Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Garage Mahal (or, what I did on my summer vacation)


When Robb and I first looked at our house, just about a year ago, the garage was in sorry shape. The paint was flaking off. It was leaning at a dangerous angle. And the roof was on the verge of caving in.

Everyone advised us to tear it down. Over and over again, we heard, "who wants some old wooden building, when you could have a nice metal shed?" Robb and I just smiled and nodded.

And gave each other The Look.

This is the look that we gave each other after contractors suggested replacing our plaster walls with sheet-rock, or suggested installing a drop ceiling to cover our old coffered ceiling. Robb and I would put on our best inscrutable Mona Lisa smiles, and make eye contact for the briefest moment.

We wanted a historic home. Not some re-muddled mess.

What we found so bemusing was how the contractors would say things like "Wow, they don't make houses this nice anymore," and then launch into their proposals for horrendous "improvements."

Thanks, but no thanks. We'd rather restore than demolish.

Admittedly, not everyone could see the potential in our garage. It looked rough.

We paid contractors to straighten up the building, and to replace the roof. The large window was destroyed during this process. We just swallowed that damage, because the garage had to be finished before moving day. If we didn't have a roofed garage, we'd have nowhere to store things until we got settled. (And as it turned out, moving day coincided with the start of the rainy season. It dumped buckets of rain all that day.)

The contractors also managed to sever the electrical service between the house and the garage. And again, we sucked it up, because we were on a tight schedule.

Here's how things looked when the paid contractors were finished. The interior walls were sheathed in oriented strand board. (Not my first choice.) The building had a roof. And it no longer leaned. Nevertheless, it still had a long way to go.

In order for the house to be approved for our mortgage, all loose paint had to be removed. This was to reduce the chances of lead paint contamination. All this work had to be completed by the seller before we closed on the house. They agreed to remove all lose paint and to prime any raw wood, but that's all.

So, when we got the house, it looked rather scabby.

I'm not complaining. I certainly didn't want to scrape all that flaking paint. Anyway, I'm not certified to do this type of work. The Federal government now requires licensed painters to take a class in the safe removal of older paint. I completely support this law, because it protects the painters and the people living in older houses. I'm sure I'll eventually take this class, myself.

At some point, the garage became too small to house a standard American car, so the front end of the garage was extended. Someone built an odd triangular roof, and added a shim to the doors. However, by the time we bought this house, this addition was rotting away. Since we have a driveway that's absurdly long, and since we wanted to use the garage as a workshop rather than for car storage, we decided to remove this bump-out. It literally crumbled away to nothing.

Prior to that, Robb replaced the windows in the garage, and installed a door to the garden.

The door was installed back in April. I look at this photo, and notice that our hop plants have barely emerged from the ground, and are just beginning to twine around the bamboo poles. Also, our beehive doesn't have its fancy roof yet, and it only two boxes tall. I think we've got five boxes going at the moment.

I'm so impressed with Robb for being able to do this work.

In this photo, the door frame hasn't been installed yet. The tomatoes aren't even planted. They're growing under lights, inside.

This is how things sat for an awfully long time. Until summer vacation.

I primed the garage -- at least the two sides that are actually on our property. Half our garage is behind our neighbor's fence. I have no idea what it looks like.

The entire garage was painted a pale buttery yellow. In a lot of ways, painting the garage is a good education for me, before I start painting our house.

The tomatoes have just gotten up to the first horizontal supports of our massive tomato fortress. One of the hop plants has just reached the roof line.

Here's the view, that fronts on the street. For some reason, the blue is showing up very brightly in this picture. It's considerably paler. In fact, Robb thought I was painting the door trim white, until I assured him that it was blue.

Here's how things look at the end of vacation. I need to paint one more coat on the plum-colored trim paint. And I need to paint the door and the window the pale blue.

The tomatoes are six feet tall, and the hops are so tall that Robb had to lasso the tops of the poles with guy-wires.

I think our garage is totally adorable. It is no longer a scary falling-down shack. It is a charming garden-workshop. I couldn't be more pleased! It sure beats the hell out of a metal shed.

(Scroll back up to the top of this blog-post and compare the before and after.)


Kellyann Brown said...


When my parents bought some property down near Gilroy, it had something resembling a chicken coop in the back corner. After renovating the front houses, my parents went about renovating the little shack. My dad says he replaced, board by board, everything but the floor and an interior wall... I think that might be a little hyperbole, but we did replace, repair, tape, dap, paint, and finish a good deal of that little 400sf 1-bedrooom, 1-bath cottage. When they needed a place to stay while renovating their own house, they moved in there. My mom loved it, because housework was easy. I think of it... and your renovation as the ultimate recycling. ::::smile:::: as always, I loved your photos!

Future Libraian said...

It's too bad about the OSB, but other than that - it's ADORABLE! I love it!! Way to keep it you way.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

I'll probably rip the osb off, install insulation and then put up bead-board. But if that happens in the next four years, I'll be surprised.

