A garden summer house is a fabulous place to read, relax and socialise. It will extend your outdoor living space, bringing you closer to nature whether you’re observing the birds and flowers, working from home or just escaping a summer shower.
Traditional summer houses have sloping roofs and big glass windows but you can design your own to fit into whatever space you have available. The ideas below will allow you to extend the summer season a bit longer by careful planning and decorating ideas.
We’ve put together some summer house ideas to suit all spaces and budgets. There are a few things to consider before you get out the tools and start building:
Shade or sunshine?
If you seek a shady spot, then the roof will help to provide that. If you have a mature tree in your garden, this may provide all the shade you need and you can place your summer house underneath the canopy of foliage.
If you prefer to soak up the sun, then consider where the sun hits your garden at the times you want to enjoy the space. Observe where the sun is at the time you usually relax and position your summer house where it can soak up the warmth.
Materials and your available space will determine the shape and size of your permanent summer house but there are some excellent pop-up alternatives available so you can experiment with the location. I love this Alvantor igloo, which despite its name, provides any garden with a bit of glamorous outdoor space, and it comes in various sizes, which can be folded away easily.
Small or unlimited budget?
You don’t have to spend a fortune to create a relaxing spot in your garden. Options include adding a pull-down awning to a simple garden shed which can be adapted by fixing sidewalls made of trellis.
Another idea is to recycle some pallets or wooden logs into walls and then construct a ceiling with branches, bamboo or even slate if you fancy something more waterproof.
More expensive, permanent summer houses can be built from any material you choose. There are exquisite Tiny House plans, with two stories that are fantastic if you have some land and a larger budget.
Wood cabin style summer houses can be purchased for just under £10,000 offering a roomy, wooden interior with three rooms. The cabins are untreated so you can decide on the protective coating and choose your décor. It’s important to make sure the summer house is assembled on a solid, level concrete base.
A summer house shouldn’t require planning permission if its height is under 2.5 m.
Unusual summer houses
If you fancy something a bit different, this semi-circular summer house could be used as a playhouse for children or a relaxing space for adults.
A canvas yurt can be used all year round. Position a log burning stove in the centre and it becomes a perfect spot for summer parties and sleepovers and will provide welcome shelter in the colder months.
Contemporary summer house ideas
Summer houses don’t have to look traditional. If you have the space and fancy some DIY, Chin.com provide plans for a “tiny house” so that you can build your own modern garden sanctuary.
The below image shows an innovative A-frame structure with a side that can be open or closed, making it perfectly suited to year-round relaxation.
A summer house design can combine a wildly different shape with a garage and amazing viewing areas. Obviously, you’ll need some land, an architect and a pocketful of cash and time to make this idea a reality.
Convert a vehicle or container
Instead of the classic sloping roof, think flat. You could convert an old camper van, shipping container, or even fashion old fencing and discarded windows and doors into something new.
The transformation can be breath-taking. Link up the WiFi so you can have music and consider adding solar panels to power enough light for a long night’s work or cosy cuddle.
Plant a green roof
Although you need to consider weight, you may be able to plant a green roof with strawberries, geraniums, summer herbs, and wildflowers for bees and butterflies. A green roof is fabulous for attracting insects and butterflies in summer and it will help to insulate your summer house during the colder months.
Alternative summer houses for small gardens
If you’re short on outdoor space, you may be able to incorporate existing structures to create an alternative to a summer house.
A shed can provide a solid wall to make a lean-to area, which can have an awning attached. You can pull down the awning to waterproof it or to give some privacy in a suburban area, while in winter it can be folded away or dismantled and stored. To enclose it further you can add living walls of planters with a trellis or bamboo canes, making it cosy even if it rains.
A shady patio area can be turned into a shelter by making a roof structure and planting it up with flowering climbers and creepers so that your view becomes colourful and natural. If it keeps the summer rainstorms at bay, you can give some garden furniture a lick of paint to provide sheltered seating.
Give a pond a second use. If you have a pond, the plants there need some light but if you build a bridge over a small section of a large pond, you can use this space as a seating area and then build a roof for rain cover. The benefits are obvious; your view will be of fish swimming, with water lilies blooming and you can enjoy seeing both water and sky.
Summer house decoration ideas
Living walls made of tree trunk cuttings, growing bamboo or wires draped with climbing plants (such as sweet peas, passionflower, clematis and geraniums) will offer a natural atmosphere in your summer house. Add pots of sweet-smelling flowers and edible nasturtiums, strawberries, passion fruit and citrus trees to bring colour, fresh fruit and delightful aromas to your indoor space.
Cork walls. Another idea is to use cork, a natural material from tree bark. If you have plenty of time, secure used corks and create a unique wall to delight your guests. You may decide to build a recycled cork dartboard to amuse your friends! You can also buy beautiful cork tiles which add insulation.
Increase the feeling of space. If your walls are brick or timber, then using mirrors is a fabulous way to expand your space visually. You can cover a wall in mirror tiles or buy a large vintage mirror to hang in a corner.
Colour is important in a summer house. During the hottest, sunniest part of the day, you will value internal white walls, which reflect the heat. It is advisable to avoid black or dark colours which attract heat. You can create contrast by adding patterned cushions, blankets and bright wall decor.
Accessorise Later on, when the sunset brings a chill, rugs and throws in colourful shades and textures can bring real warmth to the space. A blanket made from old sweaters cut into squares and sewn onto a quilt backing is fabulous in a summer house. You can also use it as a floor covering when the chill evening air arrives.
Make furniture to suit the space. It’s important to include comfortable seating with plenty of cushions. Sometimes an old sofa can be adapted to summer house use by simply throwing a blanket over it. You can get inventive with pallets and make a lounger for the whole family to relax on.
Add WiFi connection. If you can connect to the internet, you can create a summer house cinema and enjoy your favourite films during those long summer evenings.
Do I need planning permission to build a summer house?
If your summer house is for use by you and your household and the site is on land you own, then it just depends on the height of your planned building and also the ground size.
- If the property is rented, it is best to check with the landlord first.
- If it covers half of the garden or more, you will need to discuss it with the planning department of your local council.
- If it is under 2.5m in height, no planning permission is required in the UK. However, it is advisable to check your local council regulations before you start building. If the roof is an apex, then it can go as high as 4m but have it checked out by your council before you start building.
What pitch does the roof need to be?
How steep a roof will be is what is called the roof pitch or roof slope. A steep pitch will allow water to run off easily, which is obviously an advantage. However, a lower pitch uses less material so if cost is an issue, you should consider this. The minimum needed for a metal roof is half an inch, to ensure that everything stays dry underneath. There are some good links here to help answer your questions about the pitch of the roof.
- Shed Roof Pitch: A Practical Guide with Examples and Pictures (plasticinehouse.com)
- Summerhouses – Frequently Asked Questions – Summer Garden