Skip the Reno: The Hottest Way to Up Your Home's Square Footage Is in the Backyard

From learning pod to granny pod, detached sheds offer a world of space-maximizing opportunity.

When posed with the hypothetical question, "What would you do with an extra room in your home?" some might dream of a personal sanctuary—a place to meditate, do yoga, binge watch reruns of The Golden Girls without interruption. Others might wish for additional space to house loved ones. Decades ago, it might have simply been a conundrum to incite dinnertime conversation.

But, when faced with a pandemic that forced many of us home for work, play, and everything in between, that extra room suddenly seemed a whole lot more necessary. Rather than disturbing their own four walls along with an entire life savings, however, homeowners seem to find space in their backyards instead.

Studio Shed Signature Prefab Unit
Courtesy of Studio Shed

Along with the tiny home revolution in recent years came a new wave of multipurpose structures designed for increasing a home's footprint without a costly renovation. These inhabitable "sheds," often prefabricated, are easy and quick to build and typically come in at little more than 100 square feet—meaning time-sucking building permits are usually not required.

The perks of a backyard sanctuary have become especially apparent this year, as more people search for places to work, home school, or just escape while at home. According to Studio Shed, a Colorado-based company that sells customizable prefab units online, 2021 sales increased tenfold from 2020. The most popular unit, says Studio Shed co-founder Jeremy Nova, is a 120-square-foot dwelling, which "makes a really good footprint for a single studio, like an office or creative space."

"There's a huge flexibility of use with these spaces and that's something we've seen a lot of," says Nova. "People are no longer finding sanctuary in their homes—there are just too many distractions—so having a dedicated space to work, pursue hobbies, or do yoga, has become even more important."

Despite their "shed" label, most backyard units tend to resemble a quaint cottage rather than storage space. At Studio Shed, options for customization include pitched roofs and shingled siding (with board and batten on the way). And, though they might appear like an extension of your home, the building process on a detached shed will more than likely be a whole lot speedier than your average renovation. "We can probably have a studio on the ground in the time it would typically take to find an architect and have the plans drawn up," says Nova.

The other bonus for space seekers? Sheds typically won't require the investment of a major addition. At Studio Shed, the starting price for a basic unit is around $10,000 (not including upgrades for materials or installation costs, though Nova says "handy homeowners" could tackle this themselves). On Amazon—because what can't you buy on Amazon?—cabin and cottage kits can come in at even less. It's not an insignificant chunk of change, but when you've been sheltering in place for the better part of a year and your only escape is one thin wall away from the chaos of your weekday household…well, let's just say #WorthIt.

Ready to invest in your own backyard escape? These five options are the perfect spaces for work, play, or even as a dreamy little guest suite.

Allwood Estelle Cabin Kit Amazon
Courtesy of Amazon

Allwood Estelle 5 Cabin Kit

Ever dreamt of glamping in the backyard? This cozy little cabin features two rooms all packed into 157 square feet. That extra wall makes it especially attractive as a two-office suite or dual work-and-learning pod for you and your kids.

Buy It: $7,275;

Studio Shed Signature Prefab Unit
Courtesy of Studio Shed

Studio Shed Signature Model

The ideal little one-room studio starts at a compact 96 square feet, with larger options available up to 240 square feet. Customizations include siding, flooring, and front door color.

Buy It: from $13,861;

Allwood Summerlight Cabin Amazon
Courtesy of Amazon

Allwood Summerlight Cabin Kit

Double doors make this 150-square-foot cottage well suited as a spring or fall work space, where you can let the breezes roll in all day long. And if you need it ASAP, no worries: according to the description, assembly takes 3-4 days for two handy adults.

Buy It: $7,690;

For the extra-handy / looking to tackle this project from the ground up? Here are two of our favorite Southern Living House Plans:

Vernacular Garden Shed Southern Living House Plan
Design by Moser Design Group

Vernacular Garden Shed

Front porches are inherently Southern, and if you believe your backyard escape needs one, too, then this house plan is your match. Designed with shutters and a gabled roof, the 128-square-foot outpost is ideal as a dreamy hideaway for work or play.

Buy the Plan: $79;

Garden Getaway Southern Living House Plan
Courtesy of Southern Living

Garden Getaway Shed

Filled with natural light on four sides, this pint-sized studio is the perfect place for a creative retreat, be it painting or yoga. And, if wildlife is a part of your happiness plan, "a perch above the door for your feathered friends adds a lighthearted touch," says the description.

Buy the Plan: $39.95;

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