Then there's the little matter of the floor. For the moment we have a cheap carpet, covering the crumbling concrete. I'm a little scared of this project, since I know *nothing* about demolishing or laying a concrete floor.

Town Mouse said...

Congratulations! That looks so impressive, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it for a long time to come.

Rabid Quilter said...

You said it: Totally adorable! Great job, both of you!

Becky said...

Adorable! I can't wait to see the inside. You two get things DONE.

Amber said...

How adorable! I am so glad you guys restored it instead of tearing it down. I love the colors you chose... it is such a bright and cheery "addition" to the garden =o)

camissonia said...

What an awesome transformation! There's absolutely nothing more satisfying than a DIY project, especially when it comes out looking so pretty darned good!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Becky, et al: Don't hold your collective breath, waiting for us to fix up the inside of the garage. That's not even on the five-year list.

Actually, I think the five-year list is more like a three-year list, with a lot of breathing room for stuff we failed to anticipate. And general slackiness.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean, "the rest of the garage is behind the neighbor's fence"?? Seems like that would be your property or is that a property line that has changed over time??
I am all for the "re-storing", a huge part of the guys did a terrific job...time for a garden party!!!!

John and Diane said...

It looks wonderful. I sure know The Look and contractors' suggestions. They wanted to put in granite countertops - or stainless - or concrete - in our kitchen and we insisted on formica!

Christine said...

Drop ceiling to hide the coffers?! Silly contractors! Good thing they didn't demolish or totally ruin the "house out back!" You've earned yourself a good long rest for this project! The hops will make it look all the more cottagey.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

What I meant is that the exterior wall is on their side. If I wanted to paint it, I'd have to stand in their yard.

So why bother?

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I love your new and improved garage. Your garage will last forever now, and I love the colors! Good for you for not dusting it and building new. Besides, from what I can tell from the early pictures, looks like a lot of it was probably built from quality redwood. I almost sobbed last year when some friends knocked down a house addition and then junked all of the 3/4" redwood siding! I could have built a huge fabulous coop out of it!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

It was all 85 year old redwood. Like the stuff the contractors tore off the facing of the house, and then trashed.


We're still fighting over that one.

Anonymous said...

If your neighbor's are nice, you may want to see if they will let you paint the side that faces them. If the wood is not protected on that side then you could end up replacing that part of the garage. We have a side of our 100 year old carriage house (now garage)facing the neighbors back yard and we paint it the color of their house (our side is beige and theirs is white)we do it to maintain our garage cuz they sure do not do it!!
Also the blue trim is probably showing darker than it really is in the picture due to the reflection of the house color next door!

Keep up the good work! Nice!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

I am *sure* that the neighbors have "their" side of the garage painted.

They have perfectly topiary-ized rosebushes, planted in a chessboard grid, and lit with color spotlights. The paint on their house is immaculate.

There's NO WAY they wouldn't spruce up the wall of our garage.

Anonymous said...

First of all, Let me say how proud of you I am- you did a great job! Isn't it satisfying to do it yourself (and get it done YOUR WAY) and then look back at all the photos? We have very few photos of our house while we worked on it, since we probably had the camera buried in a crate somewhere. We also used OSB board on part of our barn- it was cheap and it was available.
NOW- you have to deal with the neighbors...some will love what you did since it looks great. Others will curse you since it looks great and now their place looks even crappier. FACT.

gollygee said...

It's beautiful!!! :)

Weeping Sore said...

Yikes, you're an ambitious pair! I love the photos of the work in progress. As I type, the exterminator is walking around our old house with a flashlight and a clip board and muttering to himself. We have mice, spiders, ants and the ubiquitous termites. You give me hope that we may survive them all.

lkw said...

Wow, I'm totally impressed with what you and Robb have done. How nice to rehabilitate an old structure instead of putting in something new! We had an old aluminum shed in back (dreadful) that I finally (after 10+ years) replaced with a stick-built garden shed. Much better.

We also replaced an aluminum carport (sitting next to our side porch) with a further away garage. I can't imagine why the original owners of our older house (built in ~1936) would have wanted to look at an aluminum carport.

Hmmm. Lisa

CrescentJoy said...

Oh lord, you were so lucky in your garage. When I finally find my camera charger I'm going to go take good pictures of ours. The foundation is horrid, the roof is caving in, and apparently a river does run through it during the rainy season according to our neighbor. Much cheaper to knock it down and rebuild than to fix.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Foundation? What's that?

We've got crumbling concrete, that we'll address sometime this decade.

Brian said...

Wow even your garage looks to have been constructed just like mine! Instead of extending it, the previous owner merely ripped the entire front side of it off... doors and frame. I could have pushed it over had I tried hard enough. I now have a 16 ft. carport at the end of a ridiculously long driveway that can hold four to five cars front to back, plus a 6th in the garage. I need to find a good way to extend it a few feet and put some doors back on it.


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