Category Archives: Famous Garden Rooms

Garden Studios in 1878.

Garden Studios in 1878.

Historical garden studios research has uncovered another little known garden studio worker.  The Murray Scriptorium Studio space was purpose built in the grounds of a school to complete a singular massive project of literary importance; commissioned by James Murray, editor of the new English Dictionary from the Oxford University Press.

Already a member of school staff, Murray was invited to capture every word in the English spoken world, encompassing all shades of meaning.  It was a daunting project and would require a concentrated effort and determination over many years to source words, meanings and begin the compilation of a single volume.

In preparation for the work, Murray built a shed in the grounds of the School, called the Scriptorium, to house his team of assistants as well as the flood of paper slips (quotations explaining the use of words to be used in the dictionary) which started to flow in. As work progressed on the early part of the dictionary, Murray took the decision to give up his job as a teacher and become a full time lexicographer.

In the end, the school erected a more permanent structure in memory of his feat, called thereafter, The Script’.  It is now used as both an IT centre and a study space.  Sounds like an inspiring place to work!  What a great opportunity for the pupils.

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Studioni Loves May Hay Fever in Northern Ireland and Wales!

hay festival literary garden funThe 23 year-old Hay Festival is coming around again, set to kick off on 26th May in the small Welsh village. As a celebration of writing, it has attracted workshops and lectures by Alans (Bennett and Aldberg) and Stephens (Poliakoff and Fry) of fortune and fame.  This year, the celebration is expected to stretch its streamers and organic tendrils all the way to Belfast, quite the hub for poet laureates, novelists and illustrators, young and old. Attracting, “The most inquisitive, exacting and free-thinking”, crowds, according to the Sunday Times, how could one resist!

A writer’s working life tends to be a rather solitary existence. Researching, developing and forming the complexities of character, setting and plot takes as long as it takes – months, years, decades or a lifetime. I think of the many busy intelligences tapping away in their garden studios (no longer the crumbly wooden shed at the bottom of the garden); coming together for a wonderful week of sharing and general fun.

This year’s Hay heralds the sounds of Sir Bob Geldof and the Afro Celt Sound System; lectures by Philip Pullman, Iain M Banks and the Royal Society (From Here to Infinity).

For details: http://www.hayfestival.com/portal/index.aspx?skinid=1&localesetting=en-GB

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Annie Lennox’s New Album, Recorded in a Garden Studio.

A Christmas Cornucopia, on sale 15th Nov.

On 15th November, A Christmas Cornucopia will be released, with all income going to help HIV/AIDS sufferers in Africa.  Her 6th solo album is a collection of seasonal songs, largely played by Lennox herself.  The album was co-produced by Mike Stevens and recorded in his recording studio, at the bottom of his garden. The album also involved recording various choirs for added texture and a vintage feel.

“The Island team were so enthusiastic, and so excited to be working with me, and I was blown away that they felt like that. It feels very energized, and fresh and new. And that’s a great feeling for me.”

Designing and building a music recording studio in a garden is a true delight for us, and we have been commissioned to complete several to date.  The success of the acoustically optimised space depends very much on the design inside.  If you need recording space, we have compiled a brief guide which we hope will help your thought processes along.


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Hampton Court Show June 2010

A big happy well done to the excellent Chelsea show gardeners who achieved medals this year and a hearty congratulations to my favourite who received a coveted gold!

Hampton Court Show is coming up fast, opening to the public on 8th July 2010 (6th Julyfor RHS members).  There is always a wealth of innovative ideas at Hampton and exhibits are traditionally extensive and luxurious.  This year my eye has been caught by a therapeutic garden, designed by Fi Boyle Garden Design and built by Cirencester Civil Engineering Ltd.

This garden has been designed to be used by ex-Service personnel undergoing rehabilitation for PTSD and other psychological wounds of Combat Stress.  The design is gentle and flowing, with honey-coloured paths complementing the dry stone walling.  It embraces the specific needs of its users: the benches are safe, with clear lines of sight and no space for hidden threats such as bombs or ambushes; there are areas for contemplation with reflective water; and the planting is robust yet soothing (no red or orange), with a mix of evergreens and perennials for year-round interest.

The centrepiece is a young oak tree purchased by veterans to replace the one felled at Combat Stress’ headquarters, where the garden will be installed after the show.  A very thoughtful piece.  This year, I won’t make it to Hampton as Studioni are fully booked with garden studio installations and my help is required in the office.  A good thing – I’m not complaining!  Best of luck to all exhibitors, hope the sun shines!


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Legendary Writings from a Garden Room – Pullman.

