Budget Breakdown: A Creative Couple in Minneapolis Build a Multipurpose Backyard Studio For $18K

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By Melissa Dalton
The 195-square-foot, shingled studio includes a library, reading nook, and workstation—and it’s DIY inside and out.

This year, creative couple Michael and Christina Hara got a kid-free retreat just steps away from their back door, thanks to a recent amendment to the Minneapolis building code that lets accessory structures under 200 square feet circumvent the traditional permitting process.

$75
Permit
$150
Site Upgrades
$1,700
Foundations
$1,265
Framing
$2,250
Cladding
$750
Roofing
$1,150
Insulation
$3,750
Windows & Skylights
$1,120
Flooring
$1,525
Interior Finishes
$1,175
HVAC
$650
Electrical
$1,125
Built-In Cabinetry
$1,560
Furniture

Grand Total: $18,275

The Haras carried out the project, called Fish Scale Studio, over eight months. They did 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," as Michael explains.

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The couple finished the exterior siding with shingles made of Hardie board and painted a deep purple. "We wanted an exterior cladding that was durable, low-maintenance, and relatively DIY-friendly," says Michael. "When looking at our options at the local hardware store, the fish-scale shape popped because it was unique, quirky, and not super serious—and yet could create a contemporary look through uniformly using it with woven corners and minimal detailing."

The couple finished the exterior siding with shingles made of Hardie board and painted a deep purple. "We wanted an exterior cladding that was durable, low-maintenance, and relatively DIY-friendly," says Michael. "When looking at our options at the local hardware store, the fish-scale shape popped because it was unique, quirky, and not super serious—and yet could create a contemporary look through uniformly using it with woven corners and minimal detailing."

The studio is a multipurpose destination for the hardworking pair (he’s an architect and product designer; she’s a fashion designer). The space includes a reading nook, library, workstation, and table for large projects or meetings. Almost everything, from exterior lighting and interior furnishings, to the turntable and speakers, were designed and built by the creative couple.

According to Michael, the centralized table is a contemporary take on a traditional trestle table, combining raw steel plate "legs" with a bleached ash slab with wenge keys. The chairs are powder-coated steel and maple, with sheepskin cushions, and the floors are whitewashed birch hardwood. The chandelier is inspired in part by a Lindsey Adelman design and built to fit the space.

According to Michael, the centralized table is a contemporary take on a traditional trestle table, combining raw steel plate "legs" with a bleached ash slab with wenge keys. The chairs are powder-coated steel and maple, with sheepskin cushions, and the floors are whitewashed birch hardwood. The chandelier is inspired in part by a Lindsey Adelman design and built to fit the space.

Well-placed skylights flood the built-in desk and workstation with natural light. The elegant desk lamp, which Hara calls the Sunset Lamp, has a maple base and bowl-like shade, the latter finished with gold leaf for a warm glow.

Well-placed skylights flood the built-in desk and workstation with natural light. The elegant desk lamp, which Hara calls the Sunset Lamp, has a maple base and bowl-like shade, the latter finished with gold leaf for a warm glow.

Perforated cabinet faces above the reading nook conceal an energy-efficient, mini-split heating and cooling system. Bleached and whitewashed maple lines the nook, while drawers below provide plenty of storage.

Perforated cabinet faces above the reading nook conceal an energy-efficient, mini-split heating and cooling system. Bleached and whitewashed maple lines the nook, while drawers below provide plenty of storage.

A wall of shelving, about seven feet tall and 12 feet wide, keeps reference books and vinyl close at hand. Michael designed and fabricated the speakers, turntable, and amplifier (the latter incorporating another person's circuitry design).

A wall of shelving, about seven feet tall and 12 feet wide, keeps reference books and vinyl close at hand. Michael designed and fabricated the speakers, turntable, and amplifier (the latter incorporating another person's circuitry design).

Michael has a small side business for his custom audio equipment, called HIFI/MPLS. The turntable is the Brutus model. It combines concrete, rosewood, and brass, and weighs about 160 pounds.

Michael has a small side business for his custom audio equipment, called HIFI/MPLS. The turntable is the Brutus model. It combines concrete, rosewood, and brass, and weighs about 160 pounds.

A close-up of the integrated planter in front of a south-facing window.

A close-up of the integrated planter in front of a south-facing window.

Michael specified that the corner window be mullion-free so sitting in the nook feels like you are outside. "By being immersed on two sides without any real obstructions, you get a sense like you are out there in the natural world, in the yard," he says. "This is a particularly wonderful feeling, especially during our long, snowy Minnesota winters, where we can enjoy the beauty and stillness of the snow but still enjoy the warmth and comfort of being inside."

Michael specified that the corner window be mullion-free so sitting in the nook feels like you are outside. "By being immersed on two sides without any real obstructions, you get a sense like you are out there in the natural world, in the yard," he says. "This is a particularly wonderful feeling, especially during our long, snowy Minnesota winters, where we can enjoy the beauty and stillness of the snow but still enjoy the warmth and comfort of being inside."

Related Reading: A Weekend DIY Turns a Neglected Garage Into a Backyard Hangout For $13K

Project Credits:

Architect: Michael Hara

Construction and finishes: Michael and Christina Hara

Custom Audio Equipment: HIFI/MPLS