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Well Done Garage Conversion
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Garage conversions can provide a solution to many home expansion problems. But because such projects, too often, eliminated the carport or any sort of protection for the cars or were constructed poorly, the garage conversion developed somewhat of a bad reputation, and homeowners began looking for other remodeling options.

?Lots of times, people just build an addition on top of their garage,? said Linda Bernauer, AIA, who lives with two sons and husband, Kevin, a landscape architect, ASLA, AICP, in what was once a three bedroom/ 2 bath ranch style, north Dallas home?with one big living/dining room.

?How many times did realtors tell us, this house isn?t worth much because we only have one living area,? said Kevin. And yet, the Bernauers enjoyed an unusual floor plan with a long hallway that connected the bedrooms with the kitchen by running the width of the house behind the living/dining. After 17 years, however, the 1860 square feet of living space became too small. At first the Bernauers thought of moving?only they loved the surrounding area for riding their bikes. So that option was out.

Then they debated about going up over the garage. To build the stairs, they would need to convert the master bedroom into a stair hallway; so in essence, they would lose a room to gain a room. Finally, after almost five months of planning and deliberation, a conversation with their friend, William Briggs, a residential architect, convinced them that the right thing to do was?a garage conversion.

?The ranch style made more sense,? said Kevin. ?It?s supposed to be horizontal. We have enough driveway; so we can go that way. But we wanted it to look like it has always been here. That was really the goal?inside and outside.?

So, in October 2001 with Bill Snyder Construction, the Berauers began a six-month project of remodeling the kitchen, the boys? bathroom, the roof, and the garage plus a new carport.

What a carport?at least a 10-foot ceiling, molded/framed two-car entry, and two solid walls, except for the two 4-foot framed open doorways near the house. The solid walls give the space a garage-like appearance rather than a carport. Yet, the two doorframes widen the visual sight lines to include the garden, shaded by tall bald cypress, red oak, and crape myrtle, on the north and the setback yard on the south. One doorframe stands on the exact spot where a gate once stood and where the original sandstone path stops.

The interior of the carport is so well sheltered it allows for back door construction with non-weather resistant materials. For instance, the flooring is made of solid red oak and it?s built into a 4-step staircase lined with a carpet runner that?s braced under solid brass stair rods. At the top of the stairs, a small hall ends at a solid mahogany door with a brass handle?a touch of old-fashioned elegance.

?Why not,? Kevin said. ?Nine times out of ten, this is where we come in the house. So, this is our front door.?

The red oak floorboard that begins at the backstairs continues through the remodeled space and into the kitchen, where the rich auburn color provides contrast to the blond maple cabinetry and salt-pepper granite countertops (the kitchen was gutted and replaced). Unusual is a figured blue and gold porcelain vase sitting on the countertop near the breakfast room, which is separated from the kitchen only by the lower and upper maple cabinets. Glass doors in the upper cabinet allow visual connection between the kitchen and breakfast space.

Off the breakfast area is a hallway formed by a wall that was once part of the laundry room and by the double doors that close the laundry space. The breakfast area also opens on an outdoor wood deck over the original concrete patio.

?We built the deck when we moved in,? Kevin said. ?Brought it up to floor level?we built an outdoor room.? Today, French doors on the west side of the deck open to the remodeled space. The largest room serves as a second living room, a room for Jonathan to practice his bass, as a guest bedroom, and a place to display the antique drawing board, a gift from Linda?s father. Architecturally, the room features three long lean windows that open on the backyard, a raised rectangular ceiling that defines the center of the room, and a solid red oak floor over the original concrete garage floor. The red oak flooring outlines a hallway along the south side of the room, where a small cul-de-sac provides access to two rooms?a storage room and full bath.

?We didn?t have the skylight in the bathroom originally,? Linda said. ?They had the bathroom framed out, and I said it?s going to be really a dark bathroom. So, I called the contractor, and I said what would it take to put a window in the wall or put a skylight?? Because the roof was also being replaced, the cost of adding a skylight to the total project added a few hundred dollars. And now the skylight adds a tremendous amount of light. Another unexpected idea came from the contractor, who ?went the extra mile? to match the original siding at the street front door with a custom tongue-in-groove-exterior on the addition.

?We didn?t know that we could afford this,? Kevin said. Yet, this custom touch clinches a design that blends the new addition into the original house. Simplicity is key to the design continuity, for instance the unusual single paned French door and atrium door on the outdoor decking reflect the rectangular beveled glass door at the street front entry. And of course the red oak hallway across the remodeled area makes a nice complement to the long hallway in the original house.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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