Pure storage or man cave, Today’s garage has endless possibilities
By Karen Wehrstein
Once considered the lowliest space of a house, a mere large storage space for cars and other useful but dirt-inducing items with some workspace capacity, the garage can now be a hang-out, an entertainment centre, and even a giant display-case to show off your largest mobile possessions to your friends.
“It really depends on what the client is looking for,” says Norm Woods, owner of M.U.G. aka Man’s Ultimate Garage in Bracebridge. “A lot of guys just like to hang out in the garage – watch Nascar. The man-cave becomes more of an entertainment area where they want to have a beer or wine fridge, TV and stereo, situated inside cabinets.”
But some go further than that. “Quite a number of people make their garage a showcase,” Woods says. “They’ll have their car and possibly a boat up on a lift, to show their friends their toys. The garage becomes a real showcase. As people come up the driveway they see this stately building.”
But the garage specialist recognizes that for most people, the garage is primarily for storage, including for things that, well . . . get dumped there, forming clutter.
“By and large, most people are looking for a way of organizing so that they can put things away and make better use of the garage,” he says, “so that they can put the car away.”
He can help with that, among other things. But let’s go back to the beginning.
If you’re building a garage, you want to think about how you’re going to use it. “The average garage is bigger than it used to be,” says Doug Fitzmaurice of Fitzmaurice Bros. Custom Carpentry in Bracebridge. “Most people have two cars today. They want the availability of two cars, or a car and a truck, plus garden and lawn equipment. They often want a roofline extending from the house or cottage. Some are connected to the house, some freestanding.”
With increased road access to cottage properties in Muskoka, has come increased building of cottage garages. “With most of the plans that come across our desk, there’s some sort of garage, whether they build it now or down the road,” Fitzmaurice says. “People want to keep their vehicles covered so they don’t have to worry about cleaning them off in the wintertime.”
Dorset TimBr Mart owner Chantal Hamilton sells not only construction supplies but properly-certified plans for 13 different sizes and styles of garage, which you can see online at the store’s website.
She agrees that garages are getting bigger. “Up in this area more and more people are enjoying the activities – snowmobiling, boating, four-wheeling - and once you’ve got all these toys, you have to put them somewhere,” she says. “Also, you aren’t going to build a million-dollar cottage and a $5,000 garage. It has to be similar in style.”
A garage can still be built out of 2x4s and fairly inexpensively, Hamilton notes. So if you have a boat, it’s worth comparing the initial outlay for a garage to the annual fee for storing it at a marina, so long as you’re okay with going without the associated services the marina offers. “You can build a garage in the $8,000 range, with the cement pad and everything,” she says.
The use of attic trusses for garage roofs is becoming very popular. “It’s just as easy for the do-it-yourselfer because they’re pre-built. You can throw a bunk-bed up there and have an extra sleeping area,” she says, though advises checking the legality of this with your municipality.
You might want to extend the roof beyond your garage onto posts, Fitzmaurice suggests. “You can store firewood or a utility tractor in it,” he says. “I did it myself and I love it. It’s flexible. It keeps the weather off your goods, but you can drive into it, put a snowmobile in it. It’s easy to access that space.”
The main trends in garage doors are now the faux barn door and sand-blasted glass, says Brian Howard, manager of ABC Overhead Garage Doors in Huntsville. “Designs have come a long way,” he says. “They use a PVC overlay over the metal that gives that barn-door look; we do that at a lot of boathouses.” Also common now is real wood facing on a steel door, he says, though straight wood doors are losing popularity due to maintenance requirements.
“This last year, everybody’s manufacturing aluminum and glass doors,” Howard adds. “They’re kind of like a store-front, but with opaque doors so you can’t see through.”
Clear glass, he notes, is generally considered far too attractive to burglars. “They can go window-shopping,” he says. “The glass is usually sandblasted or tinted or flake-looking style. It can look really nice at night. If you leave a light on inside, there’s a kind of glow.”
Garage door openers are pretty much a standard item these days, Howard says. “Especially in our climate, no one wants to get out and open the garage door when it’s snowing and blowing. You can spend $400 or $500 and just drive on in.” Over the past five years, he notes, there’s been a change from chain-driven to belt-driven openers, for near-silent operation.
Incidentally, the much-neglected garage door actually needs annual maintenance, Howard says, or else expensive problems can ensue.
It’s becoming increasingly popular to heat a garage, says Howard, estimating that about 85 per cent of garages being built are insulated.
Woods strongly recommends heating. “If you have a valuable car that you want to keep in a climate controlled atmosphere, it will last longer,” he says. “If you’re operating any kind of tools . . . air compressors work a lot better in warm than in freezing cold. You’re changing the garage from a cold storage space to something that’s usable in winter.”
Many garages are being built with in-floor radiant heat, or equipped with ceiling-mounted heaters. He recommends insulating a new garage even if you don’t plan to heat it now, in case you change your garage usage in the future.
“The floor is the key thing,” says Woods, whose main focus is design and accessories for garages. “Get the floor coated and sealed with epoxy. It keeps the dust under control and is impervious to chemicals; gas and oil and Varsol, anything of that nature is not going to hurt the finish.”
The next key to a garage that is a thing of beauty is, not surprisingly, organization. “The garage becomes a dumping area,” Woods point out. “If you can get things into cabinets or hung up on the wall, it becomes a much more useful space.”
Woods can do a complete organizational layout and supply you with the necessary items, such as storeWALL, from which you can hang anything from hand-tools up to bikes, steel cabinetry by Hailey or Redline’s wood cabinetry that comes with a life-time guarantee on the finish.
“A lot of guys like to tinker in the garage, so the surfaces have to more durable than a melamine door or a painted surface,” he advises. Major power tools such as compressors, hose reels and parts washers need not be visible when not in use; the cabinetry can be built to hide them. You can even get a power arm to mount a TV onto, so it can be turned to any angle.
And then there’s décor. Antique and neon signs can be fun, as Woods will sometimes suggest to clients. Vintage gas pumps are a classic. But it can go way beyond that. “We did one using a barn theme, with a hayloft, all done in barn-board with draft-taps and all that,” he says. “It’s more of an entertainment area than a garage, but you can still park your car in it.”
Another client had him design an in-garage ball-hockey area for the kids, complete with lines and face-off circles marked on the floor.
So – the possibilities really are endless, but there’s one thing that’s key. “Quite often, once we get things organized that gives them a little freedom to search out the decorations and ornaments to dress up the garage with,” he says.
Yes, it’s true: the ideal garage is neat and tidy.