Garage Apartment Garage Apartment

Q: I just bought a new home with a two-story garage that I want to convert into an apartment. An interior designer would have a feast with this place. The first floor is 26x26, and the second floor is 26x19. I need some ideas. I'm not very creative when it comes to designing anything. I want there to be an open kitchen/living room area on the first floor with a 1/2 bathroom. I want a bathroom and master bedroom upstairs. Where do I begin?

A: Field day, indeed! Any designer except this anxious one - I'd probably break out in hives at the thought of such a big job, especially because when you're designing a place as a rental property, you have to take into account questions such as whether the tenant will have a penchant for smoking in bed and therefore light the whole place on fire.

The other thing that makes me anxious is I want to make sure that you've been diligent in your research and know that creating an apartment in this garage is legal in terms of your local zoning ordinance and building codes. If you haven't checked on those legal matters, make sure you do so before you begin a job that you might have to halt or abandon.

But, you are right, this is a terrific job. The first thought I have is about the flooring on the ground floor section of the garage. The word "garage" to me means cement floor, which is about the least comfortable kind of floor possible. You will probably want to lay a sub floor, and then put something on top of that. What you put on top can be just about anything: wood, tile, carpet, or even one of the faux wood types of flooring, such as Pergo. This may be your best choice, as Pergo comes in styles that look like different kinds of wood, is super-durable, and will not show scratches and other damage, the kind of thing that makes me so anxious about owning a rental unit.

Second, you can really have fun with the stairs to the second floor. You could go for a rustic look, and have an open staircase, which is a little like a ladder. The caution here is that there may be more of a chance of slipping on it, and if the tenant slips, and falls, I can guarantee he'll sue the shirt off your back. A spiral staircase might be a good choice, as you don't have a lot of room, and a spiral stair will take up less room. One tip on the spiral staircase is to paint it the same color as the wall, so it "disappears" a little into the rest of the room.

On both floors, you also need to consider the windows. How many, how big, and what will they look out on? If the upstairs has sloping ceilings - and it sounds as if it does, given the dimensions - you may want to install a skylight. Be sure you research these carefully, as you don't want one that will start leaking six months after you put it in.

In considering all these questions, you want to think about the mood of the whole place. Do you want a look that's more country-cottage, or more modern? For example, the spiral staircase will definitely give a more modern look. An open stair will look right with the country-cottage look, which can then be enhanced with wainscoting painted bright white, with old-fashioned trim on the windows, and with the style of doors you choose.

Whatever you do with the look of the apartment, make sure you get your attorney to take a good, hard look at the lease, and don't hesitate to update your home owner's insurance.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Design

Got a New Project You're Proud of?

Post it on Your Projects!