Publication: Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI); Author: Cotant, Pamela


Long neglected and unappreciated, basements gained new status as homeowners increasingly finished them off beyond the customary recreation rooms of the past. Now, another similarly dismissed part of the home — the garage — is getting attention. Not only are they getting bigger — three-car garages are standard in many subdivisions — but they are getting finished off to levels unimaginable in the past.

“A three-car garage is really the expected normal now. We do an occasional four, five and six,” said Phil Simon, president of Michael F. Simon Builders, which specializes in high-end homes. “Once someone said, I really want a garage with an attached house.'” Garages are not only getting wider but deeper, stretching the measurements of a typical 20-foot deep, three-car garage to one that goes back 28 feet, for example.

Homeowners have organized other parts of their homes — down to the closets — and are now turning to their garages, leading some to call them the “final frontier.”  The white hot garage market spawned a new Middleton business that called itself the interior design center for the garage: The Garage Project. Tom Brandt, who for years ran an overhead garage door business, recognized the market for garage organizational products with co-owner, Sharon Blum. “Garages, you can do anything with them,” Brandt said. “It’s a great big space.”

Now operating as an online storage/organization/decoration business,  the company sells flooring, cabinetry, wall systems, overhead storage, decorations of all kinds, workbenches, and all types of hooks, shelves and baskets for storing garage stuff. The products range from simple hooks to store bikes and gardening tools to high-end steel Geneva cabinets.

“The dollars that are being spent on garage space now is almost as much as they are spending on kitchens these days,” Brandt said. On the low end, Brandt said people can spend about $2,500 for a wall system with cabinets and some accessories. At the high end, it can cost at least $30,000 for a wall system covering three walls and featuring top-of-the-line cabinetry, a bird’s eye maple workbench and an epoxy surface on the floors.

Ironically, the trend to finish off basements is partly behind the increased interest in garages. As more of the basement becomes finished space, there’s less room for storage. 80 to 90 percent of the garages for the high-end homes are heated and come equipped with floor drains, a utility sink and a ceiling fan. They’re always insulated and usually finished off with drywall and trim like that found in the home’s interior. Quite often they also have a hot and cold hose faucet and stairs that lead into the basement. More attention is being paid to lighting, a phone is fairly standard and cable TV goes into quite a few of the garages.