I love building stuff.
As you may have heard me say at one time or another, Fiona and I live in a fairly small house. Of all the places I’ve ever lived it’s easily my favorite. And of all the rooms that made us fall in love with the little place, it was the garage that did it.
Now, it helps to understand: we’re weird. Over the last few years our motto has become less stuff, more life – and a really small house fit the bill perfectly. Built in the early 40s, this one needed a lot of improvements. But we both like working with our hands, and turning it into our own little gnome cottage continues to be a blast.
A great garage has always been something I’ve loved. One of my childhood friends lived with his grandparents, and his grandfather had the most epic wood shop I’d ever seen. An older cousin not only had a barn-sized workshop, he also had a scale-model trail that ran around the ceiling. With a history in TV and theater, I thoroughly enjoy putting things together like toys or holiday decorations. When I was 14 I did a TV series called The Museum of Horrors, and built a life-size working guillotine in the garage for the show. The garage is my prop shop. Fiona and I could both see how it might look, but I’ll admit – it took a lot of imagination to get past how it did look.
One thing to note: the object was never to create a brand new garage interior with sparkling white walls and a surgically clean floor (although a good power-washing is coming with spring). I wanted whatever I built to look like it had been there as long as the house. It needed to look like it had been around for 70 years.
The first thing to do was rip out a bunch of old shelves, flimsy braces, nasty wallboard, and broken areas of the ceiling. There was no attic access stair, so a drop-down would have be installed. There was no garage door opener, nor enough framing for either. The decking where a washer and dryer were supposed to sit was pulled up, exposing the dirt foundation. And even if we did get it all together, how could we ever also fit Fiona’s car in there?
One of the things that immediately caught my eye when we first looked at our house was the hole in the garage floor. For those born after the 40s, homes routinely had them (assuming the house had a garage and that it had a concrete floor). That’s where the oil dripped from the crankcase of your 1940 Chevrolet Royal Clipper. I’ve fantasized about digging that out for a safe roof with about 3 months of provisions, but instead settled for filling it in with brick we found in the backyard. I’ve always liked a garage that looked like a jalopy belonged in it, so the filling station was complete.
A word about installing reclaimed wood. It’s the decorating equivalent of grooming a bonsai tree. Prepare for a lot of work, but the results are worth it. The chop saw is your friend.
Once the deck, plumbing, vents and power were in for the washer/dryer, it was time to add a wide enough step to keep us from falling backwards with armloads of clothes – and a lip down the wall for what would become the new workbench. The decking came from the shelves I’d torn out. And yes, I used that cheap brick paneling you can find just about everywhere. Once I was done, no one would notice. Keep going.
For a long time that’s where the project stopped. The problem is that whenever I had something I wanted to build, the temporary saw horse and plywood table in the middle of the garage shoved everything else out or up against the walls. As you can see, I can organize when I want to. It’s a skill I learned being in charge of packing the trunk for all our driving vacations. I could get six big bags and for overnight cases in an Impala at age 8. And it worked. Kinda.
When you have no floor room, look up. Bracing the ceiling and supporting the attic allowed us to store an unbelievable amount of stuff up there, but it still wasn’t quite enough. The solution? A couple of wooden rails and bins suspended from the ceiling. And the work lights and dark grey paint would cloud just how low the ceiling is.
Once we started wrapping up work on the new backyard studio, it was time to finish that work area and complete the garage. Even with a small car inside, there wasn’t going to be much clearance for opening doors. As you may have noticed earlier, there’s still that giant water heater in the way – although a tankless is in the plan. But even if I had all the room in the world, I still like to see what I can squeeze in. So taking into account the contour of the car, in went the bench.
Then, to make it look right.
And finally, The Magic Shop is finished. Yes, the car fits. In fact, so does my truck – though not at the same time. But, hey. It’s a truck. They’re supposed to sit outside. So when an animatronic werewolf leaps from the bushes this fall, or Santa’s sleigh appears nightly suspended in the sky, here’s where they’ll be built.
Now I need to put a train track up around the ceiling.