Great tips from a Shed winner – How to win Shed of the year

With Shed of the year 2020 open for entry2018 Cuprinol Shed of the Year winner, George Smallwood, shares his tips for this year’s entrants and what’s inspiring his latest projects.

Can you tell us about what inspired your design last year? I have always liked wildlife and am an avid viewer of David Attenborough documentaries – they inspired me to change my shed. I wanted something premium that allowed me to use the space in an efficient way. The shed I built was specifically designed to encourage wildlife to share it with me – not to keep bugs, bees and birds out.

Your entry was quite unique in that you were already producing around 14 litres of honey a year – have you increased your number of hives and what do you do with the produce? Yes – it’s a hobby of mine and I love it. This year’s batch has already been given away but I’ve kept some jars to use as wedding favours. I’m looking into how to turn it into a product too – I think lip balm is looking most likely at the moment. The plan at the minute is to do a harvest at the end of July, but if we have a good spring, I might get some in May.

This year, Cuprinol Shed of the Year has a new category – Nature’s Haven. Having won the overall competition last year with an eco shed with a self-watering system and beehives, what do you think we might see in this category in 2019? Hopefully one similar to mine! I think it would be great to see a design that incorporates different aspects of building and joins human requirements seamlessly with those of the natural environment.

What would your advice be to this year’s entrants?

The best advice I can give is to build a shed for yourself. You have to build it because you want to, otherwise there’s no point – personal passion shines through. Entrants really need to think about the balance between clever design and practicality as well – there’s little use in designing something beautifully complicated that isn’t fit for purpose.

How has life changed for you since winning Shed of the Year? Well for starters, you can find me on Google – that always makes me laugh! I’ve been approached by BBC Radio 1 and am regularly talking to media which is not my usual gig. I think it’s what you make of it.

How have you transformed your shed with the Cuprinol paint you won as part of your prize? My winning shed was fully completed, so I’ve actually set the paint aside for my next project. I’m hoping to create a glamping shed, but one that embraces nature, which is what I think Cuprinol does so well – it works within a natural environment without looking garish. I want to insulate it with sheep’s wool and use as many natural materials as possible.

What would you say is the best thing about having a shed? What are those of us without one missing out on? For me, it’s being able to get an inside look at the nature in my garden. Working with bees is so satisfying – they take a lot of work but it’s brilliant to see solitary bees joining hives. I’ve also got a camera in my hedgehog house and seeing the changes over the course of a year is fascinating – the different wildlife that comes with the seasons never fails to interest me. Admittedly, the storage is handy too! I love being out in my garden, the challenge of using the space to best effect. Honestly, I don’t really understand people who want to cover their gardens in paving – it’s so unimaginative!

How do you like to spend time in the garden? My garden keeps me really busy! I have different sections; one for storage, one for watering equipment and I’ve got a pond, where the water is recycled to feed the garden plants. It’s a brilliant little ecosystem. This year I’ve got frog spawn for the first year too, which is great. I’ve got a garden on the shed roof with plants that I tend to and then for chilling out I’ve got a seating area and a space I call ‘hammock world’! It’s a great space for switching off, you can hear the world outside but you can’t see it.

What feature are you most proud of? My design really made me consider different features – it created problems that I needed to think of solutions for, so as not to compromise on the end results – I’m proud of the solutions I came up with.

Originally I’d planned to access different levels via a basic ladder but that wasn’t efficient so I designed the stilted staircase which I think is a real feature. I wanted a curtain rail, but couldn’t find anything in-keeping with the design, so I got creative! I used a trellis instead and gate handles to loop the curtain through.

I’m a big fan of ‘growing your own’ too, but it can take a lot of work so I’m particularly pleased with the self-watering system. I created herb drain pipes, so when it rains the water

is filtered through two downpipes. I had to heat the plastic in order to bend them into shape so that the water went straight to the route of the plants. I locked in the bent sections with gravel, but topped the end of the drains with soil and herbs. It means that the plants take care of themselves and I just have to keep an eye.

What feature was most impressive for the judges? I think they really loved that the shed doubles up as a home for the bees. It’s quite unusual to find working hives in urban spaces, so that was definitely a stand out for them. They also commented on the staircase and the pulley system with my hanging baskets which was designed to keep the door open as required.

Do you still use the shed in the same way as you did? Yes, I do, although I’m not immune to the struggles that all shed users have, namely resisting the urge to fill it with ‘stuff’! I’m still working out the best way to use the bird house and the palette board is going to be used as part of my wedding, so that’s a nice touch.

Have you made any modifications or changed anything since last summer? I was really happy with the design when I won, so I don’t want to make too many changes really. There are a couple of new challenges; I’m keen to encourage the birds to share the space but it’s not easy to do and keeping cats off the roof means it’s even harder! I’d really love to create a bird sanctuary so I think that would be the next key upgrade and I’m going to introduce new herbs and vegetables later this year with some more ‘year round’ plants.

Are there any features, in hindsight, that you wish you’d included or added as part of your entry? I’m happy with the features, but there are things I’ve learnt since that I wish I’d known when I started the project. The key one, and it sounds basic, is that every centimetre counts! The stairs are quite high so I’ve redone the drive since I built the shed to combat that and I wish I’d sometimes built the structure closer to the wall.

I also wish I knew a little more about ventilation and roofing. I kept the roofing quite basic but it requires regular upkeep, so I wish I’d maybe spent more time understanding the best approach to avoid any damp.

By Andrew Wilcox

I love sheds Founder & judge of Shed of the year - Wilco writes mainly about sheds. About the blog Enter your shed into #shedoftheyear