After moving into our new house in December 2020, the garden became our main focus for most of 2021. The previous occupants moved to America leaving us with their kids activity playhouse and a trampoline, which were surrounded by a little picket fence. Other than that, the garden was pretty much a blank canvas. We wanted a BBQ area, shed and somewhere to relax. Having no kids, the activity centre was soon sold on Facebook Marketplace. It took the poor guy about 6 hours, over two days to dismantle it. But he got a steal! Someone took the picket fence to keep their dogs in and apart from the trampoline we were ready to go.
This blog is mainly about how I built the seating area, as this was entirely done by myself with little knowledge prior to building it. The rest we mainly had tradesmen, but thought you would like to see the progression and fitting out of the project.
Inspiration, Ideas and Design
Trying to figure out what to do with the space was a little daunting at first. I had been lurking in the Self Built Outdoor Kitchen/BBQ/Bar Areas Facebook group which is full of great ideas and inspiration. The area where the trampoline and kids activity centre was already covered in deteriorated bark and the ground was uneven, so this seemed like the perfect area to get paved, fit a BBQ area and a shed.
The BBQ Pergola Area
I decided that the roofed BBQ area would be in the middle. This was the first thing to get booked (quoted in January built early Feb). A couple of local lads started ‘Custom Wood’ during lockdown and we got them booked in to build a pergola measuring 3m x 4m, with a pent style roof and back wall. The structure and roof is held up by 6 x 6inch square posts. We have been so happy with the build quality and sturdiness of the pergola. We treated it with natural colour Sadolin as soon as it was finished. This is the best outdoor protective varnish we have found. Link to Sadolin.
The Seating Area
At the same time as getting quotes for the pergola, we had a few quotes for the paving. Various companies quoted in January and most of them couldn’t fit us in until later in the year. Some were even saying September onwards. I guess a lot of people are doing garden projects during lockdown! We booked in a company to lay Indian Stone paving in June. The barked area was 10m x 5.4m so 54 square meters in total. In the meantime I could crack on with my part! The Seating.
I’d seen a few ideas online about using concrete blocks, incorporating some planters and wooden sleepers for the seating. The seating was going to fit into the back, left corner of the garden so quickly put together some measurements and a design. Worked out how many blocks I needed and got the materials ordered. I had briefly been a plasterers labourer so knew the mortar mix was 4 x sand to 1 x cement. Plus Plasticiser and waterproofer were needed in the mix. Although don’t use Waterproofer in the top render coat.
We used Approx 135 x Consolite Solid Dense Concrete Blocks 7.3N (100 x 440 x 215mm).
4 x 180cm heavy duty wooden sleepers.
24 x 25kg bags building sand
6 x 25kg bags cement
8 x 25kg bags ballast (sand/gravel mix for the footings)
1 x Sealocrete 5ltr Sealoproof
1 x Suregraft 5l Mortar Plasticiser
Where to Start?
After making a few drawings and figuring out the dimensions, I roughly marked out the area and started digging some footings. I didn’t go massively deep. Just enough to fill the whole with a sand, cement and ballast mix and lay down a concrete block on it’s side. The ground was massively uneven so what was dug down at one side of the seating was above ground level at the other. Rather than go on and bore you all to death (if I haven’t done already) I hope the images will show how I got on building the initial structure.
Finishing the blockwork and sleeper rests
Ok now that the main blockwork is finished it was time to sort out the supports for the sleepers to sit on. On and off, a few hours here and a there the blockwork took around 1 month, inbetween making our BBQ rubs and sauces and running the business. All the cement was also mixed by hand in a wheelbarrow. I made sure when designing the blockwork structure that there would be more than enough room to fit the 1.8m sleepers. The last thing I wanted was for them not to fit in the gap. Think the gap ended up being about 195cm. Then once the render was on this went to about 192cm. So a comfortable 6cm each side of the sleepers before the blockwork. They just needed to rest on some more blocks which I built in so that the top of the sleepers was flush with the top of the planters.
Rendering and render beads
Now that the main blockwork is complete, it’s time to move onto rendering. First of all on every edge of the blockwork you need to cement in place angle beads. In past times they used to be metal but these tend to rust so we used some plastic ones. We used the 15mm corner/angle beads. Link to beads we used. Wet the blockwork on the corners and use a trowel and more cement to set the beads in place. This will give a nice finish and something to work to when rendering. Once all the beads have been done and the cement dry you can go about applying a scratch coat to all blockwork. Applying with a trowel and the scratch with a scratching tool that you can pick up for a quid at Buildbase. The scratch coat will help the final coat of render take to the wall.
Top coat of render & painting
Once the scratch coat has dried, lightly run your trowel over the scratch coat to remove any loose bits of cement. We were able to leave it a good while between scratchcoat and rendering as the last week of April and most of May was a wash out. Rain stopped work for a month. End of May we were ready to crack on again. Prepare your sand and cement (4 x sand to 1 x cement), add Plasticiser but not waterproofer for the render coat. Apply with a trowel and get as smooth as possible, rendering to the angle beads to create a nice finish. As the render firms up slightly (around 30mins to 1 hour) you can rub it gently with a wet sponge. This creates a nice textured finish and iron out any uneven bits. I’m no professional and this is my first time rendering. Yes the blockwork is wonky in a few places, the render is a bit rough but it’s all really sturdy and unlike a few other bits in the garden I didn’t have to pay someone to do it. Leave the render to dry for a couple of weeks, washing down with a hose every couple of days (to wash out the impurities). Once dry and a couple of weeks have past give it a couple of coats of masonry paint. We went for the Buttermilk Masonry Paint from Wickes. Link to Masonry paint.
