Martha Stewart likely never will critique a garage, so it is a low-risk design venture to turn a garage into a room that’s useful and a fun place to hang out. We’ve spoken with experts from Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance show winners to muscle car gearheads and vintage car racers who have built and maintained fantastic garages to come up with these brief notes. Here’s all you need to do:
- First, get everything off the floors. Dedicated garage floor cabinets are sold with legs to raise them above the floor, and this is because stuff tends to collect on the floors: Dirt, grease, and whatever falls off a car. The best way to get things off the floor is to move them high on the walls.
- Shelves are crucial to utilizing a garage’s space. Shelves are inexpensive, and, since many garages have high ceilings, a lot of shelves can fit on the walls. The most efficient way to get stuff off the floors are to use shelves that hang from the ceiling of a garage, yet have sufficient clearance for opened garage doors.
- Making a garage into a useful room requires seating areas. They are essential for turning the garage into a room rather than just a big hallway for carrying groceries into the house. What the pros do is add couches and comfy chairs, coffee tables made from salvaged racing tires and a board or glass top, and end tables made out of engine blocks, milk crates, or even old magazine stands from an extinct auto dealership.
- Finally, the beauty of many of the experts’ garages is the variety of décor used to create an atmosphere, from auto show posters, framed advertisements, old tools, vintage gas pumps, and antique auto parts. Some fantastic garages we’ve seen have space for only two cars, but by having the right decoration, they become a great place to spend time.
Part of the fun of restoring a classic or antique car, the experts tell us, is the search for its history. Did the bumpers originally have overriders; were the seats woven fabric; was the engine a two-barrel eight-cylinder?
The job of returning a car close to its original form requires lots of desk time for research to find parts and people who remember how a car was built. Garages with stunning restored cars inside have places for such research.
More than just a cubicle in an office building, a garage office provides inspiration and atmosphere. In fact, most of the largest collector garages we’ve see have full offices, from former Microsoft President Jon Shirley’s mezzanine with multiple staff offices underneath to Ken McBride’s Seattle French-door-entranced workshop underneath his main garage. Jeff Gregg’s cathedral ceiling single-car garage, which opens to the living room of his home, has an office in a loft accessed by a large wooden ladder. Milwaukee native Gregg says that keeping his desks and bookshelf in the loft is an ideal way to keep his small kids out of his home office.
Stanley Gold’s 16-Porsche garage in Beverly Hills has a floor made of matching two-foot square Italian ceramic tile, and it’s not just because the tiles are easy to clean: Gold’s wife specified the floor for the large brick garage with round-top French doors because she wanted the space to double as a dining hall during parties. “We just move all the cars outside onto the lawn and the driveway and set up tables inside the garage,” explained Gold. Under the mezzanine of Gold’s two-story open building is a full kitchen where the caterers can set up.
Auctioneer Dean Kruse built his 40-car garage in Indiana with a dining table in the center. On one side is a large wooden bar with stools for 20 people. In Kruse’s three garages at his home, there are three bars, yet he doesn't drink. There are also seven bathrooms.
Parties for more people than will fit in a finished suburban basement is why Ken McBride installed a full kitchen, game room, bathroom, and a basketball court inside his 40-car garage. His kids needed a safe place to hold their high school prom parties and gatherings, the Seattle native explained. McBride’s garage is halfway between the 10-minute drive from his construction business office to his home, and he stops every day to survey the progress of his restoration projects in the garage’s three work bays.