The Final Frontier

The Garage — The Final Frontier of Home Furnishings Decor. Garage Doors Opening; Consumers Are Starting To Decorate The Last Room In The House You’d Think Of Decorating With More Furniture And Storage Items.

Usually just a repository for stuff, and possibly even a car, garages in the past were mostly an afterthought. But as consumers spend more time in the home, they are turning their garages into extensions of their houses — with more sophisticated storage, furniture and appliances designed to make garages both more efficient and more attractive. “It is the last part of the home [to be done],” said Terry Mulhern, a designer with Home Depot Expo. “It is definitely a new trend.”

“The garage is the last piece they do,” said Brooke Newton, buyer for The Container Store. “Our customers want something that’s aesthetically appealing. We have found that they take great pride in their garage.” Several factors are leading the rise of the garage as a home decor vehicle. Garages are ubiquitous and larger with many new homes being built with two-car and larger garages. And there’s an ego factor — all the neighbors can see the garage and it can be a source of bragging rights.

Meanwhile, women are taking a leadership role in organizing and decorating the garage. “Over the course of time, women have worked their way through the home, organizing closets, the kitchen and other rooms,” said Bud Katzman, senior product manager for Rubbermaid. “The garage is a big frustration for them. Women are the facilitators” in a lot of the growth of garage home furnishings. Women tend to have more influence on the decor. “The garage is the outdoor family room,” said Chris Hubbuch, manager of integrated marketing communications. “This is not a guy brand.”

Garages are getting bigger, according to the National Association of Home Builders, even though they often don’t even house the cars for which they’re designed. Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president of research for NAHB, noted that in 2003, 90 percent of single-family homes built had a garage. In addition, 82 percent of new homes built had two-car or larger garages. “The two-car garage has become standard,” and many new homes are being built with three- and four-car garages.

What’s curious, he said, is that the percentage of cars actually parked in garages is fairly low. He cited a Department of Energy study that said of those consumers with two-car garages, 25 percent of homeowners didn’t park any cars in their garage and 32 percent parked only one car, meaning consumers clearly use their garages for much more than parking cars.

A well-organized and furnished garage can draw the envy and attention of neighbors. “It’s the only room in the house the entire neighborhood sees,” Katzman said. “The garage is an area we’ve identified for growth, it’s  the area of the home where people are really focusing on right now for organization,”  he acknowledged.

Vendors have taken note and increasingly are introducing products designed specifically for the well-furnished garage. Certainly, home storage and organization companies have long focused on garage organization. From mainstream suppliers to specialty vendors such as Storewall, Organize Today Online, and Geneva Garage Gear component systems, storage is one of the most popular uses for the garage.

“Some [furniture stores] are even putting in little garage displays or they are trying to tie in promotional events with local NASCAR or other auto-racing events,” said Susan Dountas, vice president of merchandising.