When a couple first moved into their new home, the garage was for storing the car, or if they were fortunate, the cars. Then the kids came. Then the pets came. Then, perhaps, the in-laws came. Somehow, the cars got evicted, and the garage started to fill up with stuff that no one could bear to throw out because it was bound to be good for something someday. In other words, the household was growing and changing, and the garage had just become a very large junk drawer.
But something had to be done. The family held a pow-wow and decided that the garage had to be good for something. Could it not be turned into a playroom, an exercise room, a den, a library or even a mother-in-law apartment? After all, much of the work of the garage had already been done. It had a roof, walls and a subfloor. Maybe it was even climate controlled. The only thing left to do was toss the junk, and renovate the space.
Once it’s been decided that the garage will be a new living area, other things have to be considered. Packing out the trash is foremost, and volumes have been written about this. But once the space is cleaned out, what does happen to the cars? Maybe another garage can be built that’s attached to the house, or an inexpensive carport can be built to protect them, somewhat, from the elements. Maybe only part of the garage can be used, and one of the cars can squeeze into the space.
Whatever the new space is going to be, it is best to call in an architect who can sit down with the homeowner and design it then hire a contractor to actually build it. As with every other construction job, remodeling the garage should be put out for bid, and the contractor needs to sign a detailed, written contract. If it is going to be a real living space, the design will almost certainly call for a remodeled or newly installed HVAC and plumbing system among other things.
The homeowner will need to check with the local housing authority to keep abreast of the local building and plumbing codes. There might be that odd municipality that does not allow a garage to be converted into a living space at all.
The Refurbished Garage in the Landscape
Since the garage is no longer going to be used to house the cars, the landscape around it may also need to be remodeled. It may be a good idea to tear up the old driveway and landscape the area to blend in with an existing garden. It is possible that part of the driveway can be turned into a new patio. A trellis may be attached to one wall to support climbing flowers or a pergola can be attached to the roof to shade the patio. The cladding of the old garage can be transformed to match the material of a garden wall and the garage door replaced with sliding glass panels. The interior can serve as a den, a library or a home office where members of the household can work or relax undisturbed. Groups of friends can be entertained in both the garage and the house at the same time. The 20 something kids can hang out in the garage while their parents entertain in the main house without getting in each others’ way.
A New Apartment
A garage that’s turned into an apartment can be surprisingly luxurious, since the bones of the space have already been built, and the space itself is small. It can accommodate a bedroom with a view, a new bathroom, a kitchenette, a laundry center, a walk-in closet and maybe even a private patio. This can be for an older relative to live in for free or for a renter. In that case, or in both cases, the apartment will have its own private entrance.
If space for living is not the problem, the garage can be turned into a storage and utility space, with tidy shelves, cabinets, pegboard installed on the walls, rolling carts and work tables. Now, there is finally a place for the items that everyone swears they will one day need. There might even be space for the car. Design ideas for the garage are limited only by the family’s imagination.