Welcome to My Shedquarters

A local start-up lets you turn your backyard into an office

Photo: Sabastian Kellner of Backyard Escape Studios

WHEN MAUREEN SHEEHY relocated to London, she initially set up her home office in the spare bedroom. Sheehy is a virtual comptroller and consultant in the restoration industry, and for security reasons, her preference was to keep all of her work close by. “I deal with some very sensitive documentation,” she says.

The trouble with working from a home office, however, was that she was finding it difficult to separate her work life from her home life. “I was never off work, really. I was constantly in the office, and it took a concentrated effort to end the work day—to not get pulled in to work or to check emails. Plus, we had no place for guests to stay when they came to visit.’

By 2015, Sheehy had reached the point where she figured she should look into renting office space. While searching online she came across a picture of a backyard studio in Holland. Then, to her delight, she discovered there was a Canadian company, Backyard Escape Studios (backyardescapestudios.ca), that was building similar structures right here in London.

Sebastian Kellner was raised in an entrepreneurial family in Germany. He married a Canadian, and after their first child was born, the couple moved across the ocean to London to be closer to her family. Kellner established Kellner Innovations Inc., a building company specializing in a tree houses and observatory decks, and set up a home office to work in. Then came baby number two.

“I was constantly being distracted from my work,” recalls Kellner. “Even if I was working in the basement, I would hear the patter of little feet above. I never had a quiet moment.”

He was tempted to rent an office outside the home, but the travel time and expense, plus the realization that he would likely only be in the office half the week, gave him pause. He then considered trying to convert his backyard shed into office space, but as he took stock of everything on his wish list—insulation, electricity, windows, heating, air conditioning, space for a desk and shelves—he realized the best solution would be to design and build a free-standing studio to work in.

“It’s changed my life. When I end my work day, I shut the door and
I’m more present at home”
—Maureen Sheehy

For people in many parts of the world—Europe, Great Britain, the U.S. and as far away as Australia—the idea of having a backyard or garden studio is not new, but it’s a concept that has yet to be embraced here in Ontario. Kellner is hoping to change that.

“It’s a niche market, but it’s a good alternative to building an extension on a house, and they can be used for all kinds of reasons,” says Kellner. He’s had inquiries about setting one up as a yoga studio, a smoking house, a pool house, a photography studio, a home gym, a music studio and a bunkie for a cottage, and he’s worked with customers from as far away as Montreal. “Almost all of the projects I have worked on so far have come through referrals or word-of-mouth,” he says.

Kellner has a shop where he prefabricates the 4- by 8-foot wall segments and installs windows and doors. The sections are delivered to the customer with the option of hiring Backyard Escape Studios to do the installation. People can choose to do as much or as little work as they wish, with a total do-it-yourself option as the least expensive choice. Kellner also advises homeowners to check local bylaws—in London, for instance, the structure has to be less than 108 square feet, otherwise a building permit is needed. 

When Sheehy purchased her new office space, she used Kellner for the whole project—he even found a contractor who installed custom pilings so her new backyard office is at the same height as her back porch. Sheehy now has a fully insulated, wired and secure office to work in just steps from her back door, at a total cost (including new office furniture) of $10,000.

It’s a cost-effective alternative to renting office space, but more importantly, says Sheehy, “It’s changed my life. I have an amazing view of my backyard and garden, which is very calming. My work is very demanding and I feel
I’m better at handling that stress. And when I end my work day, I shut the door and I’m more present at home.”

Kellner, meantime, is also happily ensconced in his backyard office—and his wife is expecting baby
number three.  Kym Wolfe