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The Key Elements of a Great Garage

The Key Elements of a Great Garage

One of the questions frequently posed to me as the founder of VAULT® is, “What Makes a Great Garage?” Garages are often an afterthought in home design, so I am always excited by the chance to respond to this particular question.

A great garage actually has very little to do with how much money someone invests into its construction. Nor is it achieved by making over-the-top statements with extravagant automobiles or opulent furnishings meant to impress one’s visitors.

In my opinion, a great garage is one that evokes an emotion the moment you walk into the space. If your design can be meaningful enough to evoke feeling, then your space will be memorable. And if your garage can create a memorable experience in a way that maintains architectural harmony with the rest of the home, in a way that does not replicate things that you’re seeing everybody else do, in a way that is unique but not so brash that it is tacky, in a way that is simply timeless… well you’re going to have a truly great garage.

Here are a few key design elements that will draw someone into your garage and make them want to stay for a while.

1. A Great Garage Is Timeless, Not Trendy

Timeless design does not pull its inspiration from what is “trending.” In a time when everything changes so quickly, what might be hip today can go out of vogue in the blink of an eye. Therefore, when designing your garage you should avoid the impulse to do something trendy. Committing to a trend will lock you into a design that is temporary and that will need to be updated, perhaps time and time again. A timeless design, on the other hand, will remain impressive for years to come.

The “hot trend” in garage design I probably see most often is the liberal use of tread plate – that textured, shiny pattern that started popping up in garages, gyms, workshops, and pickup trucks a decade ago. Tread plate might be widespread, but that doesn’t mean it will last. And even right now, despite its popularity, overuse of this feature can leave the wrong kind of impression. I’ve consulted in many spaces with prominent tread plate, and the effect I’m left with is generally the same: a cold, unexciting, uninspired feeling. Simply put, it is almost always the wrong kind of memorable.

Another way people chase trends is by going out or their way to incorporate the year’s “hot colors.” In 2018, the Pantone Color Institute named vivid purple its “Color of the Year.” But does that mean you should rush to the paint store before all the purple is sold out? Before you do, take a minute to recall some other hot color trends and what became of them. Bright pink was the most popular color for bathroom fixtures in the Atomic Age, with millions of post-war households scrapping their Victorian fixtures for this ill-advised palette. And remember when Avocado-colored tile, toilets, and baths were all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s? By the 1980s those fixtures and colors were branded as outdated symbols of an ugly, bygone era.

So unless you’re planning on redoing your space on a yearly basis, you’re better off working with classic colors that will last when hot trends come and go. Bottom line, a classic style is one that can endure the test of time. This is why at VAULT® we strive to achieve a design aesthetic that is timeless and elegant – because good designs last forever.

2. A Great Garage Is Original

Avoid a cookie-cutter approach that will make your garage look like everyone else’s. It’s good practice to scan the Internet, books, and magazines to get inspiration for what others are doing, but don’t get caught up in trying to replicate something commonplace. That’s just boring. What makes a design successful is originality, when it incorporates elements that no one has seen in another garage. Being original and doing something that no one has done before are what make a garage stand out.

Case in point, sixteen years ago when I renovated my own garage, I envisioned a space that was highly functional, yet was not bland or boring. A space that would trigger a WOW, an emotional reaction so strong that clients would remember it.

My instincts were telling me that black elephant hide walls would make for a suitable backdrop for our Ferrari yellow cabinets, and that this combination would make my garage exciting. When I first started painting the blank walls to this dark black I thought I might have made a huge mistake. But I trusted my instincts. Once the cabinets went in there was this wonderful contrast of bright yellow against the dark background that just made everything in the space pop.

Going with a really bright and aggressive color choice like I did was a really bold decision.  As was the use of beadboard on the ceiling, base and crown molding, and the use of horizontal slatwalls on the walls, which were done to create visual intrigue.

Because no one had ever designed that style of garage before, it paid off in a big way. When people saw it, it evoked a response and resonated with them. It was unforgettable. As a result, I have one of the most published garages on the West Coast, featured on television and numerous print publications. By making my garage distinctive it stood out from the rest, and that made the garage instantly memorable. Sixteen years later, the staying power of my original design choices still evokes the same WOW response from my visitors.

In short, stand apart from the crowd and make your garage memorable. This might sound like a daunting task, but really it may be as simple as avoiding trends, following your instincts, and/or making a bold design choice. But remember, too, that it’s not just about bold choices, but the right bold choices. Be careful not to let them overwhelm the overall feel or look of the design. Timeless design aims for simplicity, beauty, and elegance, but also harmony – its aspects working together, not in opposition. That’s the blueprint for remaining relevant for years to come.

