Following the pandemic, having a separate space to work and be creative can be hard to come by, yet it's arguably more important than ever. Join Gray Thompson as he takes us through his journey building the Surf Shack studio, a wooden garden studio designed to foster creativity and keep the work-life balance in check.

black wooden garden studio

There is no better way to gain a deeper understanding of things than diving straight in and getting your hands dirty. That’s always been my motto; do it yourself, figure it out the hard way, learn from your mistakes… Since my early days I’ve been surrounded by architecture and construction, always drawn to structures and the building process. Over the years I’ve worked my share of construction jobs, done some architectural drafting and home renovations but this satellite studio build was the first ground up project I’ve ever attempted.

Doing a studio build had been talked about for a few years, but with Covid and the arrival of our daughter, the pressure was on to create more space at our little home in Lake Tahoe, CA, dubbed "the Surf Shack". My wife and I were tired of working in the living room or on the kitchen table, we needed a dedicated work/escape space, but it had to be in our style. Looking around at pre-fab studios, nothing got us excited, so we began sketching out custom designs within the parameters of 120 square feet.

outdoor wooden floor structure


women cutting styrofoam outdoors


women sweeping wooden floor


wooden floor with two walls


We jumped right in, determining our favorite location for the structure, leveling the ground and laying pier blocks as a foundation to build upon. Hours were spent in the yard, thinking about window placements and materials and techniques to explore. We wanted the space to fit into our forested landscape rather than stand out, so we charred our cedar siding black; a Japanese technique called Shou Sugi Ban, which also brings out the wood’s oils to naturally deter insects and provide some weatherproofing. We custom ordered 3 windows, strategically placed to play with light or highlight a nice view of our yard. The front door was up-cycled from another building, and still needs to be painted. Because we get a lot of snow here in the mountains, we ensured the studio was structurally sound and properly insulated on every aspect.

Shou Sugi Ban wood charring technique

left: Shou Sugi Ban charring technique
right: Shou Sugi Ban wood texture

We had high hopes of completing the studio over the course of 2 months, but reality quickly set in and while we started in early summer, we were racing to get the roof on and everything sealed up before the first storms of late fall. Inside the studio we laid down waterproof, engineered flooring and gave the walls a hand finished drywall mud texture for some character.

There are still finishing touches to be made, but we now have a comfortable and efficient workspace nestled in the mountains, that is just a joy to work and be creative in.

garden studio working space


garden studio creative space


About the author:
Gray Thompson profile

IG: @graythompson_

Gray Thompson is a wearer of many hats; professional snowboarder, filmmaker, co-founder of snowboard brand United Shapes and FW team rider, to name just a few. Hailing from the city of San Francisco, today Gray lives in Lake Tahoe with his wife and young daughter, splitting his time between family life, snowboarding in the Sierras, developing his snowboard brand, and pursuing various other passions and projects on the side.

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