Dad quoted £20k for dream garden used YouTube tutorials to create it himself for a third of the price


A dad who was quoted £20,000 to build a BBQ, pergola and decking area in his garden decided to take on the project himself and save thousands in the process.

Matthew Johnson, a dad-of-two and business development director from Kent was determined to create the garden of his dreams.

So the 33-year-old used YouTube tutorials, free design software trials and lots of wood – and managed to build himself a stunning pergola, deck and BBQ area for a fraction of the price he was quoted.

Matthew, who shared his renovation on Instagram at @hill_view_project, told money-saving community LatestDeals.co.uk : “I originally came up with the idea after we went on holiday to Spain one year and there was a beautiful BBQ area that we sat at every night.

How it looked before

“The BBQ was built using a three-sided brick wall and sat on top of a countertop and I thought for something so simple, this is a dream to cook on!

“Fast forward a year and I was missing it so I got on to YouTube and started searching for how to build a DIY BBQ.

“I could not believe the amount of content there was available that would historically only be in the mind of tradespeople and now I have on-demand video tutorials showing step-by-step what to do.

“After watching a few hours of these videos my confidence grew as actually, what they are showing isn’t very difficult once someone explains to you how to do it.

“I noticed that lots of these DIY BBQs were sat on decking and so before I knew it I was searching for ‘how to build a deck’ and ‘DIY decking ideas’.

“I then knew I had to build a level frame, with joists every 400mm and to drill decking boards to it with a 5mm gap – it was that easy!

“So then I started to go further and thought ‘hold on, pergolas must be pretty easy too?’

“Fast forward another week and I was on the laptop trying to sketch out the design. I work in sales so I’m pretty good with Powerpoint and that’s where I started but I found it a challenge converting pixels to real-world measurements.

“I found a few free trials online for design software and tried a few out. Before long I had managed to design the deck, pergola and BBQ and I had evolved even further to now making it into an outdoor kitchen and living area.

“I went through so many iterations and late nights obsessing over how everything would fit and eventually settled on something that I thought would work.

“I spray-painted the area on the floor and realised it just wouldn’t look right and so went back and made a few more tweaks.

“A lot of it came down to solutionising. Like Jade, my wife, I really wanted hot water outside so we could fill up the kids’ paddling pools.

“I managed to fix this using a water heater in the cupboard on the deck rather than having to try and work out how to get a hot water feed from the boiler in the house or using Hive smart plugs kept in a weatherproof enclosure to power the lights from my phone.

“Or the one I’m most proud of as I think it’s really original is the plinth lighting that was set upside down in the rafter to give a stars at night type mood lighting effect. It looks amazing.

“I managed to build everything out of treated timber and decking boards. The cupboards, kitchen sides, back bar are all made from decking scraps and bits of wood I had left over in the garage.

“I tried to be as resourceful as possible and always visited the wood scrap pile before picking up another piece of wood.

“I had to spend a little more than planned simply due to the number of incorrect cuts I made as an ambitious amateur. The scrap wood and offcut pile was almost as big as the deck at one point!

“In total, it cost around £7,000, significantly less than the cost of paying someone to design and do the work.

“If we had to pay someone else to do it we would be looking at about £20,000 or so for the cost of design, labour and materials.

“I spent £2,290 for the wood, then the rest of the money went on wiring, lighting, plumbing, fixings, the BBQ, bar accessories, audio bits, sink, tap, hedge screening and a few other bits.

“I sourced the wood directly from the timber yards locally. It took a lot of calling and emails to get hold of the 6×6 posts and the QDeck decking boards but I managed to get them sourced and delivered.

“It felt nice getting them from local timber yards too as opposed to the big chains. The prices were way more competitive and they were able to deliver.

“Now that’s it’s done I genuinely feel incredible about it! We’ve spent so many afternoons and nights out there and it’s totally changed the function of our garden.

“Where there was once a derelict unsightly and unloved concrete slab now stands a beautiful place for us to relax and make happy memories with friends and family.”

Matt says that even if you’re not a DIY pro, now is the perfect time to attempt a project like this yourself.

“It sounds obvious, but have a go!” he adds.

