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Architect & carpenter craft tiny backyard 120-sq-ft studio

When architect Sarah Deeds wanted to set up a home office, there wasn’t an extra room in the 500-square-foot one-bedroom home she shares with her carpenter partner John McBride, so she looked to the backyard for space. There- tucked into a back corner- she and McBride built the largest structure allowed by the city of Berkeley without a permit (though they did get an electrical permit).

At 120 square feet their backyard hideaway was carefully designed to maximize space. Deeds shaped the building as an irregular pentagon to take full advantage of every corner. For the wider end McBride custom-built a wall-to-wall sofa (large enough for sleeping), using just a steel support bar (no legs) to give more space for the wooden storage drawers underneath. The narrower end houses a desk that curves like the office to allow space for Deeds, two clients and a desktop shaped to hold a full set of architecture plans (plus thin storage drawers custom-designed for plans).

The space is condensed, but Deeds sees that as an advantage: it puts you closer to your views and nature. And since the footprint of the office is minimal, there’s still plenty of vegetation in the 3,100-square-foot backyard.

The office was intentionally tucked beneath an existing California buckeye tree to aid in passive solar heating. During the winter, the deciduous plant lets the low southern light pass through to the large south-facing windows. During summer, the tree’s full set of leaves shade the building. To create a tight seal for the passive solar structure Deeds designed 2-by-6 walls – filled with formaldehyde-free fiberglass and recycled denim- for thick insulation.

A lifelong sailor Deeds had originally hoped to use an old boat as a roof in homage to Farley Mowat and his theory of the early pre-Viking Canadian settlers who flipped their boats on top of stone foundations to create instant homes for winter shelter. Unable to find any cheap, used boats on Craigslist, Deeds opted to paint a burgee (a yacht club flag) on the roof that can be changed with the seasons (she’s changed it twice now). And the studio still resembles a houseboat with it’s irregular shape and double roof (created by the 2nd layer of south-facing windows).

McBride custom-finished much of the interior, mounting a bookshelf without supports and crafting an airplane-style “wingtip” for the narrowest end of the desk crafted from recycled redwood.

McBride was also responsible for most of the recovered materials. The front door he rescued from another building project, but the redwood siding was a truly original find. He and his brother stumbled upon felled trees alongside the road (though on their property) after a county road-clearing project. With access to a mill, it wasn’t long before they’d turned the logs into an elegant exterior for the studio. (Deeds installed the siding like a rain screen, with space behind it for ventilation and draning to prevent future wood rot).

In this video, Deeds and McBride give us a tour of their backyard hideout (McBride uses it to practice his cello so as not to disturb their downstairs tenants).

* Photo credit in video (studio at dusk): Lenny Gonzalez