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The Garage Remains an Important Feature of a House

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Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

Now that I live in a large condo building that affords only one garage space, which my wife enjoys, my car is out of luck for shelter.

For many years, I pulled in and out of my two-car garage without thinking much about it. Usually there was a fumbling for the automatic garage door opener, which I never managed to assign to a designated place in my car, but the rest was as automatic as driving.

However, there were problems with that. There were innumerable times I mindlessly detached my sideview mirrors and streaked my car with paint by sideswiping the door jams, or better yet, when I backed out with the garage door closed, crashing halfway through the door and removing an entire corner of the structure.

When the carpenter arrived to repair the considerable damage, he said, “Your wife did this, right?” Shamelessly I lied, “Yeah, right.”

Just as automobiles changed the way we travel, more than any other element, the garage has changed the way our homes look, rendering them at least 25 percent larger, and more than that if you consider the “bonus” room that can be built above.

Readers of this column know how I tend to fixate more on the history of things than how they operate, and so it is with the garage. Where exactly did it come from? The word didn’t even exist until the beginning of the 20th century when it was coined from the French word garer, meaning to shelter or protect.

At that time, the early automobile had to share the carriage house or stable where buggies and horses were still kept, resulting in a weird transitional phenomenon in which the cars smelled of horse manure when they were taken out for a spin. Eventually, the automobile claimed its own exclusive space, and by 1925, real estate industry sources were saying that houses without garages were slower to sell.

It’s still the case today. Most people want a garage when they buy.  And they want it attached.

For protection from the elements, separate outbuildings used as garages were first attached by breezeway to the main house but eventually incorporated into the footprint of the house itself. Along the way, a couple of neat inventions sped the modern garage’s development, namely the folding overhead garage door, invented by C.G. Johnson in 1921. In 1926, Johnson also invented the electric door opener to help those who had trouble lifting the doors.

Garage doors were originally made of wood, and some still are, but by the 1970s they were constructed of galvanized steel, then fiberglass, followed by composites like resin-filled wood and eventually vinyl-covered aluminum. For ultimate convenience, the automatic garage door opener appeared prominently in the early ‘60s, although it had been invented back in the 1930s.

Today, garages can serve many functions other than housing cars. One of my former neighbors uses a three-bay garage as a museum of vintage cars, each with a crystal chandelier above it.

My garage, by comparison, looked like Pandora’s box, ready to explode. When I put my house on the market, I had it cleaned out by a professional organizer who was told by my wife to “throw out everything but the cars.”

Many garages are used as workshops, workout rooms and even business startups. Where do you think Apple, Google, Dell, Nike and Mattel got their starts? But mostly, we all harbor any items there that don’t fit anywhere else in our homes.

Some consider the garage as part of the house a boon, others an eyesore, especially when it becomes the major focus of its facade, all but obscuring the front entrance. In my town, the Architectural Review Board on which I serve prefers that garage doors face out from the side of the house rather than the front.

Most architects with whom I’ve discussed garages would prefer that they be separated from the main house once again, perhaps connected by a breezeway for convenience. But homebuyers always prefer that they be incorporated into the footprint of the house, either in front, to the side or underneath.

I have no preferences about how or where to construct a garage or how to use it, but I would always advise car owners to buckle up before backing out and, oh yes, make sure the garage door is open.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. ( His real estate site is, and his blog is To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.


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