backyard studio: “the manhut”

Posted by on Jul 4, 2011

backyard studio: “the manhut”

The original backyard studio has been completed for several years now. After being picked up by TreeHugger there has been an intense amount of interest in the general concept of a “man space” and the specific execution of my own solution. The “manhut” (a term coined by this designer’s wife…also a designer) was developed as a necessary addition to our limited urban residence. With the introduction of my daughter, any usable home office arrangement was pretty much abandoned. The startup phase of my business precluded the possibility of renting office space. Additionally, my protestant work ethic was nagging me to actually address the lack of domestic space with some type of creative solution. That same startup condition excluded any possibility for financing a reasonable addition to the existing house. After considering the absolutely bare minimum program for a work space, I soon realized that the bulk of my metier takes place in much less than 100 sq. ft. The modern design agency is a largely digital endeavor. For a one man operation, the accommodation of a large monitor, a simple computer and a reasonable task chair are the only real requirements. Adding 100 sq. ft to a house is a bit silly. Gazing at my largely vacant rear yard, it soon dawned on me that a simple garden shed is all that is really required. The obvious precedents of Steve Jobs starting Apple out of a garage and more classically, Thoreau’s cabin in the woods; set the plan in motion. An interesting loophole in the zoning bylaw; any project less that 100 sq.ft is not subject to a building permit application was the icing on the cake.

Living with the “manhut” in this climate has been surprisingly good. Diligent placement of the shed among the trees allows for generous shading in the summer months. The interior temperatures are often more bearable than those in the main house. In the winter, the space is heated with a simple electric/oil radiator and only on extreme days. The combination of heat from the various devices and some solar gains make the space quite comfortable. In fact, on some balmier winter days the door needs to be propped open for additional ventilation. The construction costs for the prototype were padded with considerable labor on my behalf, making an accurate estimate difficult. But depending on the chosen finishes, a prospective client could build one for around $20K. Doing the math relative to renting similar accommodation makes the investment a reasonable prospect.

With the advent of additional staff, and the increasing need to accomodate client meetings eventually neccesitated the rental of commercial office space. The manhut is now relegated to occasional home office use and some occasional swing storage. It remains a successful design exersise and provides us with an interesting vista in the rear yard. We’ve entertained several offers to purchase the prototype “manhut”, not an unreasonable request given its minimal footprint and relative ease of transport. Due to some of the technical shortcuts and the few obvious mistakes, I’d rather not sell a prototype but assist customers in building personalized and site specific versions for themselves.