The Well-Designed Garage

Want to get in on the ground floor of today’s hot home trend? Check out the next frontier in upscale organization: the garage.



GarageTek designed this eye-catching garage with granite floor tiles accented with a bold yellow trim; white slatwall panels allow cabinets, shelves, racks, and hoists for bikes to be attached easily to the walls.

 

It may have started with a lone homeowner’s no-win dilemma: organize the garage or buy a smaller car. Or it may be a sign of our house-focused times. Either way, the garage, once just a dingy depository for cars and an all-purpose storage area, is fast becoming the final frontier in home design.

This newfound appreciation reclaims the space’s status as a legitimate room, worthy of attention, distinctive design, and cold cash. “The garage no longer has to be an unattractive, underutilized space,” says Mike Partlow, president of PremierGarage, a garage-enhancement specialist in Westchester. Indeed, in plenty of today's homes, it isn’t.

Garage organization is the fastest-growing segment within the $8 billion home-organization sector. More than 42 percent of individuals rate “cleaning up and organizing” the space as a high priority, according to recent research by Peachtree Consulting. And a survey by real-estate company Century 21 found that 74 percent of homebuyers cited the garage as the most important amenity—outranking a large kitchen, a formal dining room, or even a sizable backyard.

Central to the garage’s new mood is the understanding that, more often than not, it is the first room people see before they enter and the last one they see before they leave their homes. “Seventy-five percent of people enter their homes through this ‘ante-room’ and it sets the tone for the rest of the house,” says Jerry Burns, owner of The Auto Room, a Bedford-based garage-organization company.

So what’s so great about a garage? Storage capacity, something all of us could use more of. But when good garages go bad, the ability to curb clutter and chaos is like trying to rein in a hurricane.

“Homeowners often lament that their messy garages are cluttering their lives,” says Gene Meken, president of GarageTek of Connecticut/Westchester. Maybe that’s why 32 percent of people who have a two-car garage have room to park only one car inside it—and 25 percent don’t park a car in their garage at all.

Enter today’s savvy new business: the garage-organization company. Armed with a foolproof business model closely resembling that of closet-organization companies like California Closets (which now also designs garages), the garage-enhancement market has continued to gain momentum since its introduction a little over a decade ago. Companies such as Premier Garage, GarageTek, and The Auto Room have sprouted up to help clients who report feeling disorganized and cramped, outfitting these "ante-spaces" with innovative storage systems that get just about everything off of the floor and into its own space, leaving room for everything (yes, even the car).

How does it work? Most companies use computerized design software to create digital renderings of their clients’ garages, helping them select products and systems that fit both their spaces and their specific needs. “With the software, we can drag and drop cabinetry and other products into the design according to what our clients choose,” says Partlow. “We work on several designs and eventually come up with a blueprint.”

An enormous range of products are available today, many of which have become industry standard. The defining product is the slatwall, a panel-based system that’s permanently affixed to the wall, allowing for accessories (think cabinetry, shelving, racks, hoists for bikes, sports-equipment racks, and lockers) to be clipped onto them. Everything is literally stored, hung, and out of the way. And since the accessories are superficially attached to the slatwall via clips and hooks, they can also be removed or replaced as needs change. (Once your kids finally head off to college, taking their bicycles with them, for example, you finally can hoist your gardening equipment and fishing reels.) “The system is amazing,” says GarageTek customer Jack Lenzi of Scarsdale. “It’s tripled the available space in our garage.”

The list of garage-specific accessories is virtually endless. Cabinets come in metal, stainless steel, aluminum, and resin. Some companies offer flexible lighting units in a variety of styles that are designed, like the other accessories, to clip onto the slatwall panels. Others supply slatwall-ready lockers, first-aid kits, and fire extinguishers. Work benches and tool racks, ideal for handymen and green-thumb wannabes, are bestsellers. The transformation encourages some homeowners to relinquish the lowly title of garage, bestowing upon the space a loftier name, such as gardening center or boathouse (monikers chosen by clients of The Auto Room).

As for flooring, most companies offer locking-tile products in a range of materials, colors, and patterns, a far cry from the customary concrete slab. Lenzi opted for granite floor tiles featuring a bold yellow trim that, with complementary white slatwall panels and the resulting reduced clutter, opened up the space. Clients with young children might choose floor tiles emblazoned with a hopscotch grid and shuffleboard, turning their garages into de facto game rooms.

On the other end of the spectrum, some homeowners have opted to go the ritz route with bars (replete with liquor cabinets and wine coolers) or floors that match the color of their cars. GarageTek has designed for clients floor-tile graphics, ranging from car or sports-team logos to university insignias.

Did you know?

DeWitt and Lila Wallace, creators of Reader’s Digest, initially ran their publication out of a rented garage in Pleasantville.

Walt Disney got his idea for Mickey Mouse while watching mice play as he worked in a garage.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built the prototype for the Apple I, the first personal computer, in Jobs’s garage.

The Gilligan’s Island theme song was recorded in a garage. Show creator Sherwood Schwartz wrote the memorable tune with composer George Wyle in the garage of Sherwood’s friend, and recorded it in one afternoon.

local resources

garage band

The Auto Room
Bedford, (914) 301-3163

California Closets
Hawthorne, (914) 592-1001

GarageTek of Connecticut/Westchester
Bethel, CT
(203) 743-1242, (877) 700-4835

PremierGarage
Ossining, (877) 941-8400

TransForm
New Rochelle, (914) 500-1000

Karen Bookatz is a Brooklyn-based freelancer who writes frequently about home design.