Americans love their cars — along with any excuse for
extra living space. So it's no wonder that most new houses
include garages containing additional space for a bedroom, an
entertainment room, or a home office.
Unlike an attached garage, which can inflate the overall
appearance of a house and block desirable light or views, a
freestanding garage can be placed to shape a yard, create
privacy for guests, or simply distance car activity from the
main living space.
Considering how popular detached garages are, it's well worth
determining what makes one successful. From a design
standpoint, several general factors come into play, including
the number of cars to be accommodated, the nature of the
second-level living space, and, of course, the context of the
The following examples offer solutions to a variety of garage
requirements. Each design uses building orientation, massing,
door types, and finishes to shape a structure that relates well
to the human scale.
Placing the gable end toward the street is a natural choice for
a one-car garage. Unlike two- and three-car garages, the
single-stall building doesn't have to struggle with scale
issues. In fact, a small garage presents an opportunity to
explore and refine a handful of elements in detail. Each
component — roof, enclosing walls, windows, doors, and
exterior finish — can be individually considered and
shaped in concert with the others.
A few details on the elevation set this garage apart. The
curved shingle brackets under the eaves play up the wide,
sheltering roof. The oversized carriage doors with heavy hinges
and diagonal planking establish a barnlike aesthetic that's
echoed by the central gable window. The trim band beneath the
upper gable pediment signals a switch from regular 5-inch
shingle coursing to alternating 21/2-inch and 5-inch coursing.
The change in shingle texture clearly differentiates the more
elaborate pediment from the base.
An oblique view of the shingle brackets reveals their function
further; they receive the ends of a double track carrying
sliding barn-style doors, which are glazed rather than opaque.
When fully open, the doors hang in front of the large
double-hung window. They allow the garage to be quickly
transformed into an outdoor entertaining room overlooking a
side yard or garden.
This view also reveals the exposed rafter tails, which —
like the shuttered gable-end window accessed from a small
storage loft — evoke a cottage look. Inside, the loft
doubles as a nap shelf for the outdoor living space.
If your garage customers are interested in more storage space
for yard gear plus a second-level living space, but they can do
without housing a second car, a one-and-one-half-car garage
might fit the bill. Accommodating several uses under one roof
requires some finessing, however, to reduce the building's
apparent overall mass.
The first scale-reducing move is to use a single overhead
garage door designed to look like two traditional carriage
doors. Here, these doors are offset by a covered opening that
shelters a glazed entrance door to the interior stair —
leading to the second-level bedroom — and an ancillary
access door. The paired double-hung windows above echo the
implied double doors below.
Because this building is longer than it is wide, it makes sense
to orient the gable to the front, as in the one-car-garage
example. In this case, though, the gable form has been tweaked.
To keep the gable face from towering over the doors, a shed
roof has been introduced off the front to push the gable face
back. The pergola on the side recalls the front shed-roof slope
and depth while creating a semi-sheltered passageway to the
main house; both shed elements ease the transition from roof to
Setting the shed-roof dormers back from both the gable end and
the side walls reduces their massing and nests them comfortably
within the roof. The pan, cut into the primary roof to
accommodate the sills of the double-hung windows along the
side, helps to further carve out mass.
Two-Car Garage With Shed and Gable-End
This outbuilding looks more like a rural barn than a suburban
two-car garage — which largely explains its appeal. The
gable structure most likely started out as a stand-alone
one-and-one-half-car stall with a small second-level space
above. As such, it probably appeared tall, though the
knee-wall-height eaves are certainly better than full-height
ones. The addition of the second, smaller lean-to stall helps
modulate the structure's height by bringing one of the eaves
closer to the ground.
The charm of this building lies mostly in its seemingly ad hoc
form. If constructed from scratch today as a two-car garage, it
could be reconceived as a saltbox. An adjusted continuous slope
from the ridge down to the lower eaves would allow the second
stall to be full height while slightly increasing the headroom
in the second-level space. Accessed from an ell-shaped interior
stair terminating near the ridge, the upper floor could
function as overflow storage, a small office, or play
If side-hinged carriage doors aren't practical, overhead doors
like those shown in the one-and-one-half-car example could be
used. The result would be a familiar vernacular form
reinterpreted for today's needs.
Two-Car Garage With Side-Facing
The front-facing saltbox discussed above is rotated here so
that the garage doors occupy the side with the lowest eaves,
which keeps the front wall from seeming too tall. This
two-story building is dug into a hillside, allowing the slope
of the primary front roof to echo that of the hill.
Several of the mass-reducing strategies employed in the
one-and-one-half-car garage are used here as well. The
structure's front corners are recessed below the roof to reduce
the breadth of the front wall and shelter the auxiliary
entrance and the trash enclosure. A fully nested shed dormer
and roof pan expand second-level living space while lessening
the roof's bulk. Overhead doors designed to resemble carriage
doors visually scale down the large openings.
To maximize interior space, access to the second-level guest
bedroom is on the exterior. A stone stair climbs the hill
alongside a planter; a rear deck with more stairs continues the
run to the second level. On the opposite gable-end wall,
another set of deck stairs provides a second means of
egress.Katie Hutchisonis an architect and the owner of
Earthlight Design in Salem, Mass.