A Toronto homeowner was before his time when he decided to put a studio in his unused backyard. The freestanding structure is now the envy of friends and family who are clamouring for space as they spend time at home during COVID-19.
“Everybody I know – rich and not so rich – are climbing over each other at home. They need space to decompress,” the homeowner says. “Everyone I talk to says, ‘I need (a studio) right now.”
The homeowner, who lives in a semi-detached home, says he and his wife began thinking about studios when their son took up drumming. They wanted to respect their neighbours, so their thoughts turned to creating a stylish but practical, fully sound-proofed studio. “It maxes out the template of the lot but we weren’t using the backyard,” he says.
They knew exactly what they wanted – space to accommodate the equipment needed by a full band, interior walls finished with drywall, good lighting, insulation and soundproofing. The homeowners had seen elegant studios in design magazines and wanted something that was also esthetically pleasing, specifically “mid-century modern, cool, classic, contemporary but not too contemporary.”
But they didn’t know who could do the job. A Google search led them to Sebastian Kellner and Backyard Escape Studios. The London, Ont.-based company creates fully insulated studios that are comfortable enough for year-round use.
After eliminating other contractors and opting for Kellner, design work on the 12x20-foot studio began. It was a fairly quick process because the homeowners knew what they wanted –everything from the layout to where the switches and plugs would go and even where a table and drum kit would be placed.
Dealing with noise was their No. 1 consideration, and Kellner solved the problem. The homeowner says you can go in and scream your head off but not be heard, or enjoy doing yoga in peace and quiet.
Large windows on two sides, and a glass door, ensure the space is bright.
The design took a couple of weeks to perfect (all done virtually), then Kellner prepared a package for the homeowners to take to the building department for a permit. It was a simple process, the homeowner says.
The studio was prefabricated in London and transported to Toronto to be installed on a concrete pad the homeowner hired a separate company to install.
The homeowners chose a clear cedar exterior, an expensive but pretty option, and chose high-end finishes, including pot lights and a combination heating/air conditioning system. For someone on a budget, the homeowner says a properly insulated and built studio could use a simple space heater and fan to heat and cool.
For someone looking for a work pod, an eight-by-eight-foot unit would suffice, says Kellner, who builds studios and sheds throughout Ontario. The beauty of keeping it under 108 square feet is that in most municipalities, no building permit is required. (There are regional differences so check with your local municipality.)
He says it’s important to think about how you will use your studio. Will it be for summer use only, or will you be enjoying it 24/7 year-round?
Proper insulation is key for a four-season experience. Although a prefab unit such as Kellner’s may seem expensive (starting at around $15,000), avoid the temptation to simply add insulation to a home improvement store garden shed. It’s not a solution you will end up using because it will be cold in winter and hot in summer. It will be a waste of money, says Kellner.
He suggests R-20 insulation, the same level that is code for a house. Anything less, he says, and it’s considered a two or three-season building.
Also consider how many people will use the space at once. The 108-square-foot unit is plenty for one.
Think about where you will place the structure on the property. If it’s too close, the building department may see it as an extension to the house. However, placing it too far from the main power source will add to the cost because running electricity between the buildings can be expensive.
Consider the type of foundation. Concrete is becoming more expensive, so ask about other options, such as earth screws, Kellner says.
The size, type and placement of windows and doors is another consideration. Windows add natural light, visually expand the space and offer a view outside.
Another consideration is interior and exterior finishes. For this studio, the homeowner chose wood instead of metal for its warm look.
Also factor in the cost to hire someone to finish the interior. The homeowner says it could be a DIY project for a handy person. To ensure the job goes smoothly, it’s important to have everyone (electrician, drywall installer, painter) lined up so there’s no delay between jobs.
Get quotes, and more importantly check references for the studio builder, as well as the other trades. Make sure you know what things cost so you don’t get ripped off, the homeowner says. (One company quoted $20,000 for a concrete pad, but when the homeowner asked Kellner and other professionals, they told him the job should only cost around $3,000.)
Think about timing. The design can take a month or two, depending on whether the homeowners know what they want. Add another four to six weeks for prefab construction and another three or four days to erect the building plus the time for interior finishing.
As people tire of working at the kitchen table and long for a quiet place to call their own, the solution could be as close as their own backyard.