St Albans author pens go-to guide to shed design and construction
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Having carved out a niche for himself as a shed specialist, Alex Johnson has now written Shed Manual, the ultimate book on the topic. He told Jane Howdle all about it.
Once a humble home for bikes and lawnmowers, the modern shed can now be anything from a garden office to stylish log cabin.
Publisher Haynes, best-known for their car manuals, has got in on the act with a new guide to all areas of shed design, construction and fitting out – and its author is from St Albans.
Alex Johnson’s love affair with all things shed-related began 17 years ago when he moved to Portland Street with his family. His wife was expecting their second child at the time, and when the baby arrived they found themselves short on space, so decided to install a garden office.
“At that time not many people had them,” says Alex, 50. “It was quite difficult, but it worked perfectly. We didn’t want to move and it was much cheaper. Then I started writing about them – so it happened by accident really.”
In 2006, Shedworking (www.shedworking.co.uk), Alex’s blog about – not surprisingly – working from a shed, was born. A book, Shedworking: The Alternative Workspace Revolution, followed. “I’ve always been interested in small buildings and micro architecture, if that doesn’t sound too pompous, so it’s a nice marry up,” he says.
Alex collaborated with civil engineer John Coupe, who he knew from “the online shed world – it’s actually quite small, unsurprisingly” on Shed Manual, which took six months to complete.
The duo helped build four sheds for the book: a bike shed, a prefab log cabin, an 8’x6’ shed and an eco-shed.
“The eco-shed’s a slow build in progress that we were part of,” says Alex. “We got Ben Law, who readers might remember from Grand Designs, for that. He built a woodland home a while ago. In the eco-building world he’s very well known.”
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The 8’x6’ is still up for grabs, so if anyone would like to own a little piece of shed history the opportunity is there to “buy the shed of the book of the shed”, laughs Alex.
Luckily, the author was able to avoid most of the hard labour involved in putting the sheds together. “John did most of the back breaking stuff,” he admits. “He’s the engineer and the shed builder really, I’m more on the wordy writing side. The results are marvellous.”
The book offers up the basic building blocks required to make a shed dream a reality, with plenty of pictures and step-by-step instructions – including advice on the things that might go wrong.
“John is very experienced and he’s quite honest when things haven’t gone right,” Alex says. “It’s not just a manual without any personal element to it.
“It’s for anybody,” he adds. “If you’re a keen DIY-er it’ll be useful but it’s not just meant for people who are very handy.”
Having moved to Prospect Road with his wife and three children, Alex now finds himself between sheds. “The garden needed a huge amount of work and we’ve only just about got it tamed. So that’s up on the to-do list, to get a decent shed.
“I actually work from the basement of our house at the moment rather than a garden office – I’m very honest about it on the website! There is a plan to get a shed, though. To regain the shedishness.”
Though he still does a weekly shift at The Independent, where he’s worked for 12 years, Alex’s focus in recent years has been on writing books.
He has two others set for publication later this year, Edward Lear and the Pussycat: The Adventures of Famous Writers and Their Pets, and Menus That Made History, which he co-wrote with St Albans-based actor, Vincent Franklin.
“I’m still a journalist but I’m moving gently away from it,” Alex says. “I’ve always wanted to concentrate more on longer reads. It’s all non-fiction at the moment but who knows. A shed novel! The great shed novel that has yet to be written...”
Shed Manual is priced at £24.99 and available from www.haynes.com.