Garage makeover makes space usable

By Jeffrey Fazio
DriveTime Columnist

When I was looking to purchase my first home a couple of years ago, the Realtor that I was working with asked me what I was looking for in a home. I said a garage.

I figured everything else was negotiable, but a garage was a must. In fact, my ideal home would be a massive loft above a six-car garage. Apparently they donít just build them that way, although Iím sure it would not be hard to find a custom builder willing to tackle the project.

My budget didnít allow building, much less custom building, into the realm of considerations. So I ventured out with my Realtor looking for the perfect garage, preferably one that had a house in the yard.

As it became clear that the perfect garage was eluding me (and my budget) and time was running out as my apartment lease was coming to a formidable end, I really needed to decide on a home. Suddenly finding a good home became more important than finding the perfect garage, so I started to comprise in order to have decent shelter.

I ended up buying a very old property that had a one-car detached garage. The garage was not anything special, but it was a garage.

Some would say it had character. I would say it had issues.

The inside of the garage was dark, dank and completely unfinished. The only form of illumination in the garage was a lone desperate tungsten bulb hanging onto the peak of the ceiling for dear life some 15 feet above the concrete floor. Trying to light up the entire garage with that one little pathetic bulb was like trying to wash an elephant with a single glass of water.

Even worse, the shingles on the roof were disappearing faster than a middle-aged manís hair, which inevitably caused the roof to leak. At first, the leak resembled the steady drip, drip, drip of a coffee maker, but within a few months it was more like a shower in a cheap motel. It seemed to sprinkle everywhere but where you expected it to.

The ceiling was becoming so holey that I was starting to think my garage was a religious site. As the ceiling quickly decayed, I was hoping that I would see the image of Jesus or Mary in the water stains so I could sell the roof on eBay and retire.

I had no such luck.

By the end of last summer it became apparent that if I didnít want my garage roof to become my garage floor, I had to do something and do it quick. A friend of mine and I spent a weekend tearing off the old roof and slapped on a new one.

Itís amazing how much of a difference a solid roof makes you feel about a space. The worthless space of a garage I had not enjoyed for nearly two years suddenly became a safe place to store stuff and work. I was inspired.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I did some very simple do-it-yourself homeowner projects to the garage. My first undertaking was hanging four banks of fluorescent lights. Itís amazing how a space immediately takes on a different character when you can actually see it. Let there be light.

From there I moved forward with putting white paneling over the exposed dark beams. This was a quick and inexpensive way to finish the garage walls. Since it is a detached garage I was not concerned about insulation. Installing paneling was significantly faster than putting up drywall and painting. The paneling is also great for a garage since it simply can be wiped clean. The large panels of white also helped reflect all of that newfound light to make the space even brighter.

After that, I built a really nice custom workbench. When I was finished, I installed some shelves and cabinets. Itís truly amazing how far $1,300 and a few weekends of hard work can go toward completely changing a space.

At this point I can hardly believe that it is the same dilapidated garage that came with my house. Of course, the disintegrating garage door is still functioning as a cruel reminder of the way things were in the not-so-distant past.