Picture by John Reardon

I am delighted to feature Philip Pullman, author of the brilliant and successful trilogy His Dark Materials, in my article on famous garden rooms.  His trilogy has sold 7 million copies in 38 languages and was entirely written in his garden shed. There has also been a sellout stage adaptation at the National Theatre and a three-part movie series written by Sir Tom Stoppard and produced by the film company that made the adaptations of The Lord of the Rings.

The popularity of his books proves that there are many children out there who like to be intellectually challenged in their reading, and that nothing succeeds like a book recommended by your children.

For me, with a 12 year old boy in the house, Pullman’s books just keep resurfacing.  I have read them 3 times through myself and found new layers and connections each time.  I particularly enjoy how he weaves through methods of dealing with threats, challenges and complex relationships using his main character Lyra. It is as though he wants to lead his young readers towards maturity rather than into childhood escapism. Pullman’s imagination is as sparkly as his vocabulary is wide and varied. My son loves science especially the vast mysteries of physics and Pullman’s writings incorporate that elemental wonder.  He explores the themes of quantum physics, through his fictional parallel Oxford, in which phenomena appear to exist in a state of unrealised potential and parallels.

At home in suburban Oxford, Pullman lived with his wife and two sons, one of whom was learning the violin.  Between 1993 and 2000, Pullman escaped the familiar sounds of music practice by retreating to his garden shed where he wrote his legendary trilogy.  “His playing was fine, but I need to hear the rhythm of my next sentence in my head before I write it”, he explains.

What an inspirational, intense space that shed must have been.  Creative thought certainly seems to be induced and its expression encouraged in the solitude and detachment of the garden room.  I’m convinced that there are more lyricists, cartoonists, poets, authors, illustrators and melody makers working fervently in the peace of their own garden rooms than we are currently aware of.  Surely that creative space can have an advantageous transfer into business?

Development and achieving industry excellence takes intelligent, creative thinking.  Consider brand building, image creation, new and innovative marketing strategies.  Many of the brightest ideas are conceived during own-time relaxation.  Ideally, that creative space would be available whenever the idea first lights up.  Just a short carbon-neutral stroll, down the garden path, and that idea could really flourish in the environment of the garden room.

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Why a Garden Room Presents the Perfect Workspace For Creative People.

I am enthralled at the creative genius that spills out of garden sheds. Artistry, in particular. It seems that the blank mundane canvas of the common timber structure allows imaginative and intense focus on painterly expression. Perhaps it is the physical solitude of the shed which enables its inhabitant to travel the heights and depths of ambitious cogitation.

Damian Hirst spent the best part of three years alone in his garden studio in Devon painting a collection of works. The paintings, most of which had never been seen outside the shed, featured in the prestigious Wallace Collection in London, 2009. “For two years… the paintings were embarrassing and I didn’t want anyone to come in,” he said. Although he is now working with oil on canvas rather than animals in formaldehyde, the focus of his paintings remain familiar – human skulls, sharks jaws and cigarettes. Hirst holds the world record for the largest transaction of a single artist at £111million but has returned to his art college roots to concentrate on oil painting, from his garden room!  I took a family member to the summer exhibition in the Royal Academy, 2009, where Hirst exhibited a silver sculpture of a male figure.  He displayed a precise anatomical understanding in the sculpture and, although touching the piece was forbidden, it was too tempting to refrain.

Dublin born self-taught artist Paul Kelly burst upon the Irish art scene in the early 1990s, winning the James Kennedy Memorial Award for portraiture at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) at the age of 23, and, nine years later, the Artist of the Year Award of the most prestigious honours in UK/Irish fine art. Enjoying tremendous commercial success with sell-out exhibitions at the Gorry Gallery in Dublin, he still worked out of his own garden shed studio at home.

Stan Price, a lifelong painter whose professional career began as a student at the old Nottingham School of Art, working under the tutelage of famous Nottingham painter Arthur Spooner. As a long-term member of the Nottingham Society of Artists, Stan had continued to paint and exhibit in his leisure time, working out of his garden shed studio at home in Beeston well into his 80s.

Such intense creative garden shed activity extends well back into the previous century with sculptor, and successor of the pre-Raphaelite Rosetti, Giovani Fontana enjoying garden studios in both London and Australia.

It is true to say that the veritable peace and solitude in a detached garden studio is condusive to creative thought. However, having lots of natural light and being in a natural setting – a garden – adds an edge that cannot be rivaled in any old college art studio or home study room. The freshness of the greenery and reflections of light throughout the day are inspiring. I came across one story about a dedicated author in the late 19th century who had his garden studio erected on a rotating frame, so he could wind it around to follow the sun. I don’t think I would venture that far but the new garden room designs with the corner wrap around glazing are very appealing.

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Legendary Garden Studios.

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