she says. "The studio is where I slow down, write, meditate, and reconnect with nature. It’s also where I teach private prenatal classes and yoga."
A Wellington, New Zealand, couple loved their neighborhood of Berhampore, but found that with two young sons, they were running out of space. They called on Parsonson Architects to devise a solution, which came in the form of a 183-square-foot studio in the backyard of their two-bedroom Victorian cottage. "Set against a backdrop of mature trees at the end of the garden," says founder Gerald Parsonson, "the new studio provides extra space for play, study, and sleeping."
GreenSpur worked with McAllister Architects to design the Creative Cabin, a 280-square-foot backyard office in the suburb of Arlington Forest, just outside of Washington DC. "We wanted to create a space that’s close to —but separate from—the home, a space that’s simple and in concert with the natural environment," say the firms. "Places are what inspire the best in us, not a diluted version of ourselves."
Norwegian prefab maker Livit, the creator of the minimalist Birdbox cabin, has expanded its product line to include the Studypod, a turnkey, detached office. Available with a removable desk and wheels, the prefab pod is small enough to fit in most yards and features a large, black–tinted window to provide a sense of working outside.
Almost four years ago, Hungarian design studio and educational platform Hello Wood began building prototypes of a tiny cabin that they dubbed Kabinka. Over the years, these prototypes were put to the test by architecture and design students taking part in the Hello Wood summer school. The studio then developed a flat-pack version of the cabin, and it’s now available for purchase as an affordable, self-build option for a weekend retreat, backyard guest room, or private office.
Proving beautiful design can be achieved in small spaces and on a small budget, architect Richard John Andrews crafted a modular home office for his backyard in East London. Building the bespoke studio was a challenge—Andrews had a limited budget, space constraints, and site conditions necessitated lightweight materials. But Andrews, who preferred the flexibility of a self-build, knew the endeavor would be worthwhile.
After falling in love with Japanese design and culture during their travels, a couple of conservators enlisted Polish architecture firm Medusa Group to create a garden retreat that pays homage to Japanese design. "As a result of many conversations and meetings, we decided to create a simple and small structure, which can serve as a sculpture in a garden, a hermitage, a guesthouse, or, as of late, a place of seclusion during the pandemic," explain the architects, who completed the Origami House this year.
The Workstation Cabin by Hungarian architecture studio Hello Wood is a sculptural timber pod inspired by the design of space capsules. It’s intended to sit in a garden or other outdoor area, and it can be configured as a fully powered workspace and conference room—or as a convenient guest bedroom or cozy lounge. "We started designing the Workstation Cabin a few months before the lockdown," says Hello Wood cofounder Dávid Ráday. "Although there had been a need for more separate meeting rooms before the pandemic, there is now a rapidly growing demand for isolated work possibilities."
San Francisco–based architect Beverly Choe transformed an old garage on the site of a carriage house into an open and meditative backyard studio where a family can easily retreat to work, relax, and create. The result is a "box of suffused light" that feels airy and minimal yet warm and personal, thanks to plenty of rugs, greenery, and handmade ceramic vases.
Creative couple Michael and Christina Hara designed and built their own 195-square-foot retreat, just steps away from the back door of their home. The shingled structure, called Fish Scale Studio, includes a library, a reading nook, and a workstation. The Haras completed all of the design and construction themselves—for just $18,275—in order to carve out "space for creativity and respite from our chaotic, toddler-filled house," Michael says.
In the backyard of a downtown Toronto home, local design practice Anya Moryoussef Architect has transformed a single-car garage into a multifunctional, light-filled workspace that cleverly belies its compact 325-square-foot size. The client—a former architect who now works from home as a screenwriter and art director—set high demands for the small space. He requested not only a workspace and a separate sitting room, but also plenty of storage for his art collection and scripts, as well as room for his golden retriever, Ollie.
Working from home, but lacking dedicated space for their startup, two homeowners in the London borough of Hackney asked the architecture and design firm Yellow Cloud Studio to create a light-filled study that would allow them to host meetings while still leaving space for greenery and an herb garden. The architects responded by designing a triangular, glass-and-plywood extension that turns the awkward backyard into a light-filled home office.
Nowhere else are the playful aesthetics of Los Angeles design/build studio Knowhow Shop best expressed than in Lighthouse, their recently completed office in Highland Park that doubles as a striking showpiece. Sharply angular and experimental, the 154-square-foot microbuilding pulls inspiration from a variety of sources, including boatbuilding.
Twelve-year-old Hannah Cutler worked mightily to design and build a tiny cabin on an island in Puget Sound with her father, architect Jim Cutler. Along the way, she learned a valuable life lesson: If you can see it in your mind, you can make it. "It was an exercise for Hannah to learn that she could make things," says Jim, who had decided to build a small cabin that could act as both his studio and a bunkhouse for his daughter when her friends sleep over.
After tinkering with pop-up workspace designs for years, architects Tomaso Boano and Jonas Prišmontas of the London-based practice Boano Prišmontas saw an opportunity to put their prefab prototypes to the test when the COVID-19 pandemic upended work/life balance worldwide. To give Londoners reprieve from makeshift offices in cramped apartments, the young architecture firm launched My Room in The Garden, a prefab home office designed to be built in less than a day with just a mallet and an Allen wrench.
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