JANE SLADE visits kitchen designer Mark Wilkinson’s ‘super’ workshop and discovers a haven of treasures destined to keep him active and happy for years to come

Next month marks the third birthday of Men’s Sheds, an organisation that offers people a communal space where they can pursue practical interests, share tools and work on projects in a friendly environment.


Mark Wilkinson in his workshop

It originated in Australia and since its launch in the UK there are now over 200 sheds all over the country with up to 10 opening each week. Sheds mostly attract older men who find them a haven from loneliness where they can pursue something they enjoy.

Several retirement villages and developments now offer hobby rooms and work areas where residents can pursue creative activities. Alan Perry, Regional Managing Director for Churchill Retirement Living, says: “Owners at Churchill Lodges are very social and active and often set up clubs which allow them to share their favourite pastimes and hobbies.

Steeple Gardening Club 2

The shed at Churchill’s Brindley Lodge development in Manchester

“We were delighted to install a shed to help the gardening club at Brindley Lodge in Manchester and enjoy the beautiful display of colour resulting from their efforts.”

Kitchen designer Mark Wilkinson has designed his own shed – although at 180 square metres it is more of a ‘super’ shed with its own ensuite loo and kitchen.

Having reached 65 he decided he needed somewhere for his retirement, where he can pursue his love of turning planks of wood into beautiful objects.

“You can never feel lonely if you have a creative haven,” argues Mark, the award-winning founder of Mark Wilkinson Furniture. “If you are on your own concentrating on making something time not only flies but the object becomes your companion.”

Mark has had his workshop, next to his Wiltshire home which is filled with beautiful tables, chairs and ornaments he has made, for 26 years, but it is only in recent months that it has become an orderly, bright, colourful space oozing creativity and fun.

His gadgets include a super lathe he got from a dock yard, old air receiver he’s converted into a heater, a giant sander, circular saw; and a myriad of other equipment all painted in a rainbow of colours.

“This is a fun workshop – I can teach youngsters skills here and can even have chaps for lunch or dinner – it’s very comfortable,” he adds.

There are planks of wood waiting to be carved and honed and piles of chain mail waiting to be reincarnated.

He has decorated the room with prints of paintings he bought from a Van Gogh museum; covered a breeze block wall with shells (Mark bought two huge sacks for £5 from a local stone merchant) and along a part of the ceiling he’s fixed a tree branch supporting some plastic budgies – another job lot he picked up for nothing.

“I’ve set this up for my retirement,” he explains. “I’m really relaxed and at home here. This is my haven – and every chap must have his haven.”

IMG_3218Mark’s room is a treasure trove of gadgetry and beautiful tools displayed like works of art. His set of Japanese chisels, boxed like silver cutlery, are 30 years old. He paid £360 for them and they are now worth thousands. He even has a chisel owned by his grandfather Jim Wilkinson “with a blade so sharp it will hurt your eyes.”

He has a dedicated sharpening corner and another area of gauges, spanners and a cranial measurer – a medical tool for measuring people’s heads that he bought from a car-boot sale; there’s a winch suspended over his lathe which can carry heavy objects and in an adjoining room he has shelves displaying over 100 planes.

He has everything he needs to make virtually anything but as the years roll on he knows that the more labour-saving devices he has the more time he will have to enjoy creating imaginative designs and enjoying the fruits of his work.

Mark’s tips for creating your own shed/workshop

IMG_31311. Create a sanctuary of good quality tools and equipment; Axminster Tools will sell you a system from a micro workshop the size of a garage workbench to an all singing and dancing professional outfit. Take advice and opt for versatile gadgets that will do what you want them to do. Scale to your own space. Axminster also offer workshops where you can learn the skills you need.

2. Make your shed nice and cheery. I have a white floor and painted all my pieces of machinery. Consider your shed your first creative project.

3. Good lighting is important; install strip overhead lighting and keep all wires away from machinery.

4. Ventilation is important too – if you have a garage you can open the garage door but if not get an extractor, which acts like a giant vacuum cleaner to suck up the dust.IMG_3158

5. I used to be able to stand up all day but I can’t any more – after a couple of hours I need to sit down so why not sit on something comfortable. Get a nice comfy chair and a fridge where you can keep your favourite tipple and water for a thirst-quenching drink.

6. Install a good music system so you can enjoy listening while you work.

7. I don’t mind a certain amount of clutter as you don’t want a sterile environment but install some cupboards where you can put things out of sight.

8. Make the area your own; I bought a sack of plastic budgies which I have perched on a twig, and covered an area of wall with shells rather than paint it. Pictures don’t have to be beautifully mounted; display photos you have taken, things you have made or collected.

9. Get a kettle so you can make a nice cuppa.