“I think the days of wholly depending on the knowledge of tradespeople are finite.

“There’s so much now that you can learn from blogs and online content such as DIY forums and YouTube that you can pretty much learn to do or get instructions on anything, subject to having the right tools to hand.

“But why not invest in some tools and make it a reality? It’s all right there on demand. Once you do have a go and you realise that actually, some of these jobs are really quite doable, then you’ll get the bug and want to do more. My next task is to make some built-in wardrobes!

“Be creative. There’s so much available online for inspiration… Google images, Pinterest, blogs, Instagram pages.

“When I wanted to come up with something I’d look at lots of pictures for inspiration and pick the bits I liked the most from each and bring them together to create something perfect for me.

“Don’t be afraid if you’re inspired to try something you haven’t seen done before too, like the lighting in the rafters. It’s a show stopper!

“There are no short cuts! Sometimes you just have to slog it out. You can end up spending more time and effort and stress trying to remedy things you’ve tried to shortcut.

“You should just do it properly in the first place even if it seems like more work! Trust me, it’s better in the long run.

“Starting your most ambitions DIY project during a global pandemic is a bad idea. Everything is out of stock and you have to work 100% alone which can make things 10x harder!

“Just because you ordered a length of wood, it appears you have no right to assume it will actually be that size! Measure it all and put it into piles of the same length and thickness as it arrives.

“Don’t fit it and then realise it’s the wrong size or doesn’t match the rest – much like I did.

“If you’re working alone, clamps to hold things in place are an absolute godsend! I can’t believe how useful they were – it’s well worth buying a pair.

“If you’re going to cast a 300kg slab, cast the bloody thing in situ so you don’t have to work out how to move a massive concrete slab over the deck and lift it on the BBQ by yourself.

“Although I was quite pleased with how I solved that one using some dollys, a couple of bricks and a car jack!

“There are fewer things in life more satisfying than finding a perfect sized off-cut for the job. And remember that you can literally learn anything from YouTube. Anything.

“Think through the whole process before starting! Know what the goal is and work backwards.

“When I tried to work without a plan I’d find out a week later when trying to fit another part of the build that something was in the way or something was not the right size and it’s so annoying.

“Also, if you can cut a bad angle well you can pretty much get away with a hell of a lot!

“Plus, having a very supporting and patient wife or husband makes everything a whole lot easier!”

Matt adds that the project was a godsend during the lockdown and gave him a focusing point during the pandemic.

“This project has been really helpful in lockdown to help give me something to focus on,” he adds.

“The way my mind works, I have to be able to point my creative energy at something.

“Due to Covid-19 a lot of my contracts had stalled and been pushed back so I had to have something to keep me busy and give me the same sense of achievement.

“My mental and physical health is better, the value of our house has increased as a result – I’m waiting to find out by how much! – and my social life has been amazing now that we can finally have a space to host.

“It was also nice to have a break from the phone too as I wouldn’t check it while I was working.

“Absolutely everything you need to learn, design, purchase, and research is available online and with most companies now offering extended delivery services it made it a lot easier getting goods delivered once they were eventually in stock and available.

“The whole project took me around a month in total!

“Originally, I didn’t set out to build something as big as I did but as I started to do more and more research I realised how easy it would be to add new bits on as I went along.

“When I look back at it completed now I still feel quite overwhelmed and if someone showed it to me and asked me to build one I wouldn’t know where to start.

“But if you break it down into each piece of work like the subframe first, then the balustrades, decking boards, pergola, kitchen, then the bar, I could do each of those jobs easily individually so it’s the sum of the parts that puts people off, but when you break it down it’s easily achievable!”

Tom Church, co-founder of LatestDeals.co.uk, comments: “While £7,000 is certainly a pretty penny, it’s practically a third of what building this incredible outdoor entertaining space would have cost if Matthew had employed an outside company to do it!

“As Matthew says, there are infinite resources online for free, whether design software or YouTube videos, from which we can learn how to build everything from a dining table to a whole garden pergola.

“By doing this himself, Matthew has saved himself a huge amount of money, given himself a creative outlet during the lockdown – and most importantly, ended up with the garden of dreams!”





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