A sMARt Garage Conversion

I’m a master guru when it comes to spaces and maximizing their full potential. Whether it be a closet, family room or garage, rest assured I’ll come up with several clever and resourceful ways to make the space functional and beautiful while being smart about the plan.

If you’re looking to do a major renovation to a garage to make it a space for other uses, then you’re well on your way to spending some big bucks on the project, so just remember one thing: once you convert your garage to a non-car-storage space you have just lost some value to your home. Unless you plan on building another garage, you may want to talk to a licensed Realtor about your choices.

My garage conversion concept is less invasive and allows the garage to be repurposed by any future owner. I applied my original concepts to my own garage several years ago when I designed it to serve as both storage space for my car and garden tools. This dual-purpose functionality served a short yet meaningful life as I quickly learned I had bigger, better plans for the space.

The Garden Studio, with its original design as a garage, has now become a four season space to enjoy. Springtime, it’s a work place to plan out and log the latest additions to the garden. Summer, a well deserved bar for all those garden parties. Fall, the perfect place to read or write some new articles in an open, yet sheltered, outdoorsy space. Come winter, it protects and defends my large containers, shielding them from freezing temperatures. Truth be told, regardless of what time of year it may be, the garden studio stands proudly on the property as a place to create something fabulous. The Butcher Block island serves as command central to everything Mar inspired. I make sure I have all my supplies at hand. Moss, decorative containers and, of course, potting soil. Once I’m in this space I feel inspired to create something special, pondering time away, enjoying my alterative to a man-cave.

Why should you consider something similar? Today a garage transformation can be an easy, affordable project that will add much-needed workspace to a home. That said, with the foundation, walls, and roof already in place, the garage is quickly becoming the “bonus” room where anything goes.

A well-planned garage conversion can be a seamlessly easy project, provided you know what you’re getting yourself into. Regardless of the current design theme, the process should begin with a careful assessment of the space and total team agreement regarding the inner potential it holds. A clear budget should be outlined. Many things I had the foresight to do during construction: I had it insulated, wired for TV, cable, internet and phone. It was finished with drywall, base molding and a Dutch door to boot. Not everyone is going to start with such a great foundation, but if you do have a dry garage, then you’re already in good shape for a conversion.

I began by removing everything inside, finding a new home for those items that were taking up this valuable space. Once this task was complete, I had a clean open 10×16 space that I could begin to paint. I chose a fresh cool green color for the walls that complemented the open space plan. Choosing a color will obviously be a personal choice, but I always defer to a natural, less shocking color that embraces the outdoors. It creates a more cohesive flow with nature; after all, that garage door will be open most of the time, so it shouldn’t be a stark contrast to the colors of the garden. 

Most typical garages sit on a poured concrete slab that slopes toward the door. To counteract that, my local Ace hardware store provided me with floor protectors which I put on two of the four legs of the Butcher Block island, allowing it to become level. I did this with the desk as well. As for the floor, you may have a mid-garage drain to deal with too; but regardless of level or unlevel flooring, the look of plain concrete cannot be endured.

Paint once again comes in handy. Personally, I drew a checkerboard black and white pattern on the floor and filled it in with a high gloss oil base paint. I added several layers of a clear varnish to seal it, and now, years later, I can spill water (okay, cocktails, too!) and simply hose it down to clean it. To this day, everyone thinks it’s tile and I quickly say, “Nope, just paint.”
When dressing up your garage space, I also encourage a mentality of “resources: repurposed.” For me, this just naturally kicked into high gear. As such, I reused and recycled many things when it came to transforming my garage to a garden studio, rather than buy from scratch.

To the back wall, I installed some much-needed shelves that cover floor to ceiling. I did purchase these as it was hard to find exactly the right dimensions outside of a store. This back shelving provided a new focal point to a wall which has no windows. Then, I spent the year searching tag sales to collect terracotta pots. I returned home to stack them one by one to create a layered look that also serves as a place for my urns and moss balls collection. This quickly became the signature backdrop for my show and not one garden tour visitor misses this simple yet grand accent wall. And lest I imply that it is purely decoration, let me assure you that the items on this wall are also in constant use — functional storage that doubles as dÌ©cor.

Three sets of shutters (from my former cottage) became the perfect screen alterative to hide the irrigation control system that is also housed on the back wall. I sprayed them yellow, and with a scraper removed areas of paint to create an aged, weathered effect. Two eyehooks suspend the screen from the ceiling, allowing them to be removed easily.  An electrician was hired to hang special studio lights, and they are connected to several switches, allowing maximum control when lighting for TV filming, and also for evening entertaining — from the bar or an intimate al fresco dinner. Recycled windows were added to afford more daylight and to provide views of the garden. All for free, as friends and my local teardowns, became the resource for these true divided light windows. Old windows are now being used in a new way. Love that!

The biggest concern regarding most garage conversions is what to do about that garage door. Rather than incurring the expense of replacing it with a wall and door (or wall and window), I embraced the open door concept and, instead, used the existing door hardware to house a classic carriage door. This means that even rainy days can still be enjoyed in the garden by working in the studio with the door open — it feels less confining having views of the side garden and pergola. But in winter the door provides a tight seal, and no drafts enter the room.

Lastly, I discovered my friends’ and family attics and garages as wonderful resources for unwanted furniture. In one trip I found my island, my table and writing desk and my Grandmothers’ kitchen cabinet. The stools came by the way of my neighbor’s old kitchen and the lamp once served as an office lamp when I worked at my first banking job.
All that’s left is to be creative with your space; transform objects and furniture to fit your exact needs. Give a man a drill and the design details begin to take shape thanks to unexpected details. My grandmother’s distressed back porch cabinet found new life — and got new knobs — so it now houses old tools perfectly.

Feel inspired to find “new” space in your garage? It’s a worthwhile project that doesn’t require a tight timeline, but will make you feel more connected to whatever you are making room for — be it gardening equipment, your love of sports, or a place to practice drums. The only thing missing in the space is you. So when are you coming for a visit?

And there you have it.