Editor’s note: Portions of this column were previously published on deseretnews.com.
Finding existing space in your home to repurpose, convert into living space or reconfigure may take some creativity. Last week, we discussed how to creatively remodel existing space with attic conversions. This week, let’s talk about converting a garage into living space.
The original garage in this L-shaped rambler was “moved” up and the former garage was remodeled into living space
Throwing a couch and a TV out in the garage and calling it a man cave is not what we mean by converting the garage into living space. The goal when converting any area that has not been used for living space, is to make it function and look like it has always been part of the house. You have probably seen a number of garage conversions that look awkward and obvious, so some serious design is warranted to make this kind of transition.
Before you proceed with the design to repurpose your garage, you should consider the options for replacing that function. If your lot (and budget) allows you to build a new detached garage in back of or to the side of your house, you can have your cake and eat it, too. Even if you can’t afford to build the new garage now, you should create a master plan that includes a standard-size garage (bare minimum is 20 feet by 20 feet) with a standard size driveway (12-foot wide minimum) to reach it. If you do not have the space to recreate the garage in another location, you should carefully consider the impact this will have on your property value. Check with a realtor to see if the value added by the new interior space will outweigh the drawback of not having a garage, which is pretty popular in Utah’s four-season climate.
If you decide to enclose your attached garage, there are a few decisions that can make this a more seamless remodel. The first is how to infill the garage door so it does not appear to be a garage door that has been filled in. The exterior materials used on the infill portion should match the existing exterior materials; if they cannot be matched (brick, for instance), then consider resurfacing that entire portion of the house. It might go without saying (if we hadn’t seen this condition so often), but the existing driveway should be removed, and landscaping be installed in its place.
On the interior, there is usually a step down from the main level of the house into the garage. Filling in the floor to bring it up to the main level is always worthwhile to make the layout feel authentic. In addition, if the garage was built correctly in the first place, the garage slab slopes toward the door: Infilling the floor will give you a chance to level it.
Make sure the new space makes sense in terms of the flow of your house. No one wants to have to go through the laundry room to get to the family room. Similarly, creating extra bedrooms off the kitchen may seem strange when all of the other private spaces are on the opposite end of the house.
Sometimes, you have to get creative. We had clients who wanted to convert their garage into a family room off the kitchen. They did not have room for a detached garage on their lot, but they did have an existing driveway that sloped steeply toward the street. We were able to excavate underneath the existing garage to make room for the new garage one level down, and build the new family room on top of it in place of the former garage. Not only did they pick up new living space, their new driveway was no longer a death trap in winter. This solution worked because of the slope of the lot; the point is to examine your existing conditions and think outside the box to explore all design possibilities.
This remodel was creative, but also rather intense. They made sure they used a contractor who had experience excavating basements and, of course, hired a structural engineer to consult on the project. It was nerve-wracking to see the roof of their former garage suspended in mid air, but they loved how it turned out in the end. You would never guess that the finished family room was ever a garage. The new room features a large window seat and a beautiful hearth. Hardwood floors throughout tie the new room to the existing kitchen.
Another client wanted more space in her one-story rambler. The garage was on one end of the house, set back to align with the rear wall of the house. We moved that function forward with a new garage addition and remodeled the former garage into living space. The L-shaped house turned into a rectangle, and we were able to construct an addition without cutting into the rear yard. This project worked because the original shape of the house had the garage pulled to the back, giving space to “move” the garage forward. It is usually not possible to create a new garage in front of your house due to setback ordinances adopted by most municipalities.
Because the existing driveway sloped steeply toward the street, this family decided to excavate underneath the existing garage to make room for the new garage one level down, and build the new family room on top of it in place of the former garage.
Thinking of the garage space as part of your house and potential living space is an option to create more space in your house. Just don’t design with tunnel vision; look at the entire house to make sure your new space will function well and feel a part of the whole.
Make sure that you have a master plan for any remodeling project and consult with professionals. They may be able to see options you don’t. Residential architects can be an asset to your project when it comes to creatively finding and reconfiguring existing space in your home remodel.
Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com