This guide will introduce you to the basic design tools used by professional garden room designers. The tutorial uses ShetchUp a 3D design programme that has revolutionised the way designers work. SketchUp is available as both a free and paid versions – the free version will offer you all the tools you need to model up, and play around with the design of a garden room.

SketchUp runs on both Macs and PC’s, we use both in our work, but we are creating this tutorial on a PC as our stats tell us that most of our visitors are running a PC. The design processes are the same whichever computer system you are using, however you may find that some keyboard short-cuts we mention are slightly different on a Mac.

There are slight differences in the layout of the icons on a Mac and PC – the positioning and look of the icons may differ but the tools are the same on each system.

Sketchup Icons

Setting up SketchUp

As we have said Sketchup comes in free and paid versions, the free version should be enough for your needs. You download the software from the SketchUp website and select SketchUp Make 2015 for either Windows or Mac depending on your computer.
Download Sketchupdownlaod

When you download the software, they give you access to the Pro version for 30 days, but after this expires you are left with all the features of the free version.

Once SketchUp is installed on your system open it up, you will be asked to set up your preferred units – we always use millimetres for the precision, but you may be more comfortable with inches – the choice is yours!

Once you have set up the system this is your blank model screen you’ll be presented with:
Blank screen

Basic SketchUp tools you’ll need for garden room design

Select Tool – Use this tool for selecting elements in your scene

Select tool
Line Tool – As the name suggests you use this tool to draw any lies in your design. Your cursor will change to a small pencil, hover over where you want to start and left click with your mouse, then pull your mouse in the direction you want the line. You can draw the line in any direction, if you want to make sure its parallel to the axis, pull the line until it changes colour – red, green or blue which indicates the vertical axis.

Line tool
Rectangle Tool – This is one of the most useful tools when designing a garden room, you’ll use it for designing the basic structure with your first models, and as you get more complex with your plans you can use this tool to design detailed frameworks. When you select the tool you will have a pencil cursor but this time with a small square beside. Chose where you want the rectangle to start, left click to set the point then pull out the rectangle to the desired size, left click again to set the rectangle – it will go dark grey

rectangle tool
Eraser Tool – This doesn’t need much explaining, this is how you remove elements from your model. Hover the eraser over the line you want to remove then left click with your mouse. If you want to remove multiple lines, hold down your left mouse key and pull the eraser over the lines you want to remove, they will go blue and when you lift your finger off the mouse the lines will disappear.

eraser tool
Tape Measure Tool – This is the tool that we use to mark out our initial design as it provides guide lines at a distance you specify from the axis. Its good practice to use the axis as the reference point for your model, if you left click an axis line with the tape measure tool it will create a guide line, it will also give you the measurement from the axis, you can even pull the guide to the desired measurement or type in a figure and the guide will snap to this distance.

tape tool

Push / Pull Tool – this is the magical tool that makes your models 3 dimensional! When you have created a rectangle you can hover this tool over it and pull it along an axis – we’ll explain in more detail in the tutorial! You can enter a dimension for how far you want to pull or push the area, and this is good practice for ensuring a scale model.

push pull

Move Tool – when you hover the move tool over a section its face will become shaded, this will move the individual face that is shaded. If you want to move a whole section e.g. a door, use the ‘select’ tool and pull a box around the whole section it will then have a blue outline, select the ‘move’ tool and hover over the section, left click with your mouse and move the section to its new location.

move tool

Rotate Tool – use this tool to rotate your sections, again you can use this on one surface or by selecting a whole section with the ‘select’ tool. Once you have decided what to rotate select the rotate tool and your cursor will change to a protractor left click where you want this, a guideline will appear, click again to set this and then you will be able to rotate your section – you can do this by eye or type in a precise angle.

rotate tool

Orbit Tool – this is a useful tool, it allows you to spin your model around. All you have to do is select the tool, left click and then pull your mouse around.

orbit tool

Pan Tool – the ‘orbit’ tool allows you to see the model from all directions, the pan tool also lets you move around the model, left click and then move your mouse around. If you have a tracking wheel on your mouse you can use this to scroll in and out.

pan tool

Zoom Tool – this tool allows you to get close up to sections of your model, just select the tool then hold down your left mouse key and pull your mouse backwards and forwards to move in and out of the model.

zoom tool

Lets start designing a garden room!

