TRANS­FORM YOUR OLD GARAGE

NOW Magazine - Toronto Living - - Front Page - By CLIVE RUS­SELL

Many city garages are noth­ing more than in­ef­fi­cient, moul­der­ing stor­age bins for old lawn chairs, card­board boxes of who- knows-what and un­reach­able, rarely-if-ever-used what­ev­ers. In down­town’s small lots, they’re of­ten the defin­ing el­e­ment, oc­cu­py­ing up to a quar­ter of the us­able yard space and warp­ing the rest of it into a less than ideal L shape. While Toronto land prices haven’t yet reached the hot-air-bal­loon lev­els of Tokyo, San Fran­cisco or New York, th­ese creak­ing backyard rem­nants of a Tin Lizzie yes­ter­year take up scarce and valu­able space, shade the re­main­der into slugville and cut many a gar­den de­sign off at the knees.

There are many rea­sons why old garages are no longer used. Some can only be en­tered through nar­row shared drives closed in by build­ing walls that bear wit­ness to the dif­fi­culty of ne­go­ti­at­ing safe pas­sage, par­tic­u­larly in snow and icy con­di­tions. The garages them­selves are of­ten mi­nus­cule, even for the more rea­son­able-sized mod­ern ve­hi­cle. If ac­cess isn’t a prob­lem, the garage door may be hard to open but ex­pen­sive or im­pos­si­ble to re­place with an au­to­matic over­head door be­cause of low head­room. Street park­ing is so much eas­ier. On the pos­i­tive side, many down­town garages aren’t used be­cause some peo­ple man­age to re­sist the sexy com­mer­cials and stay car-free.

But when the no­tion of tear­ing the old thing down is posed, most home­own­ers want to keep their op­tions open. If they’re think­ing of even­tu­ally sell­ing, a garage of any sort is an as­set. They them­selves may even­tu­ally want to use it for park­ing or stor­age. De­spite th­ese considerations, there are ways to make a garage more use­ful, more friendly and more in­te­grated into the gar­den. Of course, the struc­ture may be de­graded to the point where it has to be torn down. If so, and if you in­tend to rebuild, you can still plan the new struc­ture to be more open to the gar­den.

Just open­ing up a cor­ner of the garage to the gar­den by adding a cou­ple of beams and posts, cut­ting out sec­tions of the walls and leav­ing them com­pletely open, or in­stalling large re­cy­cled win­dows can make a huge dif­fer­ence to the ap­par­ent spa­cious­ness of your backyard. Build­ing a par­ti­tion in the garage back 6 or 12 feet from the new open­ings, can give you a cov­ered place to sit while re­tain­ing stor­age space in the re­main­der of the garage.

The floor can be flagstones or in­ter­lock pavers ex­tend­ing out into the gar­den, or a wood deck. This can be laid on top of the ex­ist­ing con­crete floor if there is one. It’s nice to be el­e­vated a step or two above the gar­den if the head­room is avail­able. If it’s ever needed as a garage again, it’s sim­ple to re­turn it to its orig­i­nal form, es­pe­cially if the di­vid­ing par­ti­tion is made in pan­els to fit the open­ings. A wood floor can be made in pan­els, too.

The photo above shows a more ex­ten­sive con­ver­sion, where a par­ti­tion was built two-thirds of the way into the garage, leav­ing a third of it for stor­age and us­ing the rest for an open cottage-like sit­ting area in which a wood deck floor was built.

Mir­rors on the par­ti­tion sim­u­late win­dows, re­flect­ing the gar­den and cre­at­ing a greater sense of open­ness. A dec­o­ra­tive cedar rafter truss was added in the mid­dle of the roof space, a cir­cu­lar open­ing was cut into the gable end for a view of the sky, and a coat or two of paint brought the struc­ture back to life and into har­mony with the house and gar­den.

While closer in char­ac­ter to a Muskoka cottage than to a Ja­panese tea house, the for­merly use­less garage now shel­ters many a pleas­ant con­ver­sa­tion, over tea or not.

There are many ways to con­vert an ex­ist­ing struc­ture, and the par­tic­u­lars will de­pend on the style of your house and gar­den, how you in­tend to use it and how long-term your plans are. With cedar shin­gles, a Cape Cod look is easy to achieve. With bamboo or wil­low pan­els, a Ja­panese tea house is yours to en­joy. But what­ever the style, a nice, shel­tered place to sit in the gar­den trans­forms your ex­pe­ri­ence of it, ex­tend­ing your out­door living through hot af­ter­noons, rain­storms, spring and fall. And a glimpse through the win­dow at your backyard retreat, even when you can’t get out there, brings more of the gar­den’s life into yours.

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