Finishing off and landscaping
We gave the sleepers a good sanding with a hand held belt sander and rounded the edges with a router. Finished on all sides with the Sadolin. These were lifted into place to complete the seating. We also picked up some ‘off the shelf’ bench seat cushions on ebay which were just about the perfect size. We painted over the red cedar fence panels with a black fence paint which looked much better. I marked off an area around the seating to finish off the area nicely. Dug down a little and tried to level off the ground. Fitted some weed block fabric. Used some edging blocks and filled the area with a ton bag of grey Welsh slate and also some Indian Stone slabs. I also created a small square for our firepit and filled this with decorative white stone. The paving had come round quick and just about coincided with finishing the seating area.
Nice and easy on my part as had a company in to lay the 54m2 of paving. They had to delay by a week which was a bit of a worry as we had a company installing the shed the following week. Luckily we allocated the paving 2 weeks to be on the safe side. The paving took 4 guys about 4 days. This finished off the area nicely. The black edging blocks on the paving also matched the ones around the seating. The following week a 10ft x 15ft shed went in and this also had a coat of the Sadolin. To create a nice even surface concrete paving was used for the exact size of the shed rather than Indian Stone. I also got a hammock to hand from one of the trees to the sturdy pergola. Link to Hammock we got. You can spend loads on hammocks but found this one more than adequate.
The Smokey Shack and Kitchen Area
Now to the fun part! The Bar/kitchen area. I knew I wanted an L Shape kitchen area. I had also worked out an approximate size of around 2.6m x 1.6m for the L shape. This would leave room for the Kamado Joe and Weber on one side. I was after some granite worktops and had been keeping an eye out on ebay since the pergola was built, for a few bits that would make up the surface. Unfortunately nothing suitable had come up in a couple of months. I worked out I needed around 3.6m in total. I was quoted £1700 for a granite worktop from a local company which was just too extravagant for the project. I knew the paving wasn’t booked till June so had a while to find something. Eventually an auction came up, 4 pieces of black granite, 3 of which pieced together would be close to the size I wanted. I messaged the seller straight away as had seen similar go for £400 and asked how much they wanted. He said £100 and he’ll take the auction down. Result, a bargain! Half an hours drive the next day and about 45kg per piece in the car, the worktops were sorted.
I drew up some sketches and an idea of how I wanted the whole thing to look and how the worktops would fit together. The guys who did the pergola were meant to be doing the joinery work for the kitchen area but in the months since building the pergola had gone back to their pre lockdown jobs. Finding a joiner was proving a nightmare and eventually got a quote. By this point Summer had passed us by and my only condition was to have it built by my 40th birthday in October (we were having a party to celebrate) which was about 6 weeks away. I gave them my design and they got everything built the week before my birthday. Again we varnished in Sadolin. I couldn’t have been happier how it turned out. Exactly to my design and space for charcoal, gas bottle for the Roccbox pizza oven, slots for the rotisserie equipment etc.
Lighting and Smart Tech
Whilst waiting for the joiners to come and do the kitchen area we thought we would get the lighting sorted and order a few bits for the shack for once it was finished. We had an electrician install some sockets in the pergola and take powder from our consumer unit and lay steel armored cable around 35m to the pergola. I wanted everything to be easily controllable so looked around for something that I could control from my phone. I came across the brand Meross which had everything that would do the job. First thing I got were the smart LED’s. These were for indoor use but as the pergola was covered I installed these where they would stay dry. They have all kinds of settings and colours that you can change instantly from your phone. Link to Meross Smart LED’s. I then bought their outdoor double plug but in hindsight I didn’t really need a waterproof one as it was undercover. Link to Outdoor Smart Socket. I also purchased their standard smart plugs. Link to Smart Plug. These were all easily controllable via the Meross App. For the lighting around the seat area we bought some waterproof spotlights which stuck into the ground. They had 3m between each one so the cable was buried under the slate, these were then plugged into the Meross smart plug. Link to Spotlights. For the shack I got some festoon style lights which went around the edges of the pergola. These also plugged into the Smart plug. Link to Festoon Lights. The smart plugs are plugged in a socket which is hidden inside one of the cupboards. Which kept everything tidy. Overall I haven’t had a problem with any of the lights and they do a great job. I did buy a universal dimmer switch plug for the festoon lights as they were a little bright. The dimmer is great for turning the lights down lower when you are sat out having a drink. For sound, I got a Sonos Move which has awesome sound and is both a wifi and Bluetooth speaker. I also picked up a non official wall mount for it off ebay which is much cheaper and a nicer design than the Sonos one.
I picked up a few signs (like you do) and also some optics for spirits. I also made a shelf out of pallet I had knocking around and got some industrial style black metal brackets as well as a matching rail to hang BBQ tongs off etc. I decided a deep fat fryer would be a good idea. As it’s outside and covered, theres no smell of frying indoors. We got the Tefal Oleoclean Pro which allows you to filter the oil into a tank underneath the fryer each time to keep the oil clean. Link to Fryer. To finish off The Smokey Shack a custom beer mat runner with an appropriate quote from the legendary Anthony Bourdain.
I hope I haven’t bored you to tears, but thought a bit of detailed info on how we transformed our garden into an awesome space would be helpful for someone looking to do something similar. We are out there cooking rain or shine but looking forward to warmer weather when we can sit out and enjoy. Keep your eyes peeled on our social media channels. We’ll be using our award winning world inspired BBQ rubs, seasonings and sauces for many cooks in the new shack. Thanks for reading. Howard Carter aka Mr Smokey – The Smokey Carter
Just when you thought you had finished…
…Mrs Smokey points to the other corner of the garden… Just build me a raised bed over there….here we go again
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