Fi Shailes
Guest writer
Posted 4 weeks ago

Step into my office #5: A peek into one freelancer’s workspace

Being self-employed brings with it a variety of options when it comes to where you conduct your business. Every month, Coconut meets a self-employed business owner and have a peek at their workspace.

We’ve covered a couple of sheds, a log cabin and a caravan already, so now it’s time for a garden room!

We speak to Gemma Andrews of Bobble Graphics this month. Gemma is a self-employed graphic designer based in Whitstable, Kent.

How did you get into the habit of working from a garden room?

Life as a freelancer started purely as a way to ‘top-up’ my income alongside my part-time job as an in-house graphic designer. However, our house was tiny, and there was only one combined living and dining area for two adults and two kids.

Gemma Andrews's Garden Room        Gemma Andrews at desk

I didn’t fancy spending all day in a café, so I would either try and work at the dining room table when the kids weren’t around, or my husband would have to take them out somewhere so I could get some work done in peace.

By the time we started looking for a bigger house, I knew that I wanted to go full-time as a freelancer, and would definitely be needing a house with potential for an office!

Our budget wouldn’t stretch to a four-bed house, but we did manage to find a house which had three beds, plus a 200ft garden – more than enough room for a garden office…  It turned out that I was made redundant just a few months before we moved anyway, so everything sort of fell into place from there.

Was the new office built right at the end of the garden, like most others?

No, we decided for security and ease to keep the office close to the house – which had the added benefit of making it easy to hook up the electrics to the adjoining garage, and meant that our home wi-fi signal covered the area comfortably – without the need for a booster.

It’s also nice that, when it’s pouring down with rain, it’s only a few metres from the kitchen – where the kettle lives!

How did you furnish and ‘kit out’ your studio office?

I chose to decorate the office very differently to the main house (which is mainly dark and verges on maximalist), so it’s very light and bright, with lots of plants. It really helps me to get into a different headspace. I love that it’s all mine; a place to think, work and be creative.  

I have filled the walls with inspirational magazines and books using picture ledges and clipboards. I also keep my yoga mat in here, as it turns out it’s the perfect shape and sanctuary for some yoga. I’ve also been known to hide out here in the evenings with a glass of red and some jazz music (working, obvs!).

Instead of a desk, I have used one long piece of Ikea worktop, as I love having the space to spread out. It also means there’s an extra space for someone else to come and work alongside me (sometimes my husband or friend will spend the day here).

View of desk       Wall in garden room

I really enjoy the peace and quiet and I never feel lonely. I am always joined by my Spaniel, Bessie, who sleeps under the desk or watches the birds through the large sliding doors.

Most of the other furniture is repurposed Ikea stuff from the old house; even the picture ledges used to be in my son’s old bedroom! One day, I’ll treat myself to a proper desk chair instead of using the dining room chair I’m still on!

How much did it cost to build?

The garden office is from Dunster House and was sold as a complete kit. It came with all the electrics (including the spotlights), insulation, plasterboard, double-glazing, guttering and water butt, and the roofing. It cost just under £7k and took a couple of local builders just three days to put it all together.

The only thing it didn’t include was the laminate flooring, which I managed to pick up for £50 on Facebay. I also had the builders construct a concrete base, and then later they finished it all off with some decking to the front and sides. This has created another little seating area in the garden.

Although it felt like a huge expense at the time, it still worked out a lot less expensive than buying a house with an extra room to use as an office. Since we have constructed it in a particularly ‘scruffy’ area of the garden, it has also improved the look of the garden a great deal!

One of the reasons I chose this particular office was for the full-height sliding doors – which give it a real modern look and allows me to see the full length of the garden from my desk.

It’s very peaceful; a world away from all the noise I experienced in a real office!! I love that it allows me to have that bit of separation from family life and the house, but with the convenience of working from home. As your classic introverted designer, it suits me down to the ground.

How has it affected your work/life balance?

As a mum of two who used to drop the kids off and then dash to the office, I know what a difference it makes to homelife to be able to spend 10 minutes stacking the dishwasher or putting a load of washing on before you start work. Hanging the washing out is one of the best ways to get a bit of a screen break too!  

I also feel less anxiety. I used to commute 45 mins to work each way – with all the road rage and traffic delays that that entails, colleagues and a boss breathing down my neck if I was late, having to negotiate holidays or swapping days if I needed to go to a school play or parents evening… Now I just pop out if I need to, and I am straight back in the office after; making up the time as I please.

Of course the flip side in trying to have it all also means you are trying to do it all. I only work during ‘the school day’, so when I’m trying to fit appointments, errands, housework, dog walks, exercise and everything else into that time, it sometimes isn’t possible and I am often having to catch up in the evenings or weekends.

Gemma sitting outside with dog

Do you have any plans this year to make further improvements to the space?

The studio was built in spring 2018, so this will be my first full year in it. Although I was fully prepared for the winter – with it being fully-insulated and having a pretty good heater to keep me warm – I hadn’t bargained for such a long, hot summer (although I’m not complaining, as it was pretty fantastic!).

With no easy way to cool the office down and the full heat of the sun on it, I was pretty much melting. I found I could only cope until midday before having to seek refuge in the house!

I kept telling myself that our heat waves only last a week or so, so I was reluctant to buy an air conditioner. But, if we have a repeat of that weather this year, I may have to think again!

Thanks for letting us into your office space, Gemma! It sounds like a cosy refuge from the hustle and bustle of a typical office environment. 

If you’d like to find out more about Gemma’s work, check out the Bobble Graphics website.

Read the last article in this series.

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