For all of you whose car has not seen the inside of your garage for
years, you are a trend setter.
By Ellen Hoffman
The garage may be the last frontier of home renovation, but you don't
have to be a car collector to see the potential in this once-cluttered
You've already overhauled the kitchen and bathrooms, added a pool house
with outdoor kitchen and bar, and organized the closets with modular
storage systems. What's left to improve? Hint: Have you looked in your
Once a cluttered repository for garden tools, miscellaneous junk, and
maybe even your car, the humble garage is going designer. For many,
it's the last frontier of the complete home makeover, a big open room
that can be converted to a spacious showplace for a car collector or an
activity center for the hobbyist.
You can go as far as your imagination and budget allow. Baton Rouge
architect Kevin Harris is designing a $1 million, 4,000-square-foot,
four-car garage for a client who wants walk-in storage closets,
elevator access to the house, and pet condos for 10 dogs and cats (with
videoconference facilities so the owners can keep in touch with their
animals when they travel).
In part, garages have gotten bigger to accommodate such multiple roles.
Today, 15% of new homes have a garage large enough for three cars or
more, according to the National Association of Home Builders. In 1992,
it was just 6%. Archway Press, a New York company that sells detailed
blueprints for houses and garages, has been ramping up the size and
complexity of its garage designs to meet demand. For example, one
Archway blueprint gives plans for a free-standing, 10-car structure
with a 2,700-square-foot apartment above it.
A garage's main purpose continues to be storing cars, but that doesn't
mean it has to look like a garage. Driving into David Rodrigues'
four-car garage is like entering your family room. The Pewaukee (Wis.)
builder spent $20,000 just on wood-paneled walls, red alder
pantry-style cabinets, and a bronze stained floor. There are also
wall-mounted racks for golf and ski gear, and a lift system to keep his
Heritage Harley-Davidson motorcycle off the floor.
Lawyer Bob Wade spent about $275,000 to build an unassuming
2,400-square-foot cedar garage at the foot of his driveway in
Northampton County in eastern Pennsylvania. But inside, it's more like
a museum to house his collection of six classic cars, including a 1965
Porsche Cabriolet. The space features a 130-square-foot work area and a
hydraulic car lift. It even has a shower so Wade can clean up when he's
finished working on the cars.
Increasingly, though, owners are revamping their garages, or at least
part of them, into livable spaces where they can spend time on
everything from hobbies to hosting wine tastings. Zev Pomerance, who
owns garage outfitter Potomac Garage in Gaithersburg, Md., says his
clients want to spiff up the garage because it's the real gateway to
the home. "Neighbors, friends, family -- they all enter the house from
the garage," he says.
A lot of people keep an extra refrigerator in the garage. Now, entire
kitchens are sharing space with the Volvo and Harley. Dan Lajoie, who
runs Gourmet Garages in Wallingford, Conn., says he's currently
designing a garage for a doctor who loves to cook. It includes a
butcher-block food prep area and storage for pots and pans.
In a few weeks, Michael Cardenas, who owns eight restaurants in Los
Angeles and Las Vegas, will be moving his 2,000-bottle wine collection
from a spare bedroom in his Malibu (Calif.) home to a new
temperature-controlled wine cellar in the garage he's having renovated.
The project, which cost around $35,000, also includes cabinets for
storing pans, plates, linens, and other catering supplies.
If you would like to create your own über-garage, start by checking
out Bill West's Your Garagenous Zone: Innovative Ideas for the Garage.
The book includes architectural layouts for garages that can "enhance
the appearance of the home" without it being the first, biggest thing
you see when you look at the house. There's also a section on
garage-appropriate materials and accessories, such as flooring and
shelves, with information on the companies that sell them.
Auto buffs should pick up Richard Newton's Ultimate Garage Handbook.
Companies such as GarageTek, The Complete Garage, or Garage Envy
specialize in refurbishing garages with cabinets and storage systems,
lighting, and epoxy or tile flooring. You can buy the products and do
it yourself, or the companies can arrange for installation. For the
really big project, you may want to hire an architect and contractor.
It's one thing to equip your current garage with such showstoppers as
marble countertops, skylights, and humidity controls. But if you want
to build or expand a garage so it's more like an extension of your
living space, be sure to check the local zoning laws. In older
neighborhoods, you may be thwarted by rules that limit the amount of
space structures can occupy to 50% or less of the lot size. If you want
to build up instead of out -- say, to add an in-law apartment above the
garage -- you may encounter limits on the number of residential units
allowed in areas zoned for single-family dwellings. Another issue,
warns John Connell, an architect in Warren, Vt., arises if your plans
include a built-in automotive lift or pit. It will raise building
inspectors' concerns about the disposal of oil or other hazardous
substances that can cause environmental problems.
Of course, if everything you want to do in your garage adds up to more
space than you can legally create, you always have an easy way to get
better use from your existing garage. Just park your car in the