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March 20, 2011

News & Features

Parking space: reclaiming the garage for its original purpose

Special to NWautos

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When Jim Yaeger purchased his parents' West Seattle home, the garage was "a catastrophe." After a local company renovated the area, he can now park his two cars inside. (Cody Ellerd Bay)

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To create space for his cars in the garage, Jim Yaeger added overhead storage that is accessible by a pull-down staircase. (Cody Ellerd Bay)

Take a look in your garage and you might find any number of things: the lawnmower, boxes filled with high school yearbooks, a hobby shop, your son's rock 'n' roll band -- maybe even your mother-in-law living there.

But the one thing that seems to be conspicuously absent from many Seattle garages, oddly enough, is an actual car.

High density and a typical lack of closet and storage space in Seattle's older homes have made this a city where cars typically live on the street -- while the precious garage space tends to get used for everything else.

Nazim Nice, the principal architect at the Seattle architecture firm Motionspace, estimates that 70 to 80 percent of his clients use their garages as storage. "People have way too much stuff," he says. "They probably could get rid of half of it, but instead, the garage is where it goes."

Nice also blames the area's prevalence of Craftsman-style homes built in the early 20th century, with garages that were built with much smaller cars in mind, for being too cramped for today's minivans and SUVs. Even in many of the area's newer townhomes, Nice says, residents have to deal with dauntingly sharp angles to turn into their garages, making the street in front a far more appealing parking option.

Making the best use of your garage

Some homeowners have decided to take back their garages. When West Seattle resident Jim Yaeger bought the house his parents had lived in since the 1950s, the garage was unusable, he says. Having used it only as a workshop and for storage, Yaeger's father had nailed up the large garage door and used only the small walk-through door.

"It was a catastrophe," Yaeger says. "You could only store greasy, dirty things in it."
He remodeled it last summer, clearing out all the junk and yard tools, and enlarged it to make room for two cars. He also added a workbench and overhead storage, accessible by a pull-down staircase.

Anne Higuera of West Seattle's Ventana Construction, which handled Yaeger's renovation, says that when people take the initiative to reclaim their garages, they usually want room for at least two cars, as well as to retain some storage and work space.

However, Higuera says that after the city of Seattle legalized detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs, more commonly called "backyard cottages" or "mother-in-law apartments") in December 2009, more people have decided to turn their garages into rental spaces or guest apartments.

"People in Seattle just want more space," she says. "When they invest money in their garages, they want to use it for other things as well."

However, Yaeger says it feels great to see nothing but two cars in his garage. Now, though, he's thinking about another project: a shed he can use as storage for all his yard tools.

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