The humble garage is finally shifting gears
Charlie Burton is a journalist based in London and is a Senior Commissioning Editor at GQ.
Is the garage truly part of the house? It’s a knottier question than it might at first appear, because the garage represents what theorists might term a “liminal” space: straddling a boundary, not quite one thing or the other. Sure, this room might be physically attached to the structure of the building, perhaps even with a connecting door, but its design scheme (or lack thereof) combined with – in all likelihood – its dirtiness, finishing and clutter, betrays the fact that we don’t think of it like the rest of the rooms. It is something else. The garage’s greatest asset is arguably this lack of definition. In the wonderfully perceptive Garage (2018), by Olivia Erlanger and Luis Ortega Govela, the pair discuss how garages are a blank canvas – a space for imagining new things – and have thus enabled productivity of all kinds to thrive in the otherwise residential realm of the suburbs. From Nirvana to Hewlett-Packard to small-time surfboard makers, countless artists and start-ups have emerged from the punk domain that is the garage. For its stated purpose, however – storing a car – the room’s ill-defined identity can present a drawback. After all, if you really want to park in a garage as opposed to on the street, it’s probably because you drive something special. And if you drive something you special, you probably want to gaze at it, yet you can’t do that if it’s hidden away. What’s more, are the drab grey surroundings of a garage really the appropriate home for the desirable object within?
Recently a number of projects have sought to reimagine the garage and solve that problem. The most common approach is also the most straightforward: beautifying the garage itself and making it visible from the other rooms of the house through huge windows. The Silicon Valley-based architect Malika Junaid, for instance, told the Wall Street Journal that she has designed multiple such “show garages” for clients – a trend driven by rising prices for collectible autos. “In the past decade,” reports the article, “prices for rare autos have climbed to levels never before seen, prompting new collectors to enter the market.” Indeed, she has a show garage herself; her Bentley GT and Ducati 959 Panigale can be seen from the living room. Others do away with the garage altogether. Aston Martin’s new subsidiary Automotive Galleries And Lairs, for instance, will help you install car lifts to raise or lower your vehicle from the driveway and into your (presumably fairly substantial) home. The architectural renderings of how this could look are spectacular: imagine a Valhalla sitting behind a vast fish tank, or a Vanquish proudly on display in your Ex Machina-esque living room. Others still are seizing on the ambiguity over what a garage actually is in the first place – and suggesting that it could be something entirely different. What if it was, for instance, a building on its own terms? The interior design company Ivar London has developed a concept called the “Car Gallery”. This standalone structure would take pride of place in the garden, showcasing the car inside but also having serious design credibility in its own right. Architecturally, its cubic form and thick back window frames would lend it a Mondrian-like quality; its interior would blaze with neon lights, while its exterior would be decorated in homage to the dreamlike shapes and colours of the Italian Metaphysical artists of the early twentieth century. The company’s founder, Patrick Dougherty, hopes it will prove to be a whole new typology. So, how have clients responded thus far? “It’s been fascinating to see the reactions,” says Dougherty. “Some people absolutely love it and describe the Car Gallery concept as the future for serious car collectors – and then there are others who still think that a garage is just a utility and should not be seen.” We’re betting that the latter wouldn’t describe themselves as car nuts.