Tiny 1920s Garage Transformed Into a Charming Studio

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By Laura C. Mallonee
A dilapidated auto shop in Seattle is reborn as an efficient studio rental.

A few years ago, SHED Architecture & Design was approached to remodel a decrepit, standalone garage in Seattle that seemed beyond salvation. Built in the 1920s, the 320-square-foot space was coated in decades of grease and oil from serving as an auto repair shop. Even worse, it sagged and leaned on rotted wooden posts. "It had a dark and creepy vibe," principal architect Thomas Schaer recalls. "A northwest tremor could have easily toppled it."

Schaer replaced the garage’s crumbling wooden posts with an earthquake-resistant steel frame. He also excavated beneath the building, establishing a basement level for a workshop, storage, laundry, and water heater. The earth removed in the process was shoveled into concrete "boxes" in the yard. These form a raised terrace from which you can see the Olympic mountains.

Schaer replaced the garage’s crumbling wooden posts with an earthquake-resistant steel frame. He also excavated beneath the building, establishing a basement level for a workshop, storage, laundry, and water heater. The earth removed in the process was shoveled into concrete "boxes" in the yard. These form a raised terrace from which you can see the Olympic mountains.

But Schaer saw potential. Beneath the grime laid attractive beadboard walls. Recognizing its promise, the architect embarked on an ambitious design-build project. He reclaimed materials from local construction sites over the next three summers to minimize costs, and installed old-fashioned woodwork to preserve the garage’s nostalgic feel. "We sought to interweave new and old so that one wouldn’t quite know where the old stopped and the new began," the architect explains. At a rough cost of $35,000 (excluding labor), the owners now possess a charming, energy-efficient rental that can stand on its own two feet. 

BEFORE<br><br>A view of the crumbling garage before renovation.

BEFORE

A view of the crumbling garage before renovation.

Light cascades into the living room through a row of six insulated timber windows on the south wall. The north wall flares out to create what Schaer calls a sunset scoop. "It grabs the late afternoon and evening sun and brings it deep into the space," he explains.

Light cascades into the living room through a row of six insulated timber windows on the south wall. The north wall flares out to create what Schaer calls a sunset scoop. "It grabs the late afternoon and evening sun and brings it deep into the space," he explains.

BEFORE<br><br>After being used as an auto repair shop, the garage had been subdivided to include a dark storage area with an unsettingly low ceiling. Schaer opened up the space, replacing the collar ties in the rafters with a sloping triangular plane that Schaer says "draws the eye from one end of the space to the other, increasing its perceived size." It’s also utilitarian, providing natural ventilation by funneling hot air up through a triangular vent window.

BEFORE

After being used as an auto repair shop, the garage had been subdivided to include a dark storage area with an unsettingly low ceiling. Schaer opened up the space, replacing the collar ties in the rafters with a sloping triangular plane that Schaer says "draws the eye from one end of the space to the other, increasing its perceived size." It’s also utilitarian, providing natural ventilation by funneling hot air up through a triangular vent window.

The compact rental features plenty of wooden ledges, nooks, and shelves for keeping belongings organized. In the living room, a low white wall is capped with fir wood salvaged from the garage’s former posts. On the east wall, a half-door made of reclaimed cedar looks out on a garden.  "It looks and lives a lot bigger than it is," Schaer says.

The compact rental features plenty of wooden ledges, nooks, and shelves for keeping belongings organized. In the living room, a low white wall is capped with fir wood salvaged from the garage’s former posts. On the east wall, a half-door made of reclaimed cedar looks out on a garden. "It looks and lives a lot bigger than it is," Schaer says.

A utilitarian core contains the kitchen, bathroom, closet, and loft ladder. The kitchen’s walls are clad with recycled wooden boards trimmed with horizontal battens that hide the oven and refrigerator from view.

A utilitarian core contains the kitchen, bathroom, closet, and loft ladder. The kitchen’s walls are clad with recycled wooden boards trimmed with horizontal battens that hide the oven and refrigerator from view.

At left, steps lead up to a sleeping loft. In the bathroom, Schaer installed a salvaged clawfoot bath and toilet and marmoleum click floorboards. Wainscoting on the walls adds a delicate touch.

At left, steps lead up to a sleeping loft. In the bathroom, Schaer installed a salvaged clawfoot bath and toilet and marmoleum click floorboards. Wainscoting on the walls adds a delicate touch.

A triangular, open room beneath the gable roof provides a cozy space for sleeping. "The loft’s continuity increases the perceived size of the interior," Shaer says.

A triangular, open room beneath the gable roof provides a cozy space for sleeping. "The loft’s continuity increases the perceived size of the interior," Shaer says.