DIY: Tips for Building a Backyard Studio

DIY backyard studio

A view like this, on Bainbridge Island, proves placement is important (photo Art Grice).
by Melissa Dalton

Backyard sheds have evolved well past their early days of tool storage and gardening tables. Need a yoga retreat, crafting nook or home-based office? Here are tips for installing a simple outbuilding in your backyard.

Check the rules

An outbuilding classified as a “shed” typically needs to be kept to a certain size, often under 200 square feet and one story, and cannot be used as permanent living space. If these conditions are followed, sheds are often exempt from needing a building permit. Additionally, if there is plumbing, electrical or a fireplace within the shed, each might require its own permit. Local jurisdictions vary, so always check first.


When placing the shed in your yard, consider sightlines from within the structure looking out, as well as from the main house and points in the yard. Is there a view from inside the shed that a window can frame nicely, such as in Jim Cutler’s project? Can you surround the shed with pretty landscaping so it looks nestled in the landscape, such as with the courtyards that border Robert Hutchison’s studio? There may also be official constraints as to a shed’s proximity to side and rear property lines, so ask the local permitting office
for clarification.

Synchronize the design 

One way to make the shed feel intentional is to take design cues from the existing house. This may mean repeating window or door styles, or mimicking the main home’s roofline, or siding. If architectural variation is preferred, painting the shed exterior the same color as the house will unify the two separate buildings. Bring in as much natural light as possible via windows or glass doors to help the small shed live as large as possible. 

Consider a kit

Washington is rife with local outfits that have an array of pre-built shed designs. Check out the “Shaw Island” model from Heritage Portable Buildings in Burlington for a traditional option, the barn-style vernacular from the Silverdale-based Better Bilt, or the uber-contemporary stylings of Modern Shed in Seattle.

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