In this tutorial we will model up a basic cube shaped garden room, we will show you how we model the basic form of the building, the tutorial doesn’t show the actual framework of the building, its all about the form / design of the building at this stage.
We make a few basic assumptions when creating the initial design:

  • That the floor will be 150mm thick – this is based on the build up of joists and floor decking.
  • That the walls will be 150mm thick – based on the build up of framework, insulation, air spaces and external and internal finishes – you may decide on a narrower structure, but this an average of a house quality build.
  • That door openings will be 2100mm high – based on standard door heights.
  • That the roof will be 150mm thick – based on a typical build up of rafters, roof deck and the insulation positioned to create a warm roof, plus a final covering.
  • The most popular height for a garden room is 2500mm, this makes it Planning Permission friendly so we will have this in mind as we design our room.

Here is a video that shows all the steps we are about to describe in action:

Garden Room 3D Design Basics from The Self Build Garden Room Guide on Vimeo.

Blank screen

Starting with your blank model scene, you are presented with a model of a man, you may find it useful to leave him in the scene to give you a sense of scale. We always make it our first job to delete him (nothing personal!), We do this by selecting ‘eraser’ tool, we hover this over the edge of the women and left click with our mouse.


We are creating a 3000mm x 3000mm garden room. Our first job is to create the floor of the structure we do this with the rectangle tool, left click on the axis and pull out to create a square, if you look down in the right hand corner you will see the measurements of the square, we design everything to scale so we want precise measurements, so we type them in. To do this left click on the axis for your first point then on your keyboard type in 3000,3000 you will see this appear in the dimensions box press enter to lock in these dimensions.


As we said earlier we are assuming the floor structure will be 150mm. To make our square into our floor section we need to use the pull / push tool. Select the tool and hover it over your square and it will become shaded, left click with your mouse and move your mouse forward and you will see your floor grow – you could watch the dimension box to find the 150mm mark, but as we like to work quickly and precisely we type 150 on our keyboard and then hit enter and the floor locks at the 150mm dimension.


Now we have our floor we can now start planning our walls, as we have said we are assuming they will be 150mm thick at this stage, this may change as you decide on your build up of materials. We use the ‘tape measure’ tool to create our wall guidelines. Select the tool, left click the top edge of the floor section and pull the guideline, you can of course watch the dimension box and left click again at the 150mm point, but for speed we type in 150 followed by enter. Follow the same procedure for the next three sides.


Your model should look like this.


Now we want to mark up where our doors will go, we have decided that the garden room will have a large sliding door set on the front elevation. We know that a standard set will be 2400mm wide. We want them to be centre so we create a centre guide by creating a guide 1500mm from the outer edge. We then need to create two further guides 1200mm on each side of the centre line.


Creating these guides will give you a layout like this at the corners of the front elevation. Take the ‘rectangle’ tool and starting at the corner pull out a rectangle to form this small front return wall.

7You can now use the ‘pull / push’ tool to pull up this wall. Because we are creating a garden room that is Planning Permission friendly we want it to be less than 2500mm high, so our internal ceiling height will be 2100mm like our doors. So, select the pull / push tool and move your mouse forward to pull up the wall, we would type in 2100 and hit enter. You now have your first wall.


We follow the previous steps to create the second wall.


And the third.


Then the fourth.


And finally the last wall

Now for the roof. Start by drawing a rectangle on top of one of your walls. As you see from this screenshot we have drawn it on the centre of the wall. Use the ‘rectangle’ tool for this as described previously.


Now take the ‘pull / push’ tool and pull up the roof by 150mm


Still using the ‘pull / push’ tool, pull the sides of the roof to meet the outside edges of the roof, you will find that the pull / push tool will stop as it reaches the edge of the wall. do this until the roof is flush with the outside edges of the walls.


Your model should look like this.

You now have the basic form of a garden room. You can use these tools and processes to create all styles of garden room and features like doors and windows. We will show you how in our future tutorials.