3. A Great Garage Reflects Its Owner’s Personality

Simply put, you want your friends and family to walk into your space and instantly feel like it is YOUR garage, an extension of what makes you unique and singular. It’s all about expressing your personality in a way that clicks with your guests, immediately. They simply get it. Not only are they wowed, but they identify the space as having your design fingerprint, and yours alone.

There are, of course, many ways to go about threading your personality into your space. You might, for example, incorporate themes of brands you’re interested in, such as a particular car manufacturer.

If you have a passion for, say, Harley Davidsons, then expressing that in a way that is subtle but dramatic can be very powerful. But subtlety is the key. If you love Harleys, black and orange will be a great color choice, and maybe some signage could also be incorporated. But if everything is Harley Davidson orange-and-black it could easily become a little bit overpowering, so much so that it’s really no longer yours – it becomes all about the brand, leaving little to no room for YOU in there. So you have to be careful and strike a good balance in order to incorporate a concept tastefully.

Or, your space might reflect the passion you have for a hobby, whether it’s biking, surfing, or fishing. The same rules apply for incorporating a brand, though. You want to make sure you’re featuring elements that convey that passion, but not in a way that’s overpowering. One example that comes to mind is a garage I designed for a client who is an avid deep-sea fisherman. His rods and reels were beautiful to look at, so we didn’t want to hide them behind cabinet doors. At the same time, we wanted to avoid a cluttered feel by piling them all up together. Ultimately, we took advantage of his tall garage ceilings and used rod holders – like you find on the stern of fishing boats – to feature the rods in a really compelling way that conveyed, to any visitor, his passion for fishing.

This concept, of course, could apply to featuring a bicycles, skateboards, surfboards, etc. Or perhaps you have a couple specific antiques or pieces of art or musical instruments that really reflect who you are. The key is to create focal points with these featured items that work in harmony with the rest of the space. Not dominating, not cluttering, but tying everything together in a way that truly defines this space as your own.

4. A Great Garage Maintains Architectural Harmony with the Rest of the Home

You don’t want to have a particular style of home and then go in a completely different direction in your garage – with color choices, with architectural details, with furnishings, etc. This is especially true if the garage is attached to the home. You want to be able to walk from your garage into your home, or vise versa, without feeling like you’ve entered a foreign space. In short, you want a seamless transition between these spaces.

You also want to avoid a style clash when the home is viewed from the street. If you’ve got a Victorian home but the garage is very modern, then it’s going to impact the overall harmony and cohesion of the structure when your garage doors are open. And, of course, the garage doors themselves might even be contributing to the clash when they’re closed. Maintaining architectural harmony with the home could involve something as simple as choosing a floor that has the same color palette as what you are using on your driveway, such as pavers, or maybe the stone on your home on the exterior facade of the home. Or it could be selecting colors for the walls that are similar to what you’re using inside.

Here’s a brief case study to illustrate. A few years ago, I had the privilege of working in a home in Littleton, Colorado, that had won National Home Builders Association Home of the Year. The problem was that the garage just didn’t fit with the rest of the home. In short, there was no harmony. The homeowner spoke of the exact issue I just described above: he said that when you walk from the kitchen entryway door into the garage it felt like a foreign space, like it didn’t belong there, like it wasn’t an extension of the home. This client wanted to treat the garage like another room of the home, not like a separate and disconnected space.

So we created this really warm environment of hand-stuccoed walls and false-beamed ceilings built with lovely, rustic wood from a renovated warehouse. We even replaced the garage doors, which were very expensive but just weren’t befitting of a home of this stature. This was a very elegant home, yet the garage doors were nothing special, almost like an afterthought. In contrast, the carriage-style garage doors that we replaced them with are amazingly beautiful, with mahogany wood and hand wrought iron hardware – very elegant garage doors that were custom-built to match the client’s design aesthetic while reflecting the style of the rest of the home.

The result of our efforts was a sea change from the original space: from cold to warm, from boring to exciting, from disconnect to harmony. When you walk into the garage today it’s welcoming and elegant and feels like it’s an extension of the home. It’s another room in the house, not some separate, foreign space for storing vehicles.

Contact VAULT® With All Your Garage Design Needs

When I’m working with a client on a garage design project, I don’t impose my design aesthetic upon that client. Quite the contrary, I work with each individual to unearth his or her passions, interests, and personal preferences and style. This includes everything from understanding the kinds of surfaces that intrigue them to zeroing in on their preferred color palettes to identifying the brands they admire. As a designer, I take everything into consideration in order to create something for a client that is special and truly unique.

For over a decade VAULT® has been designing America’s finest garages, combining layout, lighting, flooring, doors, and furnishings into custom-built spaces that leave our clients (and their neighbors) in awe. We’re experts at creating memorable garages that reflect your personality and the style of your home as a whole. In short, we’re experts at designing great garages.

Schedule your free garage design consultation today and take
the first step